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Justice with Jessica: When bullying becomes a crime

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Posted at 11:49 AM, Aug 12, 2022

DENVER — Bullying can take may forms — including rumors, name calling and physical confrontations — and many children could experience it as they return to school.

In 2019, about 1 in 4 middle or high school-aged kids reported being victims of bullying. Parents have power to take legal action, but it's important to distinguish between bullying and criminal actions.

"You would have charges, such as harassment, all the way up to assault potentially," said Nicole Duncan, a defense attorney and member of the Sam Cary Bar Association.

In Colorado, children who are 10 years of age and older can be prosecuted in juvenile court. This year, however, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law creating a task force that will research the possible impact of increasing the minimum age of prosecution of juveniles from 10 to 13.

Harassment

Under Colorado law, a person's actions can be considered harassment if "with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person," he or she:

  • Strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise touches a person or subjects the person to physical contact
  • In a public place directs obscene language or makes an obscene gesture to or at another person;  or
  • Follows a person in or about a public place

Cyberbullying can also be considered harassment under state law when the conduct is "in a manner intended to harass or threaten bodily injury or property damage, or makes any comment, request, suggestion, or proposal by telephone, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium that is obscene."

Assault

In Colorado, there are several different types of assaults. In the case of bullying, the assault may involve a reckless or intentional infliction of bodily harm.

Menacing

The crime of menacing can occur under Colorado law if "by any threat or physical action, he or she knowingly places or attempts to place another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury." In schools, bullies can be subject to disciplinary action, which may include suspension, expulsion or being referred to law enforcement.

Duncan said parents do have the ability to take bullying concerns to the next level themselves by filing a police report or contacting the district attorney.

She said that escalating concerns may help get results, but it could also have a negative long-term impact on the child who would be facing charges. It's always wise for parents to consider multiple factors, including whether the bullying is extreme and pervasive and if the school is able to truly put a stop to it in a way that protects the child's physical and mental health.

When it comes to bullying, an ounce of prevention could be worth a pound of legal cure.

Savanah Overturf, who was bullied as a child, was crowned as National Miss Amazing 2021, in part for her dedication to preventing bullying through education. The Colorado State University student started a program called The Inclusion Project.

"I go into businesses, schools and any organization that will have me and I talk to them about understanding these differences," Overturf said. "For young children, we talk a lot about bullying and a lot about accepting each other, which is so important."

Whether bullying is deterred by education, school policies or legal action, statistics show that it's important to acknowledge it. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, when adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior, the behavior can stop over time.