Bullying and Freedom of Speech

By Nadia Crow, Reporter

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By Kelli Sutterman

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - With increased awareness, more eastern Iowa school districts are striving to address the bullying problem.

But there are options outside of the school administration. Some states have created laws specifically to protect victims from bullying. That's not the case yet here in Iowa. But bullying can still be criminal.

"My friend had been receiving text messages from someone else and they were extremely mean,” said 17-year-old Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School Junior Dakota Murphy.

So Kennedy High School Junior Dakota Murphy began insulting the girl he says was cyber bullying his friend.

"She contacted the police and that's how I knew about the harassment thing,” said Murphy.

Cedar Rapids Police Investigator Charity Hansel says bullying falls under harassment or elevated to stalking.

"A lot needs to be considered a lot about how the victim felt. That doesn't necessarily play into the Iowa Code,” said Cedar Rapids Police Investigator Charity Hansel.

The Iowa Code reads: "A person commits harassment when, with intent to intimidate, annoy, or alarm another person...involving a threat to commit bodily injury."

"The First Amendment protects freedom of speech. We have found a lot of cases especially coming off the internet that we're not able to prosecute because they're not really threatening harm,” said Hansel.

You have to prove a threat. Police need hardcore evidence; proof it's more than just freedom of speech.

"If someone said something very threatening on a Facebook page, it's very helpful if they can print that off and bring it in,” said Hansel.

"I was a bully and it's not something to be proud about,” said Murphy.

For an adult, harassment can likely result in jail time, but for a juvenile...

"Sometimes it's community service. Sometimes it's probation especially if they've been charged with criminal acts in the past. It really just depends on the case and the child,” said Hansel.

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