Why bullying should not be considered a criminal offense

The effects of bullying on children of all ages are serious, far-reaching and sometimes disastrous. Many feel strongly, therefore, that the community should take more drastic action. The question is, then, should we make bullying a crime. Would doing this help remove this blight on our society?

Certain aspects are already illegal

First, it should be mentioned that bullying can involve acts which are already criminal. These acts include physical and sexual abuse or harassment, threats of physical violence and stalking. This behavior can be reported to the police and the bullies prosecuted.

Legal problems

Part of the problem is that there is no clear definition of what bullying is. Bullying can include taunting, insults and intimidation. The bully can use many different ways to frighten, scare, demoralize and depress. It can include many different actions of varying degrees and purposes. For instance, do a few heated exchanges of threats and insults between children of different sizes constitute bullying. If a student constantly verbally harasses another student at school but one day the harassed student punches him in the face, who is the bully? Does one threat constitute bullying and if not how many times does it have to occur?

Perhaps a legal definition could include its effect on the victim. This link, though, would be hard to prove in court. In the extreme case of a suicide, for example it could be argued that the victim was already emotionally unstable or the emotional instability was caused by something other than the bullying. In other cases the actual mental and emotional effect on a victim would be hard to measure for the purposes of establishing the degree of the bullying.

There are clear legal definitions for such criminal offenses as assault, domestic violence and theft. Without a clear and unambiguous definition for legal purposes of bullying it would be extremely difficult to prosecute and enforce. Also, victims would be less likely to want to proceed. It would be easier to make the components of bullying illegal. Intimidation and harassment are already illegal to some extent in many places. If threats and insults were the defining factor, however, then our jails would be overflowing.

Better solutions?

Workplaces and schools should be put under more pressure to identify and take action against the perpetrators. They should be able to dismiss repeat offenders without fear of repercussions. There should be encouragement of victims and witnesses to come forward more freely, perhaps with the use of anonymous reporting.

More power and resources could be given to schools. There should be better education and training programs for parents and children so that children can better deal with bullies. For instance, retaliation against the bully can make matters worse and lead to even more bullying or aggression. Also identifying and monitoring areas where bullying could more likely take place.

The government and community should put schools and workplaces under more pressure to deal with intimidation and bullying. Parents should be held more accountable for the behavior of their children. More initiatives could be started. The government could set up a special agency or task force to monitor progress and take action. Certainly, we have to do much more about this growing scourge. Making bullying a criminal offense, though, is not a solution.