Research Shows Laws Decrease Bullying Rates

Students laughing in classroomAnti-bullying laws are reducing the rate of bullying, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics. About 28% of high school students in the United States reported being bullied a decade ago, and 20% of students were bullied at school during the past year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fifteen percent of those students also reported experiencing online bullying last year.

Are Anti-Bullying Laws Working?

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health looked at data from more than 60,000 public and private high school students across 25 states in an effort to understand the effects of anti-bullying legislation.

States that enacted legislation to incorporate at least 1 of 11 anti-bullying recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education had lower rates of bullying than states without anti-bullying laws. Implementing just one of those recommendations reduced in-person bullying by 24% and online bullying by 20%.

Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC, a Seattle-based psychotherapist who works with bullying victims, says anti-bullying laws help remove power from bullies while offering support to victims.

“The power a bully derives from such behavior relies on isolating a victim and also upon the assumption that someone perceived as weak enough to be bullied is also going to be too weak, too fearful, to tell anyone about it in order to avoid anticipated shame,” Swenson said. “Breaking this chain of events by shining a light on bullies and their anti-social behavior is the fastest way to curb it; anti-social behaviors come from those whose own self-esteem is so low that the only way they can feel good about themselves is in attempting to reduce the status of others.”

Effective Anti-Bullying Strategies

The Department of Education’s research on effective anti-bullying measures suggests such policies should contain all of the following recommendations:

  • A statement of purpose for the legislation
  • A statement of the legislation’s scope
  • Specification of which conduct is prohibited
  • Enumeration of the characteristics of bullying and other prohibited conduct
  • The development and implementation of specific local policies to curb bullying
  • Options for reviewing anti-bullying policies
  • A clear communication plan for those who work with potential bullying victims
  • Education on bullying prevention and management
  • A system that makes transparency and monitoring possible
  • A statement of bullying victims’ right to seek legal remedies

Swenson supports legislation based on these recommendations.

“Anti-bullying laws bring to public awareness that it is the bully who should be ashamed of bad behavior, not the bully’s victim,” Swenson said. “It is the bully who needs to learn respect for others and that everyone–including the bully–is working through personal challenges of one kind or another.”


  1. Christensen, J. (2015, October 8). Anti-bullying laws appear to be working. Retrieved from
  2. Laws in 25 states put the brakes on high school bullying. (2015, October 6). Retrieved from
  3. Student bullying: Overview of research, federal initiatives, and legal issues [PDF]. (2013, October 18). Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

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  • Michel


    October 14th, 2015 at 3:30 PM

    This is such great news! This goes against all of the nay sayers who always spout the “fact” that changing laws does not work, but I think that in these cases we are not only seeing changed laws, we are now slowly seeing changed attitudes about this kind of behavior. I think that more and more people now understand that this is not acceptable behavior and the more those things change the better they will be.

  • Belinda


    October 16th, 2015 at 12:40 PM

    So what happens to those who are so sneaky, so covert, that they get to continue to torture but never get caught? Think that the laws are helping anyone then?

  • tucker


    October 19th, 2015 at 4:06 PM

    Only because they become afraid of going to jail, not because they have any real sympathy for another person.

  • cooper


    October 20th, 2015 at 11:24 AM

    I am assuming that this is more of a program that would need to be implemented at a local level, not because I specifically have a problem with it being federal law, but you know how some people get when they feel like federal government has a role in everything.

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