Parents’ Guide To Cyberbullying and the Law

What Is Cyberbullying

Bullying has always been an unfortunate part of the adolescent experience. Although discouraged by parents and teachers, most of us probably have memories of being intimidated by schoolyard bullies. However, in the old days, kids left their bullies behind when they left school for the day. But today, thanks to the internet and social media, many kids sadly take bullying home with them when they leave the school grounds.

Online bullying – or, as it has come to be known, cyberbullying – can often take a more vicious edge than the schoolyard taunts of yore. Once a group has identified a peer who they deem worthy of their vitriol, they will frequently be relentless, going so far as to create Facebook groups and entire pages devoted to harassing and mocking their chosen victim.

In some instances cyberbullying escalates to terrible levels, well beyond the bounds of anything that can be written off as “kids will be kids” behavior, and becomes a criminal offense. Over 90% of teens on social media have witnessed someone being mean to someone else on social media, and over 21% of teens check in on social media just to see if anyone has said anything mean about them. This infographic from rawhide.org shows a number of shocking statistics about cyberbullying.

In case you find your son or daughter faced with this situation, here are a few things you should know about cyberbullying and the law.

Cyberbullying Laws Vary State By State

Dealing with internet crime is still very new for legislators. While many states were slow to include electronic harassment in their definition of bullying, approximately 50% of states now include language in their bullying laws that make cyberbullying a crime. If your child is being cyberbullied, familiarize yourself with the laws of your state.

School Administrators Might Claim No Responsibility

Sadly, many school administrators will claim that they are not responsible if your child is being bullied. This is because they claim that the bullying is happened online and that the internet is off school grounds. If the administration refuses to step in and help, then you have no choice but to circumvent them and contact an attorney.

A Lawyer Can Help You Through The Process

Making a harassment case should always be done with the aid of a competent attorney. Your lawyer will be able to help you to document instances of abuse and advise you on how to file a police report. If the cyberbullying is very severe, your attorney will aid you in seeking protection orders on behalf of your child against the offender(s).

Standing Your Ground Is Crucial

If your child is being bullied, standing your ground and taking legal action is absolutely the best course of action. Many bullies are enabled by parents who fail to discipline them and a lack of a fear of consequences for their actions. Seeking an attorney and taking legal action demonstrates that the bully’s behavior will not be tolerated and that serious consequences are a possibility.

No parents want to see their child tormented. This is why it is essential that you seek legal representation if a group of kids are making your child’s life unhappy or causing him or her to feel unsafe. Follow the proper legal channels and take a stand against cyberbullying.

How Domestic Violence Impacts Child Custody in Tennessee

Domestic violence is a very serious issue that causes lifelong trauma for victims. The state of Tennessee, like other states, considers domestic violence when making child custody and visitation rulings. Tennessee places the best interests of the child as the top priority when reviewing child custody, which means that domestic violence offenders can have their parental rights limited, or even terminated in extreme cases of abuse.

Getting Help

The most important thing to keep in mind with domestic violence is your safety and that of your child(ren). Tennessee has domestic violence advocates and support contacts setup throughout the state. Find your county’s information. You can also seek help through an advocacy group, the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. 24-hour assistance is available by calling the Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-356-6767.

Domestic Violence Crosses Gender Lines

If a person has a legally reliable history of domestic violence, it can impact future court orders on child custody and visitation. A history of domestic violence can be gender neutral. There are bad people out there of both sexes, and when domestic violence occurs in the presence of children, the likelihood of it occurring during their parenting years only increases.

Order of Protection

An order of protection prohibits an abuser from engaging in violence against you or your child for up to one year. If you have a current Protection From Abuse Order (PFA) from a court against your abuser, or if your abuser has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor, then Federal law states that it is illegal for your abuser to buy or have a gun in their possession.

You MUST ASK THE JUDGE to specifically write in your order that the abuser cannot buy or have a gun while the order is in effect and to require that your abuser to give any guns to the police, or require the police to go to the abuser’s house and get them. The guns then go to either the county sheriff or court clerk of stolen property. The district attorney in the county where the gun(s) was taken away can then file to have them destroyed.

Custody and Visitation

Tennessee law prohibits any ruling that would put the child at substantial risk of harm. The court will consider the severity and proximity of abuse, with more limitations placed on more recent, more harmful, and more frequent abusers.

The judge will want both parents to have as much involvement in the child’s life as possible, while protecting the child. As such, visitation with a parent found to commit child abuse may only be awarded if:

  • Supervised by a responsible adult or agency
  • The abuser completes a counseling program before visitation begins
  • Overnight visits are prohibited until a demonstrated change guarantees the safety of the child
  • The address of the child and non-abusive parent is confidential
  • Any other conditions the court thinks are necessary

The court cannot place a child in the custody of a parent who presents substantial risk of harm to the child. In cases of severe abuse, parental rights may be terminated altogether. In these cases, the decision is a permanent order.

If you have additional questions or find yourself in a legal case with domestic violence, contact me immediately to discuss your legal rights and protections.

Protecting Yourself After An Abusive Relationship

If you are experiencing an abusive relationship, it can be difficult to focus on what you should do first to protect yourself. Your first priority is simple: focus on getting yourself and any children involved to a safe place. Statistics have shown that the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the woman or man who is the victim attempts to leave the relationship. The primary goal is to find safe housing where the abuser can’t reach you.

The Danger is Real

Do not seek shelter with a parent, friend or other person where the abuser knows where to look for you. Ideally, safe housing can be found in a shelter specifically designed to deal with victims of abusive relationships. Please understand that these private shelters are usually very nice and clean. If your concern is that a “shelter” will not be suitable for you and your children, the concern is usually unfounded. Many shelters will allow you to tour the facility with special permission and a sworn statement of confidentiality. If, however, none is available, consider staying at a hotel or with a person you know that the abuser does not.

Have a Plan

Because of the unstable nature of abusive relationships, you may have to leave suddenly with little preparation. However, if there is no immediate crisis and you have time to plan your departure, here are some things you should do:

  • Put aside as much cash as you can in a safe place.
  • Leave essential items like clothes and documents with a friend.
  • Keep a detailed record of every incident of emotional or physical abuse.
  • Keep a contact list of people who can help you.
  • Be prepared to take important documents like your social security and credit cards.

Child Custody

One of the most complicated issues to deal with in breaking free of domestic violence is the relationship between your children and your abuser. Restraining orders are often temporary and the courts must resolve long-term issues of custody. The key to protecting your children and discovering your full range of legal options is to hire a lawyer as soon as possible. Laws involving domestic violence and child custody vary widely depending on the state and locality. A lawyer can alert you to all your legal options.

Leaving an abusive relationship and protecting yourself and your children is a challenging task. Always remember that you are not alone and that there are people ready to help.

Services are available to help include: The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 303-839-1852.