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Overview of state anti-bullying legislation and other related laws

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While youth bullying is as old as humankind, digital media have introduced new bullying practices and amplified the impacts. In response, schools and lawmakers have enacted a variety of preventative measures and punishments for offenders.

A 2012 working paper from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, “An Overview of State Anti-Bullying Legislation and Other Related Laws,” examines current laws as well as definitions of bullying, prevention strategies, and educational, social and legal responses in 48 states. The paper is part of the Center’s larger research effort around these issues, the Kinder & Braver World Project, done in partnership with the Born This Way Foundation.

Key findings include:

  • Definitions of bullying vary widely from state to state. A December 2011 Department of Education study referenced in the report notes that “some state laws focus on specific actions (e.g., physical, verbal or written), some focus on the intent or motivation of the aggressor, others focus on the degree and nature of harms that are inflicted on the victim, and many address multiple factors…. Minor language, omitted or inserted into laws, can significantly alter the way in which the behavior and circumstances are legally defined.”
  • Of the 38 states that have laws encompassing electronic or “cyberbullying” activity, 32 put such offenses under the broader category of bullying and six states define this type of offense separately.
  • Sixteen states acknowledge that bullies often target their victims based on “creed or religion, disability, gender or sex, nationality or national origin, race, and sexual orientation.” Each of the 16 employs a wide array of additional parameters, ranging from age and weight to socioeconomic status and “unfavorable discharge from military service.”
  • “Though historically, authority over youth bullying has fallen almost exclusively under the purview of school systems, legislation governing the consequences for bullying behavior reflects a recent trend toward treating the most serious forms of bullying as criminal conduct that should be handled through the criminal justice system.”
  • Laws in 40 of 48 states require some form of bullying education or prevention programs for students; laws in 8 states (Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri and Wisconsin) do not require such programs.
  • Federal and state laws governing hate crimes may also be applicable to certain bullying behaviors such as “stalking, cyberstalking, obscene electronic communications, harassment, assault, battery, preventing or interfering with school attendance, criminal trespass [or] conversion of property.”
  • As of January 2012, South Dakota and Montana did not have any anti-bullying laws.

The researchers note that “legal responses and mandates can at their best only facilitate the harder non-legal work that schools must undertake to create a kinder, braver world.”

Tags: children, crime, inequality, bullying, youth

    Writer: | Last updated: March 7, 2012

    Analysis assignments

    Read the issue-related New York Times op-ed "Bullying as True Drama."

    1. What key insights from the publication and op-ed should reporters be aware of as they cover youth bullying and harassment issues?

    Read the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society working paper "Overview of State Anti-Bullying Legislation and Other Related Laws."

    1. Summarize the publication in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Compose two tweets -- character-constrained messages -- accurately conveying findings from the publication to a general audience.
    3. What are two facts/pieces of context that a reporter could use in a local story?
    4. What sorts of stories might be generated out of the angles covered in the publication?

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.


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    Lisa Ford Berry Mar 8, 2012 22:12

    My name is Lisa Ford Berry and my son Michael Joseph Berry was a victim of a peer abuse driven bullycide on his 17th birthday, September 15, 2008 at Mira Loma High School.

    I have known the dark sorrow of death and that heartache gave birth to B.R.A.V.E. (Bullies Really Are Violating Everyone). We are a Sacramento based non-profit 501 (c) 3 grass roots corporation that is dedicated to creating peer abuse awareness that demands accountability while calling for action.

    As a grieving parent, I know the horrible heartache of bullycide. I know the looks. I know the stares. I know the whispers. I know the pain. I know people wonder how something like this could happen in their community, in their school. I know I wonder how something like this could have happened in my family, to my son.

    Two years after Michael’s death I stood, poised on the bluffs over-looking the Pacific Ocean, with my arm stretched towards the heavens, a prayer on my lips, clutching my son’s 19 birthday balloons, which also was his second angel date.

    As I slowly released the ribbons that gave flight to year two, I knew in that moment as I watched the wind whip and sweep Michael’s birthday balloons out to sea that I was ready to launch B.R.A.V.E. because Bullies Really Are Violating Everyone!.

    I was ready to be the voice of our children who had no voice. I was ready to advocate on behalf of frustrated and frightened parents. I was ready to defend victims. I was ready to work with educators. I was ready to work with law enforcement. I was ready because every time a child dies by bullycide it is a direct reflection of our society, and our failures as a whole. As a society if we are not part of the solution then we are in fact part of the problem.

    In the last three years I have had the opportunity to think about life in a way most of us are never asked to. We need to have real conversations that connect with our children and communities. We need to be where our communities are, where our children are; we need to be in our schools, our faith organizations, our place of employment, we need to be out in the forefront of our communities, we need to lead by example. If we want to reduce the stigma of suicide, and to create awareness to peer abuse, along with so many issues our children are facing then we need to create the means. We need to lead, and I believe parents in tandem with our communities, our law enforcement, our educators can do this better than anyone. We are the voice of experience

    I am asking you to join with us as we work towards changing the way we view peer abuse. I am asking for your support as we fight to help our children who have lost their voice. I am asking for your help so we can ensure that no other children are harmed. I am asking you to partner with us we wrap our arms around this national problem. I am asking for you to be more than a bystander, I am asking you to Stand Up. Stand Out. Stand Firm and to Stand B.R.A.V.E.

    Lisa Ford Berry
    (916) 903-6627

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