This year, about 15% of high school students and 40% of adults will experience some form of cyberbullying. In fact, you could be the victim of cyberbullying without even understanding exactly what’s going on, so let’s take a closer look at what cyberbullying is and what you can do about it.
Cyberbullying can involve a wide range of behaviors, including public shaming, making threats, exposing personal information, and using social media to harass someone. Sometimes it even leads to charges of assault, rape, sexual battery, fraud, identity theft, and/or stalking.
A cyberbully can emerge from almost anywhere. They could be a former friend, someone you once dated, a neighbor, or someone your child knows through school or other activities. Sometimes it’s a stranger you only know through a social media platform like Facebook or Tinder.
In Maryland, a peace order holds an individual accountable for cyberbullying and puts them on notice that they must leave you alone. They will be notified that they must cease their behavior and if they fail to do so, a judge or police officer can start a process where they may face penalties for violating the peace order.
Here’s the bottom line: If someone is using an electronic device or the internet to continually bother you or your child, it could amount to cyberbullying. You shouldn’t have to live in fear or worry about your child’s safety from a cyberbully.
Don’t let it get out of control before you contact an attorney and seek a peace order. The law team at Zirkin & Schmerling Law will help you take proactive steps toward security and peace of mind. Read on to learn more about how peace orders work against cyberbullies.
How is a Peace Order Helpful?
A peace order helps preserve your safety and/or the safety of your child. It notifies the authorities that someone is targeting you while starting a paper trail in case it escalates. If the cyberbully continues their behavior, you can call the police department immediately for help and they’ll have your information on file.
Another benefit of a peace order is that it helps you feel empowered to stand up to the cyberbully and show that their behavior can’t stay hidden. A cyberbully takes cover behind the safety of their screen, lashing out through text messages, voicemails, social media posts, and other electronic communication.
With a peace order, you put the cyberbully on notice that the law is involved and they have nowhere to hide. Often, this is enough to put a stop to their behavior. Ideally, they’ll back off and disappear back into the internet – and think twice about cyberbullying you again. By obtaining a peace order, you could be preventing someone else from being cyberbullied in the future, too.
Is it Difficult to Obtain a Maryland Peace Order?
Although it takes a bit of patience and time to secure a peace order, it’s not a difficult process. Start by contacting a Maryland attorney who is qualified to assist you with obtaining a peace order. With the help of a lawyer, you’ll avoid doing things that aren’t in your best interest going forward.
Next, file a peace order petition with the court to request a peace order. The hearing will determine whether the cyberbully’s actions create an urgent need for a temporary peace order. At this point, you’ll need to cite a specific action by the cyberbully within the past 30 days.
Maryland peace orders only apply to acts committed in Maryland and usually require one of the following conditions to be met:
- You received serious bodily harm or are in fear of imminent serious bodily harm.
- You have been assaulted or raped. This includes threatening to harm you and intentionally frightening you.
- Someone has trespassed on or maliciously destroyed your property.
- You have been visually surveilled in a private place without giving consent.
- You have been the victim of the kinds of crimes that show a persistent pattern of conduct, composed of a series of acts over time, that shows a continuity of purpose. This would include Harassment, Stalking, Telephone Misuse, Electronic Communication Misuse, Revenge Porn, and Visual Surveillance.
Remember, even though the Electronic Communication Misuse statute covers the most thought of types of Cyberbullying, assault is any intentional act that causes you to fear that you are about to suffer physical harm. Even if you are not physically harmed, it could still be assault and/or cyberbullying. Don’t assume that the cyberbully’s actions aren’t serious enough to merit a peace order. Let a judge make that decision.
If the judge issues the temporary peace order, it will lasts up to 30 days, or 7 days after the respondent is served, whichever occurs first. Do not be concerned when you receive a temporary order. This is a positive outcome and starts the process of getting a final order. Even a temporary order means the cyberbully must immediately stop posting things online, threatening you, contacting you, and anything else the judge deems necessary. It also forbids them from trying to visit you in person, which comes as a huge relief when you’re being cyberbullied.
