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Study Finds Victims of Bullying More Likely to Enter Criminal Justice System

Study Finds Victims of Bullying More Likely to Enter Criminal Justice System

by Christopher Zoukis

A new study suggests a direct link between childhood bullying and later imprisonment for bullying victims. The study, presented at the American Psychological Association's 121st Annual Conference, finds that childhood and teenage victims of bullying, almost 30 percent of American youth, are more likely to have conduct disorders and enter the American criminal justice system than those not harassed. This is the first study to examine individuals who were bullied throughout their adolescence, not during a specific period of time during their childhood.

The study, conducted by Dr. Michael Turner of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina, was based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of Justice's 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which followed 7,335 subjects, aged 12 to 16, for a total of 14 years. Participants were placed into one of four groups: never bullied, bullied as children, bullied as teens, and bullied as children and teens. Of the study participants, 74 percent were not bullied. Of those that were, 15 percent were bullied prior to turning 12, six percent were bullied after turning 12, and five percent were bullied during both time periods.

The study found that nearly 14 percent of those who reported being bullied during childhood and teen years eventually were sentenced to a term of incarceration, compared to six percent who were not bullied, nine percent who were bullied only during childhood, and seven percent who were bullied only during their teen years. The conviction rates are perhaps the most surprising component of this study. They show that more than 20 percent of bullying victims were found guilty of criminal law violations, almost double that of those not harassed.

It was also found that women who were bullied during their childhood and teen years were much more likely to abuse alcohol or illegal drugs than those not bullied. They also suffered more arrests and convictions than their similarly situated male counterparts. White childhood victims were also found to face more prison time than non-white bullying victims.

According to Dr. Turner, "This study highlights the important role that health care professionals can play early in a child's life when bullying is not adequately addressed by teachers, parents or guardians...Programs that help children deal with the adverse impacts of repeated bullying could make the difference in whether they end up in the adult legal system."

Sources: American Psychological Association News Release (August 1, 2013),,,