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Del. Cardin to discuss the impact of cyberbullying

ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland lawmaker is trying to outlaw electronic harassment known as cyberbullying in the state, saying his legislation isnecessary for the well-being of Maryland families.

Delegate Jon S. Cardin at news conference Wednesday outlined the bill that would prohibit individuals from using a computer to publicly threaten a child, post sexually explicit or private information about a child, or intentionally inflict emotional harm on a minor. The Baltimore County Democrat’s measure also would prohibit electronic harassment of a minor based on sex, race or sexual orientation. Violators would face up to a year in jail or a $500 fine.

“All over the country, children are hurting others and they are taking their own lives because of the extraordinary cruelty they experience every day that comes in the form of bullying,” Cardin said. “Today we offer teachers, parents and law enforcement a tool to take a stand.”

A mother who said her 15-year-old daughter committed suicide last year after a series of cyberbullying attacks via Facebook and Twitter spoke in favor of the bill. Christine McComas of Howard County described her daughter, Grace, as a happy and kind-hearted girl and said she was heartened by the proposal that could prevent future electronic attacks and perhaps even deaths.

McComas’ voice trembled and her eyes watered as she read some of the messages targeted at her daughter who was sophomore at Glenelg High School in Ellicott City.

One message said, “Next time my name rolls off of your tongue, choke on it and die.”

“She was not considered sullen or uncommunicative,” McComas said of Grace. “She was not considered an outcast or different, but that is what makes this so scary. If it could happen to her, it could happen to anyone.”

Cardin noted that as a child, he bullied and was the victim of bullying. But he said bullying was less widespread before the days of the Internet and social media.

“The Internet and the cyber threats know no bounds,” Cardin said. “They are not contained by the four walls of our home, but penetrate the inner reaching of a child’s life and psyche.”

During the 2008-09 school year, an estimated 7 million students ages 12 through 18, or 28 percent of all students that age, were bullied at school, according to a National Center for Education Statistics study. An estimated 1.5 million students, or 6 percent, were cyber-bullied anywhere.