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What anti-bullying laws need in order to be effective
A new study shows that the anti-bullying laws passed by state legislatures do reduce bullying as long as they contain three things. It's a pattern for prevention, according to the JAMA study. - photo by Lois M Collins
All states have laws or rules prohibiting bullying, and new research published in JAMA Pediatrics says they make a difference, especially if they contain key components.

The study cited three measures of anti-bullying legislation that were "consistently associated with decreased odds of exposure to both bullying and cyberbullying: statement of scope, description of prohibited behaviors, and requirements for school districts to develop and implement local policies."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of high school students in 2013 said they had been bullied at school in the past year, while 15 percent said they were victims of cyberbullying. And 8 percent of public school students 12 to 18 said they were bullied at least weekly.

In its report on the study, CNN noted that "bullying behavior is typically defined as a persistent pattern of harassment and intimidation that's directed at an individual and can be physical or verbal. Bullying behavior is meant to scare, isolate and humiliate the victim. It can come in the form of threats, spreading rumors, attacks or purposeful exclusion of the victim. Bullying can create deep emotional scars for victims and for bystanders who witness this behavior. The impact can be felt for a lifetime, and it leaves people depressed, anxious and can even lead to suicide."

The Congressional Research Service in 2013 created a summary of state laws and their impact, noting that most tell school districts to create anti-bullying policies but leaves it to their discretion what those policies will be.

"Many of these laws do not contain all the key components of anti-bullying legislation that the U.S. Department of Education identified as important," it said.

The researchers looked at data collected from more than 60,000 students in 25 states and said their study showed those states that followed at least one of the DoE recommendations saw a 24 percent drop in bullying and about 20 percent decrease in cyberbullying.

"It's hard to believe that about 15 years ago we didn't have any anti-bullying laws, and now all 50 states have either an anti-bullying law or policy. Even though there's been a lot of legislative activity related to bullying, surprisingly there has been very little research, if any, on whether these laws are actually effective in doing what they're supposed to do, which is reduce bullying," lead author Mark Hatzenbuehler, associate professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, told CBS News. "Our study aimed to address that gap in the literature."

Hatzenbuehler said the research still left questions to explore in terms of further reducing bullying.

"For instance, we don't know if it's more effective to have a definition that's more expansive and covers all forms of bullying, or if the legislation is more effective if it targets specific forms of bullying," he said in the CBS News article. "We need to go back now and look at the laws in more detail to tease apart which are the most effective components and which combinations."
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