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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Spotlight on Brandy Vela

She should be making headlines for her incredible beauty but instead, Brandy Vela is gaining notoriety for being one of the thousands of teens driven to suicide due to cyberbullying. We all send our deepest, sincerest condolences to Brandy’s family. The community and the nation are responding to this tragic, senseless loss of life and will work to make sure Brandy’s legacy an impetus for change.

What will it take to stop the future methodic, repetitive, abusive actions used by bullies who find joy in tormenting another’s life? Education and strict consequences plus absolute intolerance.

Education and strict consequences:

I, along with many others, will be working with school communities to educate students, parents, administration and school based law enforcement on everything from why students shouldn’t bully to what students should do if they are being victimized. Additionally, we are coming together to pull the already-active bullies out of hiding and make sure there is a system in place to end the torment.

It’s important to know where the law is currently. The Texas’s Educational Code {§37} defines bullying as any verbal or written statement, electronic communication, or physical act that results in:

  • Physical harm to a student or their property or a reasonable fear of harm; it can includes ongoing, severe and persistent statements or physical acts that create an abusive educational environment.
  • The conduct interferes with a student’s education, substantially disrupts school or exploits an imbalance of power between the victim and the perpetrator.
  • Bullying takes place on school property, in a school-operated vehicle or during any school-sponsored or related activity.

Cyber Bullying broadens bullying to include using any electronic communication device and allows for more legal options and additional criminal charges leading to juvenile or adult criminal penalties {including fines and time in jail or prison}. In addition to suspension or expulsion from school, legal charges can be filed under:

  • Harassment. Harassment occurs when someone intentionally communicates an obscene proposal, threatens, conveys a false report, or makes a call or sends a message designed to harass, annoy, alarm, embarrass or torment. Harassment is either a Class A or B misdemeanor depending on the circumstances. {Texas Penal Code § 42.07}
  • Online Impersonation. This occurs when someone acting with intent to harm, defraud, or intimidate, creates a page on a website, or sends messages in the guise of someone else without that person’s permission. Online impersonation is either a felony {up to 10 years in prison} or misdemeanor depending on the circumstances. {Texas Penal Code § 33.07}
  • Disruptive Activities. A crime rooted in schools, it occurs when someone uses force or threats of force to obstruct people from moving through a school, from participating in school assemblies, or obstructing or restraining a person from entering or leaving a school. This crime is a Class B misdemeanor. {Texas Educational Code § 37.123}
  • Defamation. Knowingly publicizing false statements resulting in harm. Results are court order to pay damages plus punitive damages designed to punish wrongdoer.

Absolute Intolerance

Bullying/cyberbullying is not something to take lightly. I cannot imagine the pain the Vela family is feeling. It follows that education, communication and a community that has absolutely no place for targeting others is where we must be. How many more young, precious lives must be senselessly lost before we all get there?

Parents, please, take this issue into your own hands. Let’s be sure we are raising children and young adults who are smart enough and caring enough not to bully. Schools, let’s make sure we have programs in place to stop bullying and a system for it be reported and dealt with. If you need more information, Crime Stoppers can come speak to your groups by calling 713-521-4600.

It’s time for cases like Brandy’s to go from being “one of thousands” to the “unthinkable.”

Working together, we can make this happen. Bullying and cyberbullying are toxic weapons that can and do result in fatalities. But they are absolutely stoppable. Now is the time and by working together, we will get there. We hope you agree.

Posted by Rania Mankarious on 11 Dec 2016

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston