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Mother of bullied teen hopes to change Florida's laws

Polk County Sheriff's Office / Polk County Sheriff's Office

Rebecca Ann Sedwick

A mother in Florida is looking to put a stop to bullying and cyberbullying, after her 12-year-old daughter jumped to her death last year.

Rebecca Sedwick, a student in the Polk County School District, was often the victim of extreme bullying at school, officials said. In September, she committed suicide at an abandoned cement plant near her home.

Bullying is currently prohibited in Florida, but the proposed legislation would make bullying and cyberbullying a crime. The bill has been dubbed "Rebecca's Law."

“This legislation will make parents and students aware that bullying is a crime,” attorney Matt Morgan said. “We believe that Rebecca’s Law will deter students from bullying others in the future and will potentially save lives.”

The two girls accused of cyberbullying Sedwick initially faced charges of aggravated stalking, but those charges were dropped in November.

According to Florida’s statute, bullying is defined as “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress” and it includes teasing, social exclusion, threat, intimidation, theft, physical harassment and humiliation. 

The legislation’s first attempt at combating bullying will be in the schools. According to Morgan, it will not need much, if any, funding.

“Schools need to make sure they have the proper resources to address the epidemic of bullying,” Morgan said. “This campaign [Sedwick's] mother Tricia Norman has initiated is a campaign of good will for others. I can tell you personally we have received an enormous amount of support for what we are doing.”  

Norman has also notified the school district she is planning to sue for failing to protect her daughter from bullying. Morgan said they are waiting on a response from the district. They may also file wrongful death lawsuits, though nothing has been made public as of yet.

“Students need to be aware that there will be consequences for their bullying behavior in the future,” Morgan said. 

Brian Blanco / AP file

Pallbearers wearing anti-bullying T-shirts carry the casket of Rebecca Sedwick,12, to a waiting hearse as they exit the Whidden-McLean Funeral Home Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, in Bartow, Fla.