Cyberbullying Laws in Indiana

Under Indiana law, it’s a crime to send an obscene message to anyone or threaten anyone through any form of communication, including electronic and telephonic. Apart from criminal punishment, Indiana requires schools to adopt bullying prevention programs to prevent and discipline student-on-student bullying and cyberbullying.

This article discusses cyberbullying laws in Indiana. For information about cyberbullying in general, see Teen Cyberbullying and Harassment.

Cyberbullying as a Crime in Indiana

Using a smartphone or computer to send obscene or threatening messages is a crime under Indiana law. The degree of the crime depends on the circumstances.

Harassment by Obscene Message

Someone who makes an obscene telephone call or sends an obscene written or electronic communication to another may be guilty of the Class B misdemeanor of harassment by obscene message. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-45-2-2.)

A message is obscene, for purposes of Indiana law, if the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that it lacks serious artistic, literary, political, or scientific value, and that it:

  • as a whole, appeals to a prurient interest in sex, or
  • refers to sexual conduct in a patently offensive way. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-45-2-2.)

Criminal Harassment: Stalking

Someone who uses an electronic device to threaten or stalk another person commits a more serious crime. Under Indiana law, it is a Level 6 felony for to stalk another person or make a threat intended to cause the victim to reasonably fear sexual battery, serious bodily injury, or death. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-45-10-5.)

Indiana law defines “stalking” as:

  • a knowing or intentional course of conduct
  • involving repeated or continuous harassment
  • that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, or threatened, and
  • that actually does cause the victim to feel that way.

(Ind. Code Ann. § 35-45-10-1.)

Cyberbullying Punishment

A person convicted of Level 6 felony stalking faces imprisonment of six months to two and a half years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-50-2-7.)

A person convicted of Class B misdemeanor harassment by obscene message faces incarceration of 180 days, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-50-3-3.)

Schools

Every school in Indiana is required to institute and enforce rules prohibiting student-on-student bullying. (Ind. Code Ann. § 20-33-8-135.) These must include intervention, parental involvement, and education for the students involved, as well as support services for the victim. And, the rules must provide for anonymous reporting of bullying.

Indiana law defines “bullying” as unwanted, repeated acts, including digitally or electronically transmitted communications, as well as physical aggression and other behaviors, that:

  • are intended to harass, ridicule, humiliate, intimidate, or harm the targeted student
  • place the victim in reasonable fear of physical harm or property damage, and
  • substantially interfere with the victim’s academic performance or ability to participate in or benefit from school services, activities, and privileges.

(Ind. Code Ann. § 20-33-8.02.)

Immunity from Lawsuits

In Indiana, no one can sue a person or school for failing to comply with the requirement that schools institute and enforce anti-bullying rules. (Ind. Code Ann. § 20-33-8-135.) So, even if a school doesn’t institute the required rules, thereby allowing one student to bully another, the parents of the victim cannot file a lawsuit against the school for noncompliance. Likewise, if a teacher fails to report bullying, the parents of the victim may have no legal recourse.

See a Lawyer

If you or anyone you know has experienced or been accused of harassment or bullying, you may want to speak with a lawyer experienced in criminal defense or education law in your area. A knowledgeable lawyer should be able to more fully explain the law and to advise you of your options.

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