Slander and Defamation of Peers in Utah

Usually starting in elementary and lasting through high school, what their peers think matters greatly to many Utah children teens and slander or defamation by any one person can be devastating and result in criminal charges.

Gossip

Defamation
Photo by: S. Packwood

Gossip or bad mouthing of peers by Utah kidscan happen whether through word of mouth, passing notes, or by text messages, Instagram, Snap Chat, and other online forums. While a little gossip is expected around school, although still discouraged, it can take a drastic turn if it is done with the intention of publicly humiliating the other person.

Defamation

Defamation is described by law.com as “the act of making untrue statements about another which damages his/her reputation. If the defamatory statement is printed or broadcast over the media it is libel and, if only oral, it is slander.” Defamation is usually described as an intentional act by which lies are told with the objective of mentally or emotionally hurting another person. For this reason, it is against the law.

Penalties for defamation

Photo by: Alex Yosifov
Photo by: Alex Yosifov

Utah Code 76-9-404 states “A person is guilty of criminal defamation of he knowingly communicates to any person orally or in writing any information which he knows to be false and knows will tend to expose any other living person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.” They also add that “criminal defamation is a class B misdemeanor.”

Never a good reason

Utah kidsmay think they have a good reason for telling lies about a person. Maybe they are retaliating for the person embarrassing them at an earlier date? Perhaps they lack adequate self-esteem and choose to bring others down in an attempt to raise themselves up. Whatever excuse, there is never a good enough reason to bully another person. Not only can the bully face criminal charges, but their hurtful actions and words during a difficult and pivotal time in a person’s life can have lifelong negative effects on the victim.

Undetected Bullying May Have Led to Violent Outburst by Utah Teenager

After the stabbing that happened at an Orem high school this week, several Utah residents questioned if undetected bullying may have led to the violent outburst by the 16 year old teenager.

When bullying victims fight back

Photo by: Thomas Ricker
Photo by: Thomas Ricker

Although authorities are unaware of any bullying that may have occurred prior to the stabbing, it is not uncommon for teen bullying victims to quietly bear the tormenting before eventually lashing out at their oppressors; an act that is too often done immediately before harming themselves. While this may not be the case for this incident as stated by the suspect’s parents, something triggered this young man with perfect grades and no criminal record to snap.

Depression to aggression

Bullying is often a major cause of depression among teenagers. Bad-mouthing (in person or online), name calling, ostracizing, and/or physical confrontations by peers can often cause a teen to withdraw from family and friends. When teens withdraw, they are more likely to lose interest in things that used to make them happy. As depression sets in, teens may experience intense, prolonged times of sadness and despair. Depression is not always evident as sadness however; those suffering may become more irritable and have increased instances of aggression.

Bullying
Photo by: Serge Saint

Watch for red flags of bullying victims

Stopbullying.gov lists nine warning signs that parents and teachers should be aware of to identify a child or teen who may be a victim of bullying:

• “Unexplainable injuries
• Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
• Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
• Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
• Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
• Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
• Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
• Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
• Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide”

Signs of an aggressor

Stopbullying.org also lists eight red flags that a child or teen may be the aggressor in bullying cases. “Kids may be bullying others if they:

• Get into physical or verbal fights
• Have friends who bully others
• Are increasingly aggressive
• Get sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
• Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
• Blame others for their problems
• Don’t accept responsibility for their actions
• Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity”

Taking appropriate action

If adults can be aware of bullying red flags and address them immediately with their teen, school personnel, as well as a counseling service that specializes in teen depression and mood disorders, many teens can receive the help they need to channel their feelings appropriately while those doing the bullying can be dealt with appropriately. If teens are facing criminal charges for a violent response to bullying they have endured, contact a juvenile defense attorney

Sexual Bullying by Teenage Girls

Teenage girls are continually educated to recognize and report instances of sexual harassment at school, yet some may unknowingly be the perpetrators in what is referred to as sexual bullying, a type of harassment.

Harassment knows no gender

Sexual bullying
Photo by: Alena Navarro- Whyte

Many kids are taught from a young age that inappropriate words or actions that make them uncomfortable may be harassment and should not be tolerated. Unfortunately, much of the emphasis over the years has been depicting girls as usually being the victims. Most teenage girls nowadays understand that sexual harassment knows no gender and that disciplinary action may result from any unwelcomed touching of their peers. Few realize however, that similar consequences may follow from sexual harassment in the form of bullying.

Slut shaming

One way that teenage girls may unknowingly be guilty of sexual bullying their peers is through what is known as slut shaming. Slut shaming is done when one person labels another as being overly sexual or “easy”, making them feel bad for their past of current sexual behaviors or relationships. This is a problem that all too frequently can include girls as both the victims and the perpetrators.

