The Associated Press reports that two families in the small Cleveland suburb of Mentor, Ohio, are filing a civil suit against the Mentor School District for damages in response four suicides in two years. All of the deaths are attributed to bullying say the families. Sladjana Vidovic and Eric Mohat were both victims of intense bullying at the school and their parents are filing suits against the school. In both cases, no criminal activity was found to have taken place. The reason the families are suing is due to the allegations that the school system did nothing to protect either of the children.
These cases are just one of many that Americans are focusing on right now regarding teenage suicides due to bullying. Some cases are prosecuted while others are not. Here’s a look at the legal status of some other high profile cases about bullying and suicide.
Perhaps the first shocking case of cyberbullying came in suburban St. Louis were Lori Drew, an adult with a teenage daughter, set up a fake MySpace account to torment Megan Meier. Meier killed herself because of the taunting. Lori Drew was charged with three misdemeanors in U.S. District Court.
Drew was convicted in late 2008 but then a judge threw the case out in 2009 because it was determined that Drew could not be guilty of violating the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act just because she violated a website’s terms of service. The logic was that if anyone violated the terms of service then they would also be subject to the same law and dangerous legal precedent would be set in motion according to Wired.
Massachusetts teenager Phoebe Prince killed herself in January of 2010 after the Irish immigrant endured bullying at her high school. Now, nine teenagers face criminal charges according to ABC News, two of whom face statutory rape charges.
Even beyond this shocking case, the Massachusetts state legislature passed a law requiring anti-bullying curriculum in all of the state’s schools. The prosecutor in the case says the bullying resulted in a romantic relationship Prince had with an older boy at the school.
The most recent and shocking case is of Tyler Clementi, an aspiring freshman at Rutgers University. He threw himself into the Hudson River after a video of him in a romantic encounter with another male was posted to the Internet.
Two students face invasion of privacy charges but they could be upgraded to a hate crime if it is determined they acted maliciously because Clementi was gay. Prosecutors haven’t determined the hate crime status yet. CBS News states Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei could face up to five years in prison on the invasion of privacy charges if convicted.
The two Ohio families would have to have pretty solid cases to win any damages. They would need proof that they talked to the school, proof that the school said they would do something, and paperwork or audio recordings coupled with testimony from school officials would come into play.
Most importantly, the families would have to prove that the school failed to act en loco parentis if it is proven that these teens were bullied on school grounds. Is the school responsible for the deaths since they were in charge of the students’ welfare on school grounds? Unfortunately, no amount of money will bring back these innocent children whose families will always mourn their loss.
My sources include:
Barr, Meghan-1 Ohio school, 4 bullied teens dead at own hand from the Associated Press website.
Zetter, Kim-Cyber Bullying Case Officially Dismissed for Vagueness from Wired magazine’s website.
Goldman, Russell-Teens Indicted After Allegedly Taunting Girl Who Hanged Herself downloaded from the ABC News site.
CBS Interactive-What Could Accused Face in Tyler Clementi Case? on the CBS website.