Researchers evaluate Iowa’s anti-bullying law

Published on June 24, 2016

While 49 of 50 states in the U.S. have anti-bullying laws in place, little is known about the effectiveness of these laws on preventing bullying behavior among youth.

However, researchers from the University of Iowa, led by Marizen Ramirez, associate professor of occupational and environmental health, recently published a study evaluating the effectiveness of Iowa’s anti-bullying law in reducing bullying and improving teacher response to bullying incidents. The study appears in the June edition of Injury Epidemiology.

A portrait of Marizen Ramirez of the University of Iowa College of Public Health
Marizen Ramirez

Implemented in 2007, Iowa Code 280.28 requires schools to adopt an anti-bullying policy that defines acts of bullying, puts into place a process for reporting incidents, and describes consequences and actions for bully perpetrators. Unlike most states with similar laws, Iowa had collected student-reported bullying data since 2005, which enabled the researchers to compare numbers from the pre-law period with those from the post-law period.

The findings of the study suggest that Iowa’s law had a positive effect in helping reduce relational, verbal, and physical bullying, initially due to increased awareness and reporting, with longer-term trends toward an actual decrease in the number of bullying incidents. However, Iowa’s law does not appear to impact the extent to which teachers intervened on bullying incidents as school.

According to Ramirez, laws are among the most impressive public health prevention strategies because they have legislative “teeth” and involve prevention efforts often across multiple sectors in a community.

“Our research begins to understand how laws can indeed lead to meaningful changes,” Ramirez says, “and this knowledge is essential for the schools who are struggling each day to deal with the bullied child.”

She says that further research is needed to understand which specific components of anti-bullying laws work and how laws could be improved for greater impact.

Others contributing to the study include Corinne Peek-Asa and Joseph Cavanaugh from the UI College of Public Health, Patrick Ten Eyck from the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, and Angela Onwuachi-Willig from the UI College of Law.