In honor of a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after allegedly being bullied, two Florida politicians have introduced a bill that would make bullying a crime in the state.
“Rebecca’s Law” is named for Rebecca Sedwick, who jumped to her death at an abandoned cement plant near her home in September 2013. The local sheriff accused a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old of harassing an intimidating Sedwick prior to her death, and charged both with felony aggravated stalking – the first time the statute had been used to combat bullying. The charges against the girls were later dropped.
If passed, “Rebecca’s Law” would create a new category of criminal offense in the state: bullying, a misdemeanor; and aggravated bullying, a third-degree felony. Bullying is defined as “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly” harassing another person. Someone guilty of aggravated bullying would have “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or cyberbullies another person and makes a credible threat to that person.”
Punishments for committing the offense of bullying would vary based on the degree, and could include a fine or jail time.
Fla. State Rep. Heather Fitzhagen, who sponsors the bill in the House of Representatives, told CBS News’ Crimesider that she is not aware of other states that have codified anti-bullying statutes, but hopes that if the bill passes, the issue will “get traction across the nation.”
Fitzhagen says that Sedwick’s case hit particularly close to home for her because she has a 12-year-old daughter herself. She hopes the bill will spur discussion at schools, in families and among teens.
“I think this is going to raise awareness because now there is a consequence to this type of behavior,” she says.
Fitzhagen says she has met with Sedwick’s mother, Tricia Norman, who she calls “very brave.”
Norman’s attorney, Matt Morgan, has previous said that his client is considering lawsuits against the two girls who allegedly bullied her daughter, and the Polk County school district.