Within seven days of the temporary order being issued, another hearing will be scheduled regarding a final peace order. Here’s something that may come as a relief to you: The standard of proof at this point isn’t extraordinarily high, and you’ll essentially need to prove that it’s “more likely than not” that the cyberbully presents a threat to you. As long as a judge determines that it’s more likely than not that the cyberbully has committed or will commit a prohibited act, a final peace order will probably be issued and this order can be in effect for up to six months.
From there, you can report any violations of the peace order and keep the authorities up to date on whether the cyberbully is complying. If the cyberbully commits any acts prohibited by the Final Peace Order, in addition to any violations of law that the cyberbully has newly committed, the State’s Attorney can prosecute the cyberbully for the crime of violating a Peace Order.
Understanding the Difference Between a Peace Order and a Protective Order
A protective order and a peace order are both “restraining orders.” Their first big difference has to do with your relationship with the other person.
A protective order are designed to protect you from family or someone you live with. This includes former spouses, parents, children, vulnerable adults, someone you have a child with, and someone you’ve had a sexual relationship with within the last year of filing for the protection. A peace order is for anyone not mentioned in the protection order statutes and applies to anyone out in the world who might threaten or harm you.
You don’t have to have a close relationship with someone in order to get a peace order against them. In fact, you may pursue a peace order against someone you barely know or even a stranger who is harassing you online.
You can request a peace order against people like:
- A neighbor
- A former boyfriend/girlfriend
- A school classmate or their parents
- A coworker or former coworker
- A store owner
- A former business partner
- A landlord
- Someone at the gym
- Someone you met on social media
- Someone you sold something to or bought something from
- An internet stranger
If you don’t know the person’s name or precise contact information, there are ways of obtaining this information. Talk to your lawyer and tell them everything you know about the person and they will help you locate the information you’ll need to request the peace order.
What if the Cyberbully is Just Threatening Me?
Threats are serious business and “just a threat” can become a physical assault before you know it. It’s hard to tell exactly when a bully might follow through on a threat by doing something more serious. Cyberbullies often taunt their victims, making it necessary to get a peace order just in case.
Keep in mind that you can obtain a peace order against someone regardless of whether they have actually done the things they are threatening. Physical violence is not a requirement for a peace order. If they say they want to harm you and you fear for your immediate safety, that may be enough for a judge to award you a peace order.
Don’t wait for someone to hurt you. Contact an attorney who can help you start the peace order process and add a layer of safety between you and the cyberbully.
Consider a Peace Order When Social Sharing Becomes Bullying
If you’re not sure whether your specific situation merits a peace order, contact Zirkin & Schmerling Law for a free case evaluation. We’re here to help you stay safe and we’ve seen ample evidence that cyberbullying can happen in a wide variety of situations.
Did you know that Instagram is the world’s #1 platform for cyberbullying? YouTube is also a frequent place where bullying occurs, with cruel comments and exposure of personal information in video comments and within the videos themselves.
Don’t forget about Snapchat and Twitter, the social messaging platforms where people can send rapid-fire cyberbullying messages. Even dating apps like Tinder and Bumble are hotbeds for bullying, including humiliating people for their personal appearance and sexual orientation.
And a surprising number of people are still bullied through relatively old-fashioned routes like email, text messaging, and voicemails. What starts as ordinary communication can spiral out of control into bullying within a matter of days or even within a matter of minutes.
You or your child may need a peace order if you are experiencing any of the following cyberbullying situations:
- You discovered a YouTube video that humiliates you or your child.
- Online videos/photos show someone shaming your child who has a disability.
- A neighbor is using the internet to pester you.
- School classmates are passing around private photos/information.
- Someone is trying to “out” you or your teenager online for being LGBTQ.
- Someone is sending relentless messages to your phone, email, or social platform.
- You received racist threats through the internet.
- You sold something on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace and now the person won’t leave you alone.
- Someone who matched with you on a dating site or app has started to harass you.
- An old high school classmate is now bullying you online.
- Your former business partner is using online review sites to harass and embarrass you.
- A coworker is threatening to expose something private about you online.
- Someone made a threat against you, but you’re not sure if they will follow through.
- You’re not sure who is cyberbullying you and you need help investigating it and possibly pursuing a peace order.
