Trying to stop cyberbullying before it is too late

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HOUSTON - Cyberbullying is a growing trend haunting the youth of today and some are tormented to the point of suicide.

"I wish she would have reconsidered. I wish she would have let us talk her into putting that gun down," said Jacqueline Vela, whose sister Brandy Vela, 18, had been bullied to the point where she shot herself in front of her parents.

"It was a devastating loss when Brandy took her own life. She was a beautiful girl, a thriving student about to graduate high school," said Crimestoppers Executive Director Rania Mankarious. "It's expansive and doesn't seem to end and is horrible for people who endure it,"

The Velas had their life turned upside down by cyberbullying, but they're not the only ones.

"The numbers are growing by leaps and bounds," Mankarious said.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, about half of young people have been bullied online but about the same number have done the bullying themselves.

Nearly 20 percent of kids said they've been repeatedly bullied, but the i-safe foundation found 60 percent of those bullied, don't report it at all.

Mankarious advises parents begin communicating with their kids at an early age.

"I think it's really important that parents are talking to kids from a very early age even before you give them their first phone, before you get them their first computer, you need to talk to them about being good digital citizens," Mankarious said.

"We're so quick to buy our kids a phone at 9 years old but we never think about giving them a class about internet etiquette. What's acceptable, what's not acceptable. What has consequences," Brandy's father, Raul Vela said.

Experts say cyber bullying can lead to depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and sadly even suicide.

Unfortunately cyberbullying is tough to police.

"With my sister, we tried to go to law enforcement and it was really hard because they didn't know what to do. She wasn't being physically harmed so they felt there was nothing they could do," Vela said.

For the Velas, they've been relieved to know two people have been charged for the harassment leading to Brandy's suicide, but the family wants more than just charges.

"The laws they have for bullying and harassment are misdemeanor charges. So basically, it's like a traffic ticket... He might walk away with a traffic ticket. He took somebody's life. He's actually a murderer to me. It doesn't matter how you kill someone, but to me that's murder . He should be doing a life sentence," Raul said.

Current anti-harassment laws don't include provisions for online bullying, but that could change if "David's Law" passes in the Lone Star State.

The David's Law also known as S-B 179 was named after San Antonio teen, David Molak, who committed suicide after being harassed online.

On May 3, the Texas Senate unanimously passed the bill and now it is in the Texas House of Representatives.



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