A new state law authored by State Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville) will provide added protections for Hoosiers who face an increased risk of harassment and bullying through social media and other new technology.

Hatfield said House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1607, which takes effect July 1, is aimed particularly at students in middle school, high school, and college, who are being bullied in school, after school, and on various social media platforms. Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the bill into law earlier this month.

“I consider this act to be a direct response to the terrifying news that teen depression and suicides are on the rise,” Hatfield said. “Social media and other technological advances have given bullies more ways to harass and bully their victims.”

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than one out of every five students report being bullied. The Center for Disease Control reports that among high school students, 15.5% are cyberbullied and 20.2% are bullied on school property, and students who experience bullying are at increased risk for poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties, anxiety, and depression.

HEA 1607 will include harassment among the list of crimes that qualify a victim to obtain an order of protection. Presently, that list covers domestic or family violence, stalking, or a sex offense. Hatfield noted that the act also will enable parents to seek a protective order for a child.

“This act also expands the definition of stalking as a criminal act to include communication with a victim in person, by writing, telephone or other electronic means, and posting content on social media that is directed to the victim or refers to the victim directly or indirectly,” Hatfield said.

“As technology expands, it provides more opportunities for bullies to use these public platforms to conduct campaigns of harassment and bullying against innocent victims,” he continued. “HEA 1607 provides practical protections against these crimes, and I hope it provides a practical step to help end the emotional distress that victims feel.”