A new bill making cyber-harassment a crime in New Jersey has been unanimously approved by the State Senate Budget Committee.

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State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Audubon) said prosecutors have been asking for the law, to help them punish people who threaten others on social media sites.

"This bill closes a loophole that prevents prosecution when minors are harassed by adults or other minors," said Norcross. "The laws that are here today will apply online so you can no longer hide behind a name on a computer."

Under the bill, a person will have committed a crime of cyber-harassment if, while online using any electronic device or social networking site, that person:

  1. threatens to injure or harm a person or that person's property;
  2. knowingly sends or posts any lewd, indecent or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm a person or place a person in fear of physical or emotional harm; or
  3. threatens to commit a crime against a person or his or her property.

The bill would make cyber-harassment a fourth degree crime punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. If the offender is over age 21 at the time of the offense and impersonates a minor for the purpose of harassing another minor, it would be a crime of the third degree, punishable by three to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.

"It used be if two kids were having an argument on a playground, it pretty much stayed there or within a small group," said Norcross. "Once things go online, email is forever. Emails don't disappear."

If a minor under age 16 is convicted of cyber-harassment, the court may order that the minor, accompanied by his or her parent or guardian, satisfactorily complete one or both of the following:

  • a class or training program intended to reduce the tendency toward cyber-harassment behavior, or;
  • a class or training program intended to bring awareness to the dangers associated with cyber-harassment.

If a parent or guardian fails to accompany his or her child to the class or training program, that parent or guardian would be guilty of a disorderly persons offense, punishable by a $25 minimum fine.

"An increasing number of students are reporting having been the victim of online harassment, and in too many cases the torment these children have been forced to endure has led to suicide attempts or worse," said state Sen. Nick Sacco (D-North Bergen), another co-sponsor. "This bill will make sure that our laws specifically address this conduct, and that law enforcement officials have the tools necessary to prosecute individuals who participate in cyber-harassment. Hopefully, this will make children, as well as adults, think twice about their online behavior."