October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

Anti-Bullying Laws by State

An Introduction to US State Anti-Bullying Legislation

In the United States, anti-bullying laws exist only at the state level. If you’re looking for federal bullying laws, you’re out of luck. There are no anti-bullying laws at the federal level that directly deal with bullying.

As of August 2013, 49 states have anti-bullying laws on the books requiring school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies.

A few fun facts about anti-bullying laws by state:

A Hodgepodge of Anti-Bullying Legislation:

The level of detail in anti-bullying laws varies greatly by state.

Some state anti-bullying laws like those in Hawaii and New Mexico have very minimal requirements whereas other states like Massachusetts have complex laws with many provisions.

Included in most of these laws are:

  1. The specific definition of bullying to be used in the law (41 states provide definitions of bullying)
  2. How bullying incidents are to be investigated
  3. How bullying incidents are to be reported and what methods students must have available to them to report bullying (e.g., 11 states require school districts provide a means for students to anonymously report bullying online.)
  4. Consequences for the bullies

So What Is Bullying?

Unfortunately the answer to this question can vary greatly based on what state you’re in.

Researchers have defined bullying as a repeated pattern of aggressive behavior that involves an imbalance of power and that purposefully inflicts harm on the bullying victim.‖

That being the case:

  1. Only 8 states anti-bullying laws define bullying as requiring there to be a repeating pattern of harassment.
  2. Only 16 states define bullying as requiring there to be an intent to harm.
  3. Only 4 states require there to be an imbalance of power between the bully and victim.

With regards to Cyberbullying laws by state, as of January 2012, 38 states already have cyberbullying legislation on the books. You can view cyberbullying specific statistics here.

What’s the Difference between Bullying & Harassment?

Depending on what state you’re in, there may not be one.

The reason for this is that anti-bullying laws often borrow language from already defined harassment laws and so oftentimes harassment and bullying are used interchangeably in laws.

Technically speaking, there’s a couple important differences:

  1. Harassment is covered by federal laws protecting people against unlawful discrimination.
  2. Harassment is different from bullying as the definition of harassment specifically requires that the actions be motivated by characteristics of the victim. Research based definitions of bullying do not usually include mention of differentiating characteristics between the bully and victim.

Differentiating Characteristics

While the definition of bullying used by researchers doesn’t usually include mention of differentiating characteristics, 18 states include some discussion of differentiating characteristics in their state anti-bullying laws.

In fact, several states require bullying be motivated by real or perceived differentiating characteristics (e.g., Alabama, Iowa, New Jersey.)

These characteristics include:

  • academic status,
  • age,
  • ancestry,
  • color,
  • creed,
  • developmental, emotional, learning, mental, physical, or sensory disability,
  • ethnicity,
  • familial status,
  • gender,
  • gender expression or identity,
  • health condition,
  • intellectual ability,
  • marital status,
  • military status,
  • national origin,
  • nationality,
  • need for special education services,
  • obesity,
  • physical appearance,
  • physical attributes,
  • physical or mental ability or disability,
  • political belief,
  • political party preference,
  • race,
  • religion,
  • religious practice,
  • sex,
  • sexual orientation,
  • socioeconomic status,
  • source of income,
  • unfavorable discharge from military service,
  • weight,
  • and association with a person or group with one or more of such differentiating characteristics.

Want a Full Analysis of State Bullying Laws & Policies?

Many of these statistics come from a February 23, 2012 study by The Kinder & Braver World Project.

Read their full 110 page research study PDF here.

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