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October 16, 2013

Jury awards $50,000 to high school bullying victim

ANDERSON, Ind. — A jury has awarded the victim of extreme bullying $50,000, holding her high school liable for its response when digitally-altered and sexually suggestive photos of her circulated among students five years ago.

The six-person jury ruled Tuesday in favor of the woman and her family after they sued the school system and Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, north of Indianapolis. The award followed a three-day civil trial.

According to court documents, when the woman, who was 15 at the time, went to school on March 11, 2008, she found there were pictures posted around the school that had been edited with computer software, showing her in a sexually suggestive manner. The fliers also included her phone number.

The case files indicate school officials identified the culprit and immediately suspended him from school, though the victim's family said he was only transferred to another school. He was also charged as a minor for distribution of child pornography and child exploitation and was later placed on juvenile detention.

The woman and her family claimed that South Madison Community School Corp. was negligent in its handling of the matter, that proper counseling wasn't offered to the victim after the incident and that the family struggled to recover.

According to case documents, South Madison denied negligence and contended it acted with reasonable care in the matter.

"I'm glad they found them liable for what happened," the victim said after the Tuesday hearing.

The decision comes on the heels of a state law passed this year that requires school districts to adopt plans with specific timetables for reporting bullying, reporting methods, and a detailed plan of action once bullying is reported, according to an Associated Press report.

One key witness in the case was Dr. Pamela Porter, an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder who counseled the victim and her family after the incident. Porter said the woman now suffers symptoms of PTSD. The victim reported having symptoms of a panic attack the day of the incident, Porter said, and still has difficulty interacting with people without feeling anxious.

Details of this story were reported by The Anderson (Ind.) Herald-Bulletin.

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