INDIANAPOLIS — A new effort is underway to better protect Indiana students from bullying and harassment.
The Indiana House passed House Bill 1607, which would give bullying victims more tools to protect themselves.
Rep. Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville, authored the bill after hearing from a student and his family in his district.
“A young man was receiving hundreds if not thousands of text messages in a single day just over and over again,” Hatfield said. “They would change phone numbers and nothing seemed to work, and the schools failed, so they went to the courts and the courts said our current law doesn't provide for protection for you and there's nothing we can do. That's a hopeless feeling."
Under current law, to register for a protective order you have to be a victim of domestic, family violence, stalking or a sex offense.
House Bill 1607 would add harassment to the list, and violators would face a misdemeanor and up to one year behind bars.
“The goal is to stop bullying and to stop people from being harassed and protect our kids,” Hatfield said. “We have far too many kids taking their lives because they can't get relief, and this bill is aimed at giving them relief."
The Centers for Disease Control says 20 percent of students report being bullied on school property, and of those seven percent attempt suicide.
Martinsville teenager, Bailey Liscomb, tried to take her own life and what she called 'repeated bullying' at school.
"They would just be recording me, posting me on their Snapchat story, putting gay, f***** rainbows and posting it everywhere," Bailey said.
Bailey said the bullies made social media accounts about her.
“They called it Number One Fa* in Martinsville,” Bailey said. “It hurt my feelings because I’m nice to everybody. It was like why would someone do this?”
House Bill 1607 would add more options for people like Bailey.
If the legislation becomes law, it would create an interim study committee that would research prevention measures for cyberbullying and other forms of bullying.
The committee would discuss criminal and civil protections against bullying, as well as the roles that schools, teachers and parents play when bullying happens.
Call 6 Investigates found nearly 60 percent of Indiana schools reported zero bullying incidents for the 2016-2017 school year.
47 percent of schools reported zero bullying incidents during the 2017-2018 school year, which is encouraging to child advocates and lawmakers who pushed for schools to report the truth.
Our investigation prompted a new state law, HEA 1356, which allows the Indiana Department of Education to audit schools for how they report bullying and require IDOE to send annual reminders to schools about their duty to report bullying.
“I believe that every school ought to report bullying and every school ought to play by the same rules,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield said technology makes it impossible to escape bullying.
“We now have 24 hour access to other people, and a lot of our young folks are getting bullied through social media,” Hatfield said. “We need an avenue to say this has to stop.”
House Bill 1607 now heads to the Senate for consideration.