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Parents of cyberbullies beware of the law

In 2008, Michael Berry took his own life on his 17th birthday because the cyber-powered homo-phobic hate campaign that started with a rumor that he was gay became too much to bear. He was completely isolated from his peer community.

In a recent WBGO news article, a New Jersey judge has ruled that the Hunterdon Central School District, who was sued by the parents of a child who was relentlessly harassed and the school did not stop it, can sue the parents of children who were bullying that child because they had been advised about their child’s participation in the attack and did not intervene.

Lisa Ford Berry, founder of BRAVE Society, a Carmichael non-profit dedicated to peer abuse prevention, knows all too well how bullying unchecked among students on campus can break a person. She lost her 17-year-old son Michael Berry, in 2008 to a suicide as a result of a hate-biased, homophobic campaign initiated by someone who started a rumor he was gay.

According to Ford Berry, her son’s plight was concealed through cyber technology (MySpace and texting) as her son was loath to share the humiliating, degrading things being said to him, about him and completely isolating him from his peer community; not a single friend or fellow student stood by him.

And she wants all parents to know that the federal laws protecting people from harassment at work can be applied to kids at school.

“Hate speech is learned behavior,” Ford Berry said, “And parents need to understand that our own biases and hatred can easily become translated as permission to intimidate and harass an individual for being perceived as different. And the consequences for not taking a proactive role steering your child away from allowing or participating in the targeting and attack of an individual can mean civil suits and monetary damages.”

This Tues. 6:30 p.m. and Wed. at 10 a.m. St. Joseph Marello Catholic Church is hosting a seminar on “Confronting the bully: How to Protect Your Child”, which features Ford Berry as a speaker. The event is ecumenical, free and open to the public.

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