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Death by Bullying: A Comparative Culpability Proposal

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Death by Bullying: A Comparative Culpability Proposal

Audrey Rogers


On-line connectedness through social media sites has exacerbated all aspects of adolescent angst. Proposals to address cyber-bullying typically suggest school-based solutions such as sensitivity training and codes of conduct. A less frequent tool to stop bullying is criminal prosecutions, typically for harassment or stalking. Despite these steps, the extreme consequence of bullying — suicide — is occurring with alarming regularity. My paper explores the possibility and advisability of homicide charges against cyber-bullies, a controversial approach because of the serious causation questions it poses. Nonetheless, there is precedent for holding a person criminally culpable for a victim’s suicide. A notorious case involved the head of the Ku Klux Klan who was convicted of murder after the woman he raped killed herself by swallowing poison “distracted by pain and shame so inflicted upon her.” Some may see her shame as analogous to gay teens who commit suicide after being bullied about their sexual orientation. But perhaps the law should not demand that free will be completely lacking before a person is charged for another’s suicide. In other instances such as provocation, the criminal law recognizes the relationship between victim and defendant shapes culpability. This paper explores whether it is feasible and desirable to do so with suicides.

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