When David Molak, a teenager from Alamo Heights, Texas, committed suicide in January of 2016, it soon became clear that extreme cyberbullying was likely to have played a major part in his death. No criminal charges were filled, however, with the Bexar County District Attorney citing “insufficient evidence.”
Despite admitting that cyberbullying is “very damaging”, District Attorney Nico LaHood said in May of 2016 that:
“If we’re not talking about physical bullying, we’re really talking about harassment, and that is a vague statute.
“Under the harassment statute, we have to have the evidence to back up the different elements of the allegation, and it’s just not there.”
The difficulties of dealing with cyberbullying
Taking action against cyberbullying is challenging, and as with many areas of the online world the law is struggling to keep up with technology. This week, though, David’s Law has been signed off by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, taking a step towards battling the problem.
The new law will make it possible for social media accounts that are used to bully minors to be the subject of temporary injunctions.
Electronic harassment of children that has the purpose of goading them into harming themselves will also be targeted.
Thirdly, schools will be obliged to notify parents when they suspect bullying is taking place. That includes parents of the victims as well as the parents of those accused of doing the cyberbullying. It’s hoped that schools will find a way for cyberbullying to be easily and efficiently reported in an anonymous way.
A re-prioritization of values
The bill was authored by State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, and sponsored by Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio. They asked Governor Abbott to hold a signing ceremony.
A letter they wrote to Abbott, which was also signed by David’s parents, said: “Your staff provided valuable input that we incorporated into the final bill.
“An official signing ceremony would publicly signal that Texas stands up to bullies and protects our children.”
José Menéndez had previously said he hopes the law will “empower schools, parents, and law enforcement to tackle cyberbullying.”
He added that:
“However, I hope it does more than that. I hope it signals a change in our culture — a re-prioritization of our values.
“The Texas Legislature took a strong stance against bullying. I know the ripple effects will save a child’s life.”
David’s mother Maureen told News4SanAntonio.com that the law “couldn’t wait” for two more years, but also that she was surprised how quickly it had passed.
The law, which will come into effect in September of this year, allows certain cases to be considered criminal offenses, with jail time a possibility.
David Molak, who was 16 years old when he died, was reported to have moved schools not long before he committed suicide, but the cyberbullying had continued.