Any of these situations presents a compelling reason to contact an attorney. With the help of your attorney, you can look at the details of the situation and decide what to do next. Your attorney looks out for your best interests and aids you in avoiding making mistakes in handling your cyberbullying situation.
Important Tips for Cyberbullying Victims
Being cyberbullied is extremely stressful. The bully exploits your fears and vulnerabilities, interfering with your day-to-day life and disrupting your world. For this reason, it’s easy to make mistakes in judgment that could affect your future.
For example, if you have a moment of frustration and decide to go to the cyberbully’s home and “talk it out,” they might call the police and claim you’re the bully, not them. The situation can escalate very quickly and suddenly you have a much larger problem.
Here are some tips for handling cyberbullying:
- Don’t escalate it.
- Don’t retaliate.
- Don’t react to a threat with a threat.
- Don’t go to the bully’s home, school, or workplace.
- Minimize your contact and have zero contact if possible.
- Block and report messages on social platforms.
- Change your privacy settings to be as private as possible.
- Take screenshots of all contact from the bully.
- If you’re a child, tell an adult what’s happening.
- Take it seriously.
- Talk to a lawyer about obtaining a peace order.
If My Child Had a Cyberbully, Wouldn’t I Already Know it?
Cyberbullying often arises in unexpected places. It may be happening on your child’s school-issued iPad or laptop. Someone could be harassing your child in text messages or voicemails, or bullying them on a website you thought was family-friendly.
Even if your child doesn’t have a cell phone or internet access, someone may be bullying them secondhand by telling a friend to show them messages. Someone could be sharing things on social media your child doesn’t see, but everyone else at school does. This kind of situation can be deeply scarring for a child, yet the parent might not even realize what’s going on.
That’s why the official U.S. government website StopBullying.com advises adults to consider these important and common characteristics of cyberbullying.
Persistent: Cyberbullying happens online, meaning it can occur 24/7 and make a child feel relentlessly mocked and harassed.
Public: For a child, it can feel like “everyone knows.” Cyberbullying remains almost permanently on the internet, where anyone can see it.
Parents don’t notice: Remember, cyberbullying can be hard for adults to detect, so we must help children recognize it and understand that they don’t have to tolerate it.
What Does Maryland Law Say About Peace Orders and Cyberbullying?
In response to the rise of cyberbullying, Maryland established laws about online harassment and obtaining peace orders against online bullies. Here are the most relevant laws in our state:
- Md. Courts And Judicial Proceedings Code Ann. Section 3-1503
- Md. Courts And Judicial Proceedings Code Ann. Section 3-1505
- Md. Criminal Law Code Ann. Section 3-805
The laws above explain which violations give someone the right to seek a peace order, outline the standard of proof required to seek a peace order, and explain Maryland’s criminal laws concerning cyberbullying. Because the legal language can be confusing, it’s a good idea to talk to a Maryland attorney who handles cyberbullying cases and can put it all in plain language.
Take a Look at These Maryland Cyberbullying and Peace Order Resources:
- Maryland Courts Peace Order Pamphlet
- Here’s What a Petition for Peace Order Looks Like
- Maryland Peace Order and Cyberbullying Attorneys
- FREE Case Evaluation (Online Request Form)
- Free case evaluation by phone: 410-753-4611
Frequently Asked Questions About Peace Orders and Cyberbullying
We hear many of the same questions frequently about cyberbullying and peace orders, so we created the FAQ below to assist you. If this information doesn’t answer your questions, you can always reach out to us for a free case evaluation and a discussion about your individual situation.
Q: If I get a peace order, will the cyberbully be arrested?
A: Not if you only apply for a peace order. If you apply for a peace order, and a temporary peace order is granted, the cyberbully will be notified to appear in court for a peace order hearing. If you separately filed criminal charges by reporting the act or acts to the police or filled out on your own an Application for Statement of Charges at the Commissioner’s Office, then it is possible the cyberbully could be arrested but this would be for criminal charges and not because you applied for a peace order. Also, if the cyberbully ever violates the terms for the peace order, and you report it to the authorities, then the cyberbully will be arrested.
Q: What does a Maryland peace order tell the cyberbully?
