Almost 14 percent of people who reported being bullied repeatedly when they were children through their teen years went to prison as adults. That compared with 6 percent of people who were not bullied. Among people who were victims of bullying in childhood only, 9 percent went to prison; and among those who were bullied only as teens, the figure was 7 percent.
The study by Michael Turner from the criminal justice and criminology department at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte is the first to look at bullying throughout childhood and adolescence and the legal consequences.
He presented his work in Honolulu at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.
The research showed that women who were chronically bullied till adulthood faced a greater chance than men of using drugs or alcohol and of being convicted of a crime.
Repeated bullying throughout young life was associated with substance abuse and delinquency, and there were few differences across race categories, Turner wrote.
The data came from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which included 7,335 people who were ages 12 to 16 by the end of 1996. They were followed for 14 years. People were put into four groups: never bullied, bullied as children, bullied as teens and chronically bullied throughout.
"This study highlights the important role that healthcare professionals can play early in a child's life when bullying is not adequately addressed by teachers, parents or guardians," Turner said in a statement. "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."
Bullying is defined as the persistent harassment - physical, verbal, emotional or psychological - of one person over another, accompanied by a power imbalance. About 30 percent of young people in the U.S. have been affected by it, Turner wrote.
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