Gone are the days when bullying just meant calling someone a name in the neighborhood playground.
In an effort to curb the rampant cyber-bullying epidemic, Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx and Westchester), along with several other elected officials, made a stop at the Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights on Wednesday to address an audience of students, who are seen as being at most risk to be victimized.
“I felt I needed to do something,” Klein said. “The best way we could talk about this problem is to talk to young people.
“We have to pass legislation,” he told he middle schoolers. “You can help us to craft legislation.”
Klein said that while there are laws against stalking, there is currently “nothing in New York State penal law on cyberbullying. It’s my intent to have cyber-bullying be stalking in the third degree.”
He indicated that “we did pass a law last year that will go into effect in January. The ‘dignity for all students act’ will go a long way in helping.”
The gathering, billed as a press conference, was designed not only to discuss legislation but to launch a new student survey called the “click, comment and create change” census, which would empower the city’s students to speak directly to lawmakers formulating the anti-bullying legislation.
The bullying issue has become so problematic that Klein estimated 41 percent of all teenagers in the city have been affected. The figure for gay teens is 54 percent.
Miss New York, Kaitlin Monte, an Astoria resident who will represent the state in the upcoming Miss America pageant, has made cyberbullying the focus of her platform. She was on hand to share personal stories of her own bullying experiences.
She recalled that when she was younger, “Someone made a fake profile and messaged me, saying, ‘No one wants you around.’ It was so personal. I locked myself in the bathroom,” adding, “I never found out who it was.”
A few years later, she said, after breaking up with a boyfriend, she faced two years of his online aggressions.
“I called the police. They said there was nothing they could do” if he didn’t make any direct threats against her.
Following the suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, a young gay man from Buffalo, Monte started an online petition to bring cyberbullying laws to New York. Over 3,000 signatures have been collected so far.
Bullying expert Perry Aftab, who has taken her campaign around the world and on many widely-seen TV programs, asked those in attendance to offer reasons why so many victims neglect telling an adult.
“They’re afraid if someone finds out, the situation will get worse,” one youngster said. “Parents don’t understand,” said another.
Aftab then asked the entire audience to stand and recite a pledge that has become something of a catchphrase for those joining the anti-bullying campaign: “I don’t stand by, I stand up,” they chanted.
Assemblymember Francisco Moya told the students, “We want to make sure you’re being protected.” Recalling that children in his day used to settle disputes in the playground, he said, “We’re dealing with a different time here.”
Prior to the conference, the school’s principal, Stacey Gauthier, made it clear that cyberbullying is an issue that needs to be addressed. “The threats are serious. They're not always just threats,” she said.
Anyone interested in completing the on-line survey should visit nycyberbullycensus.com.