The issue is pushed by advocacy groups formed largely by the parents of teens who killed themselves after being relentlessly bullied in school. Even among those advocates, there is little cheering about the arrests of the girls in Lakeland, but rather a hope that it will foster change.
“If you do nothing, kids think they can get away with it, but the felony charges seem extreme,” said Brenda High, a founder of Bully Police USA in Pasco, Wash., whose 13-year-old son killed himself in 1998 after being bullied.
Anti-bullying advocates say suicide is the nation’s third-leading cause of teenage deaths and that bullying plays a direct role in the problem.
High’s website ranks the nation’s bullying laws under a 12-point system, giving 13 states an A-plus-plus rating and 11 states B or lower ratings. Only Montana is given an F, for no bullying laws at all.
Judd said he hoped the arrests would have an impact, though he added that law enforcement should only come into play when the bullying progresses past routine verbal abuse.
“Frankly, we have the tools for when it goes from bullying to stalking or assaults or batteries,” Judd said.
“Most everyone in this country has been bullied at one time or another,” he added. “Everyone understands the torment and the fear and the angst of being bullied. Everyone can identify — they have a 12-year-old daughter or a 12-year-old son or they have been a 12-year-old. The thought that this child, who was already fragile, would leap to her death, affects us all.”
Although Polk County, situated between Orlando and Tampa, has often found itself in the national news media storms, Monday’s arrests have created an unprecedented amount of attention, Judd said.
“In 41 years I have worked at the Sheriff’s Office, this has been the most interest we have ever had in a story,” Judd said.