By Tiffanie Reynolds | firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Tiffanie Reynolds
Even after Flagler sophomore Alexandra Evans moved away from her Pennsylvania hometown, she was still bullied by old classmates through her MySpace account. What began as a few sarcastic comments on her pictures turned into Evans being forced to turn her profile private from everyone.
“Everyone else was able to have a public profile and I couldn’t because people were being immature and idiots,” Evans said. ” It was like… ‘what did I do to have to be so protective of myself?'”
At the time, Evans didn’t even know that she was being bullied until her best friend told her to make her profile private. She then learned three girls were printing pictures of her from her friend’s account, defacing them and pasting copies all over her old school, scrawling names like “chunky monkey” below them.
It is stories like Evans that prompted Florida legislature to add “electronic communication” to the Written Threats law on Oct. 1.
Now, any threatening e-mail, Facebook post or comment to a blog or video is punishable for up to 15 years in prison. This new change can place someone in jail over one threat, as well as continuous threats, which is more commonly known as cyberbullying.
In her hometown, Evans didn’t fit the norm of the average American family. She lived in an apartment with her mother, instead of “a mother, a father and a house with a picket fence” like everyone else.
The three girls who printed the pictures were the same ones that had been bullying Evans since second grade. Sometimes it was just name calling or jeering but it escalated to knocking her off of the monkey bars and making her take the blame for it. When they started making fun of her on MySpace, the most she could do was ignore it, since her mother didn’t even know she had an account.
With stories like Evan’s- some leading to a tragic end, like the suicide of Tyler Clementi-the electronic communication addition to the law could be a step in the right direction.
Thomas E. Cushman, St. Augustine Attorney at Law, said it would only take one threat to throw somebody in jail, although the process is a lengthy one. Anyone can call the police or take the threat to the State Attorney’s office, but it is up to the sheriff or attorney to go through with the charges.
“It’s outrageous,” Cushman said about the length of the punishment, “Fifteen years in prison is the same maximum penalty you can get that not only did you threaten it, you did it and did great bodily harm. That’s called aggravated battery. Involves things like broken legs, broken arms…loss of an eye, loss of hearing, you know, serious injury. And the maximum penalty is still the same.”
This has been the main concern of many about this change, especially the fear of how one can easily change another person’s words. Although the main focus of the addition is cyberbullying, it extends to everyone. Anyone could be the target of a report or, even worse, an arrest over a heated comment or e-mail.
Shayna McLaughlin, a Flagler College sophomore, explains it best when considering the difference of the Internet with other forms of communication.
“It’s not what you say but how you say it. And it’s kind of hard to depict a joking tone with somebody over a text message or e-mail,” McLaughlin said.
According to the Washington Blade, a Washington D.C. newspaper with a focus on events in the gay and lesbian community, two other suicides of gay teens happened in the last month because of internet threats.. Since reports of Clementi’s death, several other papers have published reports of teens being harassed by others because of his or her sexual orientation.
Evans is part of the 15+ Program. Part of Epic Community and Mental Health America, her and a partner travel around the community talking to parents about spending 15 minutes talking and 15 minutes listening to kids every day. The main focus of the program is for parents to become more involved in children’s lives and to find out if his or her child is being bullied or is the bully.
She tells parents her story with the hope that kids will get what she never had: a supportive parent to talk to. Since she grew up with a single mother, both were often too busy to communicate and Evans often had to handle the abuse on her own. Now, more comfortable with herself and content in her group of friends, her goal is to spread hope to other victims by encouraging the parental support that they need.