Bullying Laws

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Bullying laws? What are the laws concerning bullying in the United States? This article covers the basics of bullying laws (sometimes called anti-bullying laws): which states have them and what bullying laws cover. Keep reading for more on bullying laws.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying can take place in or out of school and in person or through other means of communication. When it occurs online, in, for example, emails, text messages, or in posts on websites, it is referred to as cyberbullying. Bullying can be verbal or physical, and when physical, it can be directed against a person, a person’s property, or be used to intimidate, rather than inflict damage to the person or his or her property. Verbal bullying can include name-calling, threatening, or teasing someone, or making obscene remarks or spreading rumors about someone. Bullying can be peer-to-peer, or be done by younger people to older people or vice versa.

What Are Bullying Laws?

Bullying laws are laws that aim to prevent bullying or address it when it happens or both. Because they are against bullying, they are also called “anti-bullying laws” for clarity. So far, there are only state laws about bullying, but people have suggested a national law. Bullying laws often focus on schools, which are the site of a large amount of bullying behavior, with bullying being the most problematic during the middle school years (grades 6-8).

Bullying laws have pursued different programs and agendas. Laws may or may not criminalize bullying, some preferring to keep the handling of such situations in the realm of families and schools (when appropriate) rather than the courts. Laws may require reports of bullying by school personnel who witness it, and prescribe responses to bullying that includes investigation and imposing disciplinary measures, notification for parents, and support and counseling of targets.

Which States Have Bullying Laws?

The bullying laws in the United States are undergoing change. As of October, 2010, 45 states had bullying laws, while there were no such laws in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, with  New York being one of the most recent to pass legislation.

As new states continue to put bullying laws on the books, states with existing laws review and revise them. New Jersey, for example, which passed anti-bullying legislation in 2002, had an “anti-bullying bill of rights” law introduced to its legislature in October, 2010. The new law provides for the training of public school staff in addressing bullying, intimidation, and harassment, as well as in suicide prevention.

Why Are Bullying Laws Controversial?

Some people question whether legislation specifically aimed at bullying adds anything new to existing laws. While many people are eager to see bullying addressed, others question whether existing laws about harassment, safety, violence, and destruction of property are actually sufficient. In addition, many individual schools have felt compelled to come up with bullying plans that they feel are appropriate to their situation. The particular wording of the bullying law at the state level could redirect attention from where individual schools have felt moved to place it based on their experience.