As educational and social gatherings occur more and more frequently online, cyber bullying, online harassment, and other forms of virtual abuse have also become more common. Chat rooms, video calls, and social media platforms are all potential venues for online bullying. Both children and adults can experience cyber harassment, bullying, stalking, and other unwanted and unwelcome interactions. This kind of online abuse can occur in the workplace, in online educational settings, or in online social groups or networks. Although it can be difficult to hold perpetrators accountable for harassing behaviors, New Jersey’s laws are some of the most protective in the country. An experienced attorney can help you put an end to cyber bullying, cyber harassment, or other kinds of abuse that you or your child may be experiencing.
What Is Cyber Bullying and What Causes It?
Under New Jersey law, the definition of bullying in a school context is
- an unwanted, unwelcome gesture, a written, verbal or physical act, or an electronic communication,
- which is reasonably perceived as being motivated by either an actual or perceived characteristic,
- including but not limited to race, national origin, color, ancestry, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or mental, physical, or sensory disability.
The conduct may qualify as unlawful bullying if a reasonable person under the circumstances should know it would have the effect of
- physically or emotionally harming a student or a student’s property, or putting a student in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself or his or her property,
- insulting or putting down a student or group of students, or
- creating a hostile educational environment for the student by interfering with their education or severely or pervasively causing physical or emotional harm to the student.
Bullying can be a series of incidents or a single, serious incident. Bullying can take many forms. It can be physical (such as hitting or punching), verbal (including name-calling or teasing), emotional (like intimidation through gestures or social exclusion), or through the sending of insults or threats using electronic communication known as “cyber bullying.” Cyber bullying occurs when a student uses “information and communication technologies such as email, cell phone and text messaging, instant messaging, defamatory personal web sites and defamatory online personal polling Web sites to harass, humiliate, intimidate and/or threaten other students on the Internet.”
Students are not the only people who can bully others or engage in cyber harassment. School officials, staff, and teachers can also commit acts of bullying that are prohibited under law. However, the majority of scenarios involving online bullying occur among youths, particularly pre-teens and teenagers. A 2017 study found that 34 percent of children aged 12 to 17 have experienced cyber bullying. Cyber bullying victims are often members of marginalized groups (such as racial or ethnic minorities, disabled students, or LGBTQ youths), emotionally vulnerable individuals (students on the autism spectrum, for example), or children that otherwise become targets based on their appearance, personality, or social status.
What Are the NJ Cyber Bullying Laws?
In recent years, New Jersey has become a leader in anti-bullying legislation and policies. New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act was signed into law on January 5, 2011 and was considered to be the strongest anti-bullying legislation in the country. The legislation is rooted in the philosophy that New Jersey students have a right to an education in an environment free from harassment, intimidation, and bullying (collectively “HIB”).
The law requires schools and other educational institutions to investigate, respond to, and report instances of bullying, including cyber bullying. It also requires schools to take affirmative steps to prevent and reduce the occurrence of all kinds of bullying, including providing training for teachers, school staff, and school board members. New Jersey public colleges and universities are required to adopt policies within their student codes of conduct that explicitly prohibits harassment, intimidation, and bullying. The policy must outline disciplinary consequences, be distributed by email to each student within seven days of the start of each semester, and be posted on the school’s website.
Primary and secondary schools must have district anti-bullying coordinators, school anti-bullying specialists, and school safety teams (which must include at least one parent of an enrolled student). Schools must engage in mandatory reporting of all bullying incidents on a yearly basis to the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE). Once it compiles data from all schools statewide, the DOE gives each school district and each individual school a grade reflecting how successfully the district or school has fulfilled the requirements of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. Districts are required to post the complete annual DOE report and the grades the district and its schools have received on their website.
NJ Cyber Harassment Law Implements Criminal Penalties
In January 2014, the New Jersey legislature made cyber harassment of anyone a criminal offense (a fourth-degree misdemeanor). This means that, in addition to filing a civil lawsuit against a school district or suing the bullies themselves, cyber bullying victims of any age can report the conduct to law enforcement. An individual charged with cyber bullying faces possible penalties of up to 18 months in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Conduct that constitutes criminal cyber harassment must involve an online communication via any electronic device or through a social networking site, with the purpose to harass another. This conduct either
- threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or the property of any person;
- knowingly sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests, or proposes any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm a reasonable person or place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm to his person; or
- threatens to commit any crime against the person or the person’s property.
How Do You Reduce or Prevent Cyber Bullying and Harassment?
Harassment, intimidation, and bullying create a climate of fear and disrespect in our schools which adversely impacts student learning. Even more troubling is how this behavior affects the individuals involved. Victims are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide, while those who bully are at risk of other antisocial or violent behavior. Parents, children, and young adults deserve an educational environment that fosters learning and growth rather than fear, anger, and resentment.
Cyber bullying, like other forms of online harassment and abuse, can have devastating effects; in 2010, the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi was blamed on cyber-bullying perpetrated by his college roommate. Clementi’s roommate used a webcam to record Clementi kissing another man, posted the footage on Twitter, and engaged in numerous online communications that disparaged Clementi and encouraged others to view the videos. Clementi was devastated, and he took his own life shortly thereafter.
The adage that “once it’s on the internet, it lasts forever” is especially relevant to online abuse. Bullies can distribute embarrassing or harassing material widely on social media that can remain accessible for many years to come—potentially impacting a victim’s chances at future employment, acceptance to college or educational programs, or other professional advancement. Because of the potential for immediate and lasting harm, it is vastly preferable to stop the occurrence of online harassment at its earliest stages.
New Jersey Lawyer Helping Victims of School-Related and Online Bullying
Bullying continues to be one of the most serious problems facing children and young adults in our schools, even though New Jersey has become a nationwide leader in anti-bullying legislation and statewide mandates to prevent harassment, intimidation, and bullying.
If you believe you or your child is experiencing cyber bullying, harassment, or other kinds of abuse, an attorney with experience in harassment, intimidation, and bullying claims can help you protect and enforce your rights.
 N.J.S.A § 18A:37-13 et seq. (2011)
“Stop Pain: New Jersey Cares About Cyber-Bullying.” State of New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, Division of Criminal Justic, Office of Bias Crimes & Community Relations. http://www.nj.gov/lps/cyber-bullying-web.pdf. Accessed 5 Feb 2021.
 N.J.S.A § 18A:37-13 et seq. (2011)
 NJ Rev Stat § 2C:33-4.1 (2014)