In today's ever-increasing digital world, cyberbullying and cyber harassment continue to mount. In Pennsylvania, cyberbullying and cyber harassment involving minors can be prosecuted under existing harassment and stalking laws as well as school harassment and bullying laws. Depending on the severity of the crime, certain cyber activities can also be prosecuted as child abuse crimes.
Child abuse charges are serious matters and can result in possible fines and jail time, not to mention detrimental consequences in your personal life. If you are facing possible child abuse charges for crimes related to online activity, contact the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team today for help navigating your unique circumstances.
Harassment or Stalking?
Depending on the facts and circumstances, cyberbullying may either be prosecuted as harassment or stalking charges. In instances where minors are the victims, additional child abuse charges can also apply. Title 18 Section 2709 of the Pennsylvania state code codifies the differences between these charges. Under this section, harassment is defined as intentional conduct that serves “no legitimate purpose” and causes substantial emotional distress to another person.
This is different from stalking, which Section 2709 explains encompasses harassing conduct that occurs over a period of time, whether in person or not. Although when we think of stalking, we typically imagine stalkers following their victims on darkly lit streets to their homes, stalking can also occur in virtual settings, such as repeated, unwanted virtual communications or monitoring someone's online activities and presence.
Act 26 And Child Abuse Charges
As access to virtual content has steadily increased for minors, so have laws that protect them from potential online abuse. In 2015, Act 26, also known as the Child Protective Services Law Amendment, was signed into law by Governor Wolf and expanded the definition of child abuse to include certain forms of cyberbullying and harassment directed toward children. The amendment requires that cyberbullying and cyber harassment activities resulting in “serious emotional or mental injury to a child” be prosecuted as criminal child abuse.
Under the act, a person can be criminally charged if they repeatedly send messages by electronic means that “disparage or demean” a child's “physical appearance, sexuality, mental health, or physical condition.” This applies regardless of whether the perpetrator knows the minor in real life or not. Electronic messaging encompasses communications by text, email, social media messaging, etc.
Although penalties vary depending on the nature of the alleged activity, Act 26 notes that cyber harassment and stalking of a minor can be classified as a third-degree misdemeanor, carrying penalties such as one-year imprisonment as well as fines as high as $2,500.00. Additional child abuse charges can result in excess jail time and fines and have very serious consequences on things such as immigration status, probation, and especially child custody and visitation matters.
Fighting Child Abuse Charges Stemming From Online Activity?
Criminal child abuse charges are serious matters that require immediate attention. Convictions for child abuse charges can alter the course of your life. Don't fight this battle alone. Our Criminal Defense Team has a wealth of experience defending clients in child abuse matters and is standing by to negotiate on your behalf. Contact The Lento Law Firm today by calling (888) 535-3686 or by using our online contact form.