HARRISBURG – House Judiciary Committee Majority Chairman Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) was pleased that his legislation creating the offense of cyber harassment of a child passed through the House today.
“Bullying, of course, is not a new problem. Today, however, young bullies don’t need a school yard or school bus to confront their victims. Bullying today is just as likely to occur over the Internet or through other electronic means,” said Marsico. “Today, a victim can be tormented with a few key strokes and a click of the mouse. This not only has made bullying much easier to perpetrate but much more pervasive. Electronic media has emboldened bullies and brought about new ways to cause serious emotional distress to children of all ages.”
House Bill 229
would make cyber harassment of a child a punishable offense. This would include the use of electronic communications to repeatedly make statements or offer opinions about a child’s sexuality or sexual activity or make statements about a child’s physical characteristics or mental health that are intended to and would cause serious emotional distress to a child. This would allow intervention by law enforcement and juvenile probation officers who would initially review the case if it involved a juvenile offender. If appropriate, the case could be referred to juvenile court or the juvenile offender could be placed in a diversion program. An adult who engages in such conduct would be prosecuted in court, rather than be issued a summary citation, reflecting the seriousness of this form of child abuse.
“The Judiciary Committee held hearings on the problem of bullying last session. We heard from children who have been victims, along with child mental health experts and school administrators,” said Marsico. “We have laws on the books that prohibit harassment, of course. But those laws were written long ago. The hearings we held made clear those laws are inadequate to address bullying in the electronic age. It is time for our statutes to catch up with the technology that has changed the bully’s playing field.
Marsico’s bill would make cyber harassment of a child a misdemeanor. Jurisdiction over a perpetrator under the age of 18 will lie with the Juvenile Court. Unlike the magisterial district courts, juvenile courts address offenses by young people through principles of balanced and restorative justice. Rehabilitation, acceptance of responsibility and restoration of the victim are the primary focus of the juvenile system.
“By involving the juvenile court, the response to persistent, serious bullying will include the full spectrum of juvenile court remedies that are unavailable in cases brought before the minor judiciary,” said Marsico. “This will, I believe, also serve as a deterrent. Children engaging in cyberbullying and their parents are much more likely to respond to complaints, knowing the consequences may involve an appearance in juvenile court if they don’t.
“Every child in this Commonwealth has the right to grow up free from intimidation, torment and emotional distress. They deserve to grow up in an environment that allows them to focus their energy on achieving their full potential,” said Marsico. “I believe House Bill 229 will go a long way toward helping children to do so, and I was pleased to have the support of the members in helping to pass this bill.”
The groups that supported this bill were: The National Character Education Foundation, the PA District Attorneys Association, the PA Office of Attorney General, the PA Juvenile Judges Commission, the Juvenile Law Center, the PA Chiefs of Police, PA Office of the Victim Advocate, PA Coalition Against Rape and the PA State Police.
House Bill 229 will now go the Senate for further consideration.
Representative Ronald Marsico
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Autumn R. Southard