A: Essentially, it tells them that a judge says they must leave you alone. They will be notified to cease certain behavior spelled out in the peace order and if they fail to do so, they will face certain penalties.
Q: Which kinds of actions are covered by a peace order?
A: Depending on the exact orders of the judge, a peace order generally prohibits someone from causing you bodily harm, placing you in fear of imminent harm, assaulting you, raping you, imprisoning you, harassing you, stalking you, destroying things you own, or trespassing on your property. It may also include restrictions on telephone use, computer/internet use, and certain acts like surveillance or distribution of materials.
Q: Can I get a peace order for embarrassing photos, videos, or revenge porn?
A: Yes. Humiliating photos and videos are grounds for obtaining a peace order if you know who is responsible for positing the material and can show they had a criminal intent when they posted the material.
Q: Is there a time limit for filing a peace order against a cyberbully?
A: Yes. Time is of the essence. You must file it within 30 days of the cyberbully’s last action.
Q: What kind of proof will I need?
A: The standard of proof for a temporary peace order is that you have reasonable grounds to believe this other person commited a qualifying act and is likely to commit another one in the future. The standard of proof for a final peace order is that more likely than not this other person has committed a qualifying act and is likely to commit another one in the future. For some kinds of peace order applications, just your testimony can be sufficient evidence. If you are alleging cyberbullying, assault, or any other kind of harassment, it would be helpful to have the following types of proof: screenshots of online harassment, pictures of injuries or property damage, recordings of audio or video clips, police reports, medical records, and police reports.
Q: What penalties does a cyberbully face if they don’t comply with the peace order?
A: They may be found guilty of a misdemeanor and receive a fine of up to $500 or a jail sentence of up to 90 days. For subsequent violations, the penalties increase to 1 year for each subsequent violation of the order.
Q: If the cyberbully violates the peace order, should I report it?
A: Yes, you should absolutely report any violations of the peace order to the police immediately and contact your attorney with the details.
Q: Can I file criminal charges if I am getting a peace order?
A: You can do both, but it requires two separate sets of steps. Talk to your attorney about seeking a peace order and filing criminal charges as well. Frequently, you can file criminal charges and a peace order application at the same location.
Q: Can I sue the cyberbully for harming me or my child?
A: Yes. Whether your peace order is granted or not, you can sue someone over an injury or other types of harm. Contact a Zirkin & Schmerling Law personal injury attorney to pursue this option.
Q: Does it cost anything to obtain a peace order?
A: Yes. It costs $46 to file plus a $40 fee. In some cases, these fees may be waived if you request a waiver through the court.
Q: Can I still get a peace order against someone if they got one against me too?
A: Yes. This is known as a mutual peace order. It works to protect both people against each other.
How to Select an Experienced Maryland Lawyer to Help With Cyberbullying
Have you been cyberbullied? Choose a Maryland lawyer with experience seeking peace orders and holding cyberbullies responsible for their actions. Ask what kinds of results they’ve gotten for their clients in the past and see what kind of success they’ve found with peace orders.
Here are some important factors to consider:
Experience. Do they have the credentials to handle a cyberbullying case? These cases involve electronics, technology, and social media platforms. Is your lawyer up to date on the legal issues involved?
Results. Your attorney should be able to tell you about other cases where they have seen positive results and have successfully backed down a cyberbully.
Reputation. When your lawyer has a great reputation in Maryland, it makes a difference. With the right legal assistance behind you, you can stand up to a cyberbully and finally resolve the situation.
At Zirkin & Schmerling Law, our goal is to help ease your mind. To learn more, contact us today at 410-753-4611 to get in touch with a qualified, experienced attorney in Maryland.
Our lawyers will provide you an initial evaluation of your case entirely free of charge. We can’t make your cyberbully disappear, but we can do the next best thing: give you the representation, understanding, and advocacy you deserve going forward.
Need Answers About Peace Orders and Cyberbullying? We’re Here to Help.
You can take action to stop online bullying. If a cyberbully is targeting you or your child, seek a peace order to help put a stop to it. At Zirkin & Schmerling Law, we have compassion for the victims of cyberbullying and understand that it can be very challenging and emotionally draining. We promise to work passionately to help protect you.