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Shame: A Different Criminal Law Proposal for Bullies

24 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2013 Last revised: 6 Jun 2014

Xiyin Tang

Yale Law School

Date Written: March 25, 2013


Public concern over bullying has reached an all-time high. The absence of a sensible criminal charging and sentencing regime for the problem recently reared its head in the highly-publicized prosecution of Dharun Ravi, who was convicted of 15 counts and faced the possibility of 10 years in prison. This Essay argues that existing criminal statutes used to address the problem, like bias intimidation and invasion of privacy, do not fit neatly with the specific wrongs of bullying. However, recently-enacted “cyberbullying” laws, which give complete discretion to school administrators, are weak and ineffective. I propose another solution: first, to criminalize the act of bullying itself, thus sending a powerful expressive message that can flip the high school and teenage norm of meanness as virtue. To reinforce that message, sentencing a bully to shaming, not imprisonment, better serves utilitarian, expressive, rehabilitative, and retributive goals specific to the wrongs of bullying.

Keywords: bullying, retribution, expressive law, cyberbullying, charging, sentencing, rehabilitation

Suggested Citation

Tang, Xiyin, Shame: A Different Criminal Law Proposal for Bullies (March 25, 2013). Cleveland State Law Review, Vol. 61, No. 3, 2013. Available at SSRN:

Xiyin Tang (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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