A Crime to Be Mean? Cities Make Bullying Against the Law by Punishing Parents

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First lady Melania Trump has made it her mission to tackle bullying. Cities are now passing measures to penalize parents of bullies. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Several cities have now criminalized bullying, forcing parents to do time or pay a fine for their child's actions.

It's the latest way cities and schools are tackling bullying: by holding parents responsible during a time when schools are struggling with how to handle incidents of hate on campus, from graffiti swastikas in bathrooms to Snapchat videos of students threatening their black peers.

Critics say the incidents of hate are tied to rhetoric used by President Donald Trump, who has often been called a bully (while his wife, first lady Melania Trump, has campaigned against bullying).

Bullying has typically been left up to schools to handle, but cities in New York and Wisconsin have both passed measures criminalizing it. City officials in North Tonawanda, near Buffalo, New York, amended a law that would allow parents of bullies to be thrown in jail for 15 days or pay a $250 fine as of Oct. 1.

One parent, Victoria Crago, pushed for the law after her eighth-grade son was sucker punched by another student right before her eyes.

"This young man just sucker punched him right in the face and hit him as hard as he could," Crago told ABC News. "What really alarmed me about the situation was the brazen act of violence in front of a parent."

The bully was later charged with third-degree assault. But Crago wanted more to be done, so she started a Facebook page that caught the attention of city officials.

Crago's son is not alone. According to a United Nations Children's Emergency Fund report in 2016, two-thirds of adolescents from more than 18 countries said they had been bullied in 2016.

Similar to New York, parents in Shawano, Wisconsin, can now face similar repercussions if their children are bullies. Shawano is one of several towns in that state to target the parents of bullies. In the town of 9,300, parents have 90 days to respond to their child's behavior. If their child continues to bully other students, they will be slapped with a $366 fine on the first offense, and $681 on the second offense.

The ordinance, authorities told the Star Tribune, gives them a chance to start a conversation with parents before ultimately handing down a fine.

Some say the laws go too far by giving the government too much reach into the lives of students. But Shawano Police Chief Mark Kohl told the Star Tribune that the ordinance is the same as a child breaking an item in a store and having the parent cover the cost.

"The threat of a fine is a necessary evil," he said.

The city of Carson, California, tried but failed to have an ordinance passed in 2014 that would have fined bullies and landed them with misdemeanor charges.

Supporters of bullying ordinances say these fines and charges save lives. A 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics report found that bullying and cyberbullying contributed to teen suicide.