New study reveals the evolution of anti-bullying laws in the U.S. over 18 years

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Between 1999 and 2017, a significant shift took place across the United States as every state introduced legislation aimed at combating bullying.

This period marked a crucial turning point in the legal approach to preventing bullying, including the growing issue of cyberbullying, which involves harassment in digital spaces like social media.

The comprehensive data on these anti-bullying laws were gathered and analyzed by the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University Beasley School of Law, revealing a detailed landscape of how laws have evolved to protect young individuals.

This expansive study was a collaborative effort led by Marizen Ramirez at the University of California, Irvine, and Mark Hatzenbuehler at Harvard University.

Their work analyzed a total of 122 specific areas within anti-bullying policies, providing a deep dive into the effectiveness and scope of these laws.

Bullying remains the most prevalent form of violence among youth, and the increase in cyberbullying has made this issue even more urgent.

According to Ramirez, the detailed dataset from this 18-year study helps pinpoint what aspects of the law have been effective in mitigating bullying and its harmful effects on children.

Such information is crucial for schools and educational departments as they develop strategies to create safer environments.

The timeline for the adoption of these laws shows that it took over 15 years from when the first state (Georgia) enacted anti-bullying legislation to when all 50 states and the District of Columbia had laws in place, with Kentucky being the last in 2014.

Most states passed their laws in the first decade of the study, with the remaining laws established post-2009.

A closer look at the data reveals significant variations in the specifics of the laws across states. By 2017, over half of the states did not specify which groups of people (like race, ethnicity, or gender identity) were protected under these laws.

Among the states that did specify, protections based on gender identity were included beginning in 2002, and by 2017, 16 states had such protections in place. Similarly, protections for sexual orientation started appearing in 2002 and were present in 21 states by 2017.

Cyberbullying specifically began to be addressed in state legislation starting in 2005 with Colorado. By 2017, almost all states except for Alaska, Kentucky, and Wisconsin had incorporated cyberbullying into their legal frameworks.

An area of concern is the support for policy implementation, particularly the training for school personnel on how to handle bullying. By 2017, while 28 states and the District of Columbia mandated such training, only Nevada and New Jersey had laws that provided specific funding for these initiatives.

Overall, only 12 states had funding provisions to support the necessary training and prevention programs.

This comprehensive tracking of anti-bullying policies is not just historical; it also sets the foundation for evaluating the impact of these laws in the future, especially in a post-COVID world where the dynamics of bullying might shift due to changes in how students interact.

According to Amy Cook from CPHLR, this longitudinal study underscores the critical role of policy as a tool for prevention and highlights the need for ongoing research to adapt to technological advancements and changes in social behavior.