Gossiping and rumors

Gossiping and spreading rumors is another way that sexual bullying can take place and is rampant amid both genders. Hurtful remarks or phrases about someone’s sexuality or body parts, whether or not they are true may be written on bathroom stalls, texted to classmates, or even said directly or indirectly to the victims. Teens may see these instances as nothing more that mean jokes or downplay them as needing to be done to establish a pecking order; to the victim and authorities however, it is sexual bullying.

Educate all teenagers on sexual bullying

It is essential that all teenagers, both male and female, are properly educated on what type of behavior may be considered sexual bullying or harassment. It is encouraged that all youth and their parents review the sexual harassment policy offered by every school district in the state. Any sexual bullying or harassment that has ensued in criminal consequences should be discussed with a juvenile defense attorney.

When Does a Schoolyard Brawl Become Physical Assault?

Fights are common among kids, but when does a simple schoolyard brawl become physical assault?

Kids battling out there problems

Photo by: zzclef
Photo by: zzclef

Many schoolyard brawls begin and end with harmless pushing and shoving, rarely escalating to punches being thrown. When the fight is mild without anybody suffering any injuries, both parties typically walk away with nothing more than hurt pride. Even when fights do intensify and leave someone with a black eye or a fat lip, it has not been common practice for the kids or their parents to press physical assault charges. .

Times are changing

With the influx of information being at our fingertips, there are a higher majority of individuals who are educated with the basics of the law and penalties for various crimes. Those kids who settled things on the schoolyard are now parents who realize they have an option of pressing charges of physical assault when their son or daughter is hit by a peer.

Bullying has opened eyes

Along with information found online, the spotlight being placed on bullying has opened the eyes of the public to the possibility that fights on the playground may be a case of bullying. With everyone more aware, there may be a rise in physical assault charges where there wouldn’t have been before. Additionally, the rise in news stories of schoolyard brawls that got out of hand are likely to make the everyone more on edge with any fight between kids.

Assault defined

While many states separate assault as being the threatening of harm and battery meaning the actual striking of another individual, Utah groups these together as simply assault. In Utah Code 76-5-102, assault is defined as:

An attempt, with unlawful force or violence, to do bodily injury to another; or
An act, committed with unlawful force or violence, that causes bodily injury to another or creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another.

With the threat of intensifying violence among kids and possible physical assault charges looming, it is critical for kids to learn to settle their differences differently that the generation before them. Those who are facing charges for physical assault following a fight at school should seek defensive counsel immediately, as assault charges can be either a class B or a class A misdemeanor and may bring time in jail or juvenile detention.

Cyberbullying a Serious Issue in Utah, Punishable by Law

cyberbullying in Utah
Photo: 14398/Pixabay

With the growing popularity of social media sites and electronic forms of communication, many teens are communicating less and less in actual face-to-face situations. Even though this is the case, bullying among juveniles is still occurring. In fact, cyberbullying is often worse because the attacker is protected by distance and in some cases, anonymity. However, law makers are working toward understanding this form of bullying and incorporating legislation that addresses it.

The Many Faces of Cyberbullying

According to Utah Code 53A-11a-102, cyberbullying is defined as “using the Internet, a cell phone, or another device to send or post text, video, or an image with the intent or knowledge, or with reckless disregard, that the text, video, or image will hurt, embarrass, or threaten an individual, regardless of whether the individual directed, consented to, or acquiesced in the conduct, or voluntarily accessed the electronic communication.”

Cyberbullying may include any of the following activities:

  • Physical threats, such as messages or emails involving threats to someone’s safety. An email threatening to beat someone up after school would qualify.
  • Altering digital images of someone’s appearance or the setting he/she is in to make them appear in a compromising or embarrassing situation.
  • Verbal abuse, such as sending hostile, inflammatory, or libelous messages to someone.
  • Identity theft/impersonation, including stealing someone’s password and/or hacking their online accounts.
  • “Happy-Slapping”: recording someone being harassed or physically abused and then posting the video online.

Most experts say early intervention is the key when it comes to cyberbullying. Parents are encouraged to have conversations with their children, either if they suspect their child is an attacker or a victim. Asking children why they think people participate in cyberbullying, if they know what their school policy is, if they have ever wanted to send or been the victim of a mean message, or how they would react to such things are all examples of questions that can hopefully prevent future problems in the case of potential bullies and remedy situations if a parent suspects their child has been bullied.

Cyberbullying Repercussions

In most cases, cyberbullying is handled through school policies which the schools have been directed to create by the Utah government. Usually cyberbullying is grounds for suspension or expulsion from school. However, in some cases, it can also be grounds for civil lawsuits, such as a lawsuit for defamation of character, when someone makes false statements about another resulting is mental suffering or damage to reputation.

In some cases, it can be a legally punishable offense. Harassment when committed by an adult is considered a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

While bullying isn’t anything new, cyberbullying is still a relatively young issue when it comes to addressing it from a parental, school, or government position. Many questions still remain. Laws and policies are still changing to try to address this topic. If your child has been accused of cyberbullying, contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney who can provide you with legal advice in the best interest of your child.