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From high school gyms to NFL locker rooms, bullying has taken center stage in a national debate on how to address it and how to punish it.
Yet the damage seen from bullying may not be entirely limited to its direct victims.
New research is exploring how bullies themselves might lead more inherently dangerous lives overall, with more of them prone to riskier sex, as well as drinking or substance abuse.
More than 8,600 students from a Midwestern high school were surveyed about their own bullying practices and lifestyle. The research appears in the journal Pediatrics.
Bully-victims is the term used for students who bullied and were victims of bullying.
Among the sampling, 6 percent indicated being bullies themselves, while 9 percent self-identified as bully-victims.
Bully-victims were found more likely to engage in casual sex and also more likely to do so when intoxicated. The same result was also observed in standard bullies.
“Bully-victims were more
likely to engage in casual sex.”
Among teen bullies, one in four took part in casual sex versus one in five bully-victims. The results were considered high when balanced against non-bullies and non-victims.
Bullies and bully-victims were found to engage in riskier behavior more frequently, with more than a third having casual sex while drunk or high. That result was nearly two-thirds higher compared against teens not impacted by bullying.
According to the study’s lead author, the research provides an important glimpse into how people and behaviors develop.
“Findings from this study add to our understanding of the ways in which bullying affects youth and provide preliminary evidence that bullies and bullies who are also victims might be at heightened risk for sexual risk-taking behaviors,” said Boston University’s Melissa Holt.
“It may be that bullying and sexual risk reflect a coping response to stressors not captured in the study, such as harsh parenting,” she said.