WASHINGTON (AP) _ Bullying shouldn't be dismissed as a harmless schoolyard rite of passage, according to a report that found bullies and their victims often develop behavioral and emotional problems later in life.
The study by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national advocacy group, documents how bullying spawns loneliness, depression and suicidal tendencies among its victims and foreshadows crime and violence by perpetrators.
Still, not much has been done to prevent bullying in U.S. schools, the report said.
The group's supporters include this year's Miss America, Erika Harold, who was bullied in ninth grade and has been speaking about that experience during her reign.
``It started out with people calling me names, and then it got worse,'' Harold said. ``They threw things at me, they vandalized my house, and they sang nasty songs about me in school hallways and classrooms. It got so bad that I felt like I was in danger physically.''
A news conference with Harold and all 51 contestants in the 2004 Miss America pageant was scheduled for Thursday to release the report.
Bullying is defined as aggressive behavior by one person or group carried out repeatedly and over time and targeted at someone less powerful.
The report said for children in grades six through 10, nearly one in six, or 3.2 million, were victims of bullying each year and 3.7 million were bullies.
Nearly 60 percent of boys who researchers classified as bullies in grades six though nine were convicted of at least one crime by the age of 24; 40 percent of them had three or more convictions by 24, the report said.
``We can't afford to squander the early warning that bullying gives that a kid may be headed for trouble,'' said Sanford Newman, president of Fight Crime.
Those who are bullied are five times more likely to be depressed and far more likely to be suicidal, said the report, citing U.S. and European studies.
Bullying prevention programs are relatively inexpensive, the report said. For example, it costs about $4,000 to train someone to administer an anti-bullying program in a large school district, but $100,000 to put a child with emotional problems in special education for 12 years, the report said.
There are additional personnel costs but the report said federal money for safe and drug-free schools often will cover those expenses.
A 1998 study by Vanderbilt University estimated that each high-risk juvenile prevented from adopting a life of crime could save the country between $1.7 and $2.3 million.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is a group of over 2,000 law enforcement officers and victims of violence.