Does Criminalizing Bullying Reduce Reporting?

More and more communities are enacting harsh criminal penalties for bullying offenses.

Youth advocates are concerned that criminalizing these acts will further reduce reporting of bullying incidences. Lack of reporting prevents healthier and more proactive approaches to this problem. Even without criminal penalties, only one in three incidents are actually reported.

In circumstances where bullying is treated as a criminal offense, reporting is reduced even more, preventing trained school officials from turning bullying incidents into learning opportunities that will change behavior in a positive way.

 

Why Bullying goes Unreported

  • Severe consequences make victims hesitant to report
  • School officials may look the other way because the severity of punishment is disproportionate to the offense
  • Teachers and school officials lack ability to deal with bullying within additional legal boundaries
  • Criminalizing does not discourage bullying, but it does create a more negative climate for all students
  • Parents fear making a bullying situation worse and do not know what to do
  • Children do not want parents to report bullying
  • Some parents fear being over-protective and think it is best for children to work it out themselves
  • Parents of victims do not want their children to be traumatized or victimized further by a process that requires their child to be a sworn witness

Recommended Actions to Prevent or Manage Bullying

  • Create an environment where students feel supported, safe and engaged because all students in these environments are less likely to behave badly
  • Promote learning and healing of both victims and bullies instead of punishment and blame
  • Focus on forgiveness, responsibility and respectful dialogue
  • Develop policy on uses of technology that could affect online behavior in or out of the classroom, or at home
  • Community-wide strategies can help to change the attitudes of both youth and adults who tolerate bullying behaviors in areas outside of schools

 

Although the intention of laws designed to criminalize bullying is to make schools and communities safer, criminalizing bullying tends to drive it underground even more.

Unreported bullying prevents trained professionals from helping not only victims of bullying and bullies, but members of the community who are also negatively impacted by bullying.

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