Nine Massachusetts teenagers — two boys and seven girls — who allegedly drove 15-year-old Phoebe Prince to suicide with their ruthless taunting and abuse have been charged with a variety of crimes ranging from statutory rape to stalking. Notably, none of the charges stem from anti-bullying laws (Massachusetts doesn't currently have such a law, though 41 other states do). Lawyer and author Wendy Kaminer argues in The Atlantic that the Prince case offers yet another reason states should be cautious about passing such legislation:
"If the prosecution of Prince's alleged tormenters is merited, it suggests that laws against bullying may be redundant, at best. At worst, (and often) anti-bullying regulation is overbroad, exerting control over students outside of school and infringing unduly on speech, especially when it addresses cyber-bullying.
"The rash of recent cases targeting student online speech (especially speech critical of administrators), the use of child porn laws to prosecute teens for sexting, and the scandalous use of webcams to spy on students at home should make us skeptical of legislation aimed at curbing verbal 'abuses.'
"This does not mean that school administrators should only respond to bullying that is so severe, willful, and prolonged that it constitutes criminal harassment or stalking; but it may mean that unless bullying does constitute a criminal offense, it is not the business of legislators."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Save the world... by changing how you pee
- Why does Fareed Zakaria still have a job?
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Does solar energy have a battery problem?
- How to be a moral internet citizen on the often-immoral internet
- 7 common estate-planning mistakes
Subscribe to the Week