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Bullying and Federal Laws

By October 7, 2019September 25th, 2023No Comments

Bullying is defined as unwanted, repeatedly aggressive behavior that usually involves one or more perpetrators. This behavior can include physical violence, threats, online harassment, exclusion, or spreading rumors. Bullying is prevalent at all ages and creates a hostile environment at work or school for the victim. It can often lead to long-term issues such as anxiety and depression, and in extreme cases, self-harm and suicide. 

Are There Laws Against Bullying?

At present, there are no federal laws that directly address bullying. Fortunately, all 50 states have anti-bullying laws. These laws require schools to directly address bullying by imposing responsibilities on the school administrators and employees. Generally, schools will provide a procedure for parents, school officials, teachers, and students to report bullying. The parents of the students involved are usually notified, as well as law enforcement if appropriate. 

So, what can be done federally? While there are no federal laws that address bullying directly, federal anti-discrimination lawsuits can be enacted to put the liability on the schools if the bullying is based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion. The Department of Education and the Department of Justice enforce civil rights laws including:

  • Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Section 1983 for violations of the student’s constitutional right to equal treatment under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause

Your first line of defense is the state law, and you can check what they are here: This website will tell you the bullying and cyberbullying laws in states. Each state deals with bullying differently, but consulting the state law is probably the best, and fastest, way of putting a stop to it. 

Bullying in College

Many people associate bullying with children, but bullying can continue well beyond high school, and it is very difficult to address at the college level. College facilities tend to be less concerned about classroom management than primary and secondary schools are, and since the students are adults, administrators are less likely to mediate interpersonal relationships between students. 

Dealing with bullying can be difficult, but an important first step is to reach out. Whether it’s to a friend, parent, mentor, professor, or mental health professional, reaching out can help you feel less alone and give you a better idea about what to do next. You should also document every instance of bullying and make sure this information is stored in a safe place. It’s also important to know your rights and understand how you are protected from bullying. Your school’s code of conduct, coupled with state and federal laws, impose legal obligations on your college to act on claims regarding harassment and discrimination. Get familiar with Title IX and the Clery Act in particular, and turn to your office of student housing, your resident advisor, academic advisor, or even a trusted professor to report bullying behavior.


  • All schools and states have regulations and laws to prevent and stop bullying.
  • If you are being bullied based on a disability, race, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, or religion, you have additional protections under the federal law.
  • Before making a complaint about bullying, read up on state laws and school policies.
  • Document everything and make the complaint via email or letter to ensure your rights are honored.
Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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