Governor Wolf signed Act 26 of 2015 on July 10, 2015 to take effect in 60 days (September 10, 2015).
Here are 6 things to know about Act 26:
1. The new law creates the offense of “cyberharassment,” which would include:
- making seriously disparaging statements about a child’s physical characteristics,
- sexual activity,
- mental or physical health, or
- threats to inflict harm.
2. “Seriously disparaging statement or opinion” is now defined as “A statement or opinion which is intended to and under the circumstances is reasonably likely to cause substantial emotional distress to a child of the victim’s age and which produces some physical manifestation of the distress.
3. The harassment could be made electronically, either directly to the child or through social media.
4. For a juvenile charged with the crime, a diversionary program, which might include an educational program on cyberharassment, would be considered first. Successful completion could lead to the juvenile’s record being expunged.
5. The law makes cyberharassment of a child a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $2,500 fine and/or one year in prison.
6. The law could help schools, which are often expected to handle cyberbullying whether it happens on school grounds or not. “An [criminal] offense under subsection (a.1) [cyberharrassment] may be deemed to have been committed at the place where the child who is the subject of the communication resides.” Schools can now turn to law enforcement for support since cyberharrassment has been made a crime under Act 26.
School Districts should revisit their anti-bullying policies to determine if there is a necessity to update the policy. Please contact MBM if you need assistance with your policy.