INDIANAPOLIS —Governor Eric Holcomb signed a new state law that will provide added protections for victims of bullying.
State Rep. Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville, filed legislation which takes effect July 1 and is aimed at helping students who are being bullied at school, after school, and on various social media platforms.
“I consider this act to be a direct response to the terrifying news that teen depression and suicides are on the rise,” Hatfield said. “Social media and other technological advances have given bullies more ways to harass and bully their victims.”
“A young man was receiving hundreds if not thousands of text messages in a single day just over and over again,” Hatfield said in a previous interview with RTV6. “They would change phone numbers and nothing seemed to work, and the schools failed, so they went to the courts and the courts said our current law doesn't provide for protection for you and there's nothing we can do. That's a hopeless feeling."
House Enrolled Act 1607 includes harassment among the list of crimes that allow a victim to get a protective order.
Currently, the list only covers domestic or family violence, stalking, or a sex offense.
Hatfield said the new law also will allow parents to seek an order of protection for their child.
“This act also expands the definition of stalking as a criminal act to include communication with a victim in person, by writing, telephone or other electronic means, and posting content on social media that is directed to the victim or refers to the victim directly or indirectly,” Hatfield said. “As technology expands, it provides more opportunities for bullies to use these public platforms to conduct campaigns of harassment and bullying against innocent victims.”
Violators would face a misdemeanor and up to one year behind bars, Hatfield said.
“The goal is to stop bullying and to stop people from being harassed and protect our kids,” Hatfield said in a previous interview with RTV6. “We have far too many kids taking their lives because they can't get relief, and this bill is aimed at giving them relief."
More than one out of every five students report being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, and the CDC reports that among high school students, 15.5% are cyberbullied and 20.2% are bullied on school property, and students who experience bullying are at increased risk for poor school adjustment, depression, anxiety and sleep difficulties.
Martinsville teenager, Bailey Liscomb, tried to take her own life and what she called 'repeated bullying' at school.
"They would just be recording me, posting me on their Snapchat story, putting gay, f***** rainbows and posting it everywhere," Bailey said.
Bailey said the bullies made social media accounts about her.
“They called it 'Number One Fa* in Martinsville,'” Bailey said. “It hurt my feelings because I’m nice to everybody. It was like why would someone do this?”
HEA 1607 will add more options for people like Bailey.
Call 6 Investigates found nearly 60 percent of Indiana schools reported zero bullying incidents for the 2016-2017 school year.
47 percent of schools reported zero bullying incidents during the 2017-2018 school year, which is encouraging to child advocates and lawmakers who pushed for schools to report the truth.
Our investigation prompted a new state law, HEA 1356, which allows the Indiana Department of Education to audit schools for how they report bullying and require IDOE to send annual reminders to schools about their duty to report bullying.
“I believe that every school ought to report bullying and every school ought to play by the same rules,” Hatfield said.