Bullying is defined as “any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma.” This can include telephonic or cyber bullying. Ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument, or peer conflict is not considered bullying.

Bullying can also include what is known as assault and battery which is the illegal approach and touching another individual without permission or justification. The touching must be done in a rude, angry, insulting, or vengeful way. The battery is the actual committing of a physical harm to the person. Stalking can be another form of bullying where a person who, on more than one occasion, engages in conduct directed at another person with the intent to place that other person or the person’s family or household member, in reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault, or bodily injury, or when they know or reasonably should know that the conduct places that other person in reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault or bodily injury.

How is bullying handled at school?

In school, bullying can be physical, verbal, or written, whether electronic or paper.

Any person who threatens another bodily harm or death in writing, whether electronically, or not, on school grounds or on a school bus regardless of whether or not the proposed victim receives the threat could be found guilty of a felony.

Any person who verbally threatens bodily harm or to kill to a school employee at school, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event could be found guilty of a Class 1 Misdemeanor.

What about bullying outside of school?

If you are touched by someone who purposely touches you without your permission and without excuse or justification, he or she may have committed a battery provided that the touching was done in a rude, angry, insulting, or vengeful way. An assault does not have to include actual harm, but a battery is the actual committing of a harm to a person. Assault is the approach to attempt a battery (physical touching) or the failed attempt to commit a battery. The person who commits an assault and/or battery can be found to be guilty of a Class 1 Misdemeanor. If you are intentionally attacked due to race, religious conviction, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, or national origin, the actor of such an assault and battery could face mandatory time in jail of at least six months. If an assault and/or battery is against a law enforcement officer, you could face a felony and jail time.

If you communicate in writing, including electronically, a threat to kill or do bodily harm to a person or his or her family and the threat places such person in reasonable apprehension of death or bodily harm for himself or herself or for his or her family, the actor could be guilty of a felony.

If threats are communicated over the phone to you, that person communicating the threats could be guilty of a Class 1 Misdemeanor.

When is it not bullying?

Everyone knows that we have First Amendment rights, and we are permitted to freely state our opinions, but there are limitations. If we cause others to feel fear of imminent physical harm, our speech may not be protected. The test is whether a reasonable person would feel fear due to the statements that are made.

What do I do about someone bullying me?

Call the police if the danger is immediate. You may wish to consult a lawyer to see exactly how you should approach the matter. You can potentially also take out a criminal warrant by contacting the magistrate in the county or city where the act occurred. If the bullying occurs at school, contact a school official or the school police officer.

What do I do if charges are brought against me?

Do not volunteer information to anyone without consulting a lawyer. By volunteering information, you may be incriminating yourself. A lawyer can give you legal guidance. Serious criminal charges can result, and your perspective may not be the way that others will view the case. If a confrontation resulted from the bullying, you may wish to consult a lawyer before considering bringing charges against the other individual.

So You’re 18 is presented by the Virginia State Bar Conference of Local and Specialty Bar Associations.
For print copies of So You're 18 contact (804) 775-0521 or [email protected].