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Bullying and its Relation to Child Abuse, Sexual Victimization, Domestic Violence, and Witnessing Community Violence

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Apr 17, 2009

Background

Bullying is a widespread problem that negatively affects the psychological and educational functioning of youth. Youth can be involved in bullying in a number of capacities. For instance, bullies are youth who tend to bully others, but are not often targets of bullying. Conversely, victims are youth who tend to be bullied by their peers, but who do not typically bully others. Finally, some youth both perpetrate bullying behaviors and are bullied by others; terms used to describe these youth include “bully-victims” and “aggressive-victims.”

For some youth involved in bullying it might be that they have experienced victimization in other settings, such as their homes and communities. When this happens, further detriments in youth well-being can occur. Bullying might overlap with other victimizations for a variety of reasons (Finkelhor, 1997). For instance, peer victimization and victimization elsewhere share common risk factors, like poor social interaction skills. Also, it might be that bullying perpetration is associated with risk taking that makes other victimizations more likely. Rather than walking away from a confrontation with someone in the community, for example, bullies might verbally provoke the community member and end up being physically hurt themselves. Finally, it might be that certain forms of victimization, such as family violence, create vulnerability for bullying perpetration or victimization. For instance, some youth who are maltreated by their families might learn that violence is the way to deal with interpersonal difficulties, and therefore physically bully their peers at school. Understanding the overlap between bullying involvement and other victimization forms is important because it will allow school officials to intervene and to prevent bullying more effectively.

What We Found

In our study of 700 fifth grade students we found in student self-reports:

  • 14% bullies
  • 12% victims
  • 8% bully-victims
  • 66% not involved in bullying

We then compared groups on the amount of victimization in other areas (i.e., outside of the school) they reported:

  • Bully-victims reported the most child maltreatment (44%), which included experiences with physical and psychological abuse and neglect.
  • Bully-victims also reported the highest rates of sexual victimization (32%), which included experiences with sexual harassment as well as sexual abuse, and included familial and non-familial perpetrators.
  • Bully-victims and bullies witnessed higher levels of victimization within their homes (e.g., domestic violence) and communities (e.g., witnessing attacks) than other youth (59% for bully-victims, 61% for bullies).

Implications

This study highlights the importance of finding out whether youth involved in school bullying either as victim or perpetrator or bully-victim have experienced victimization (e.g., child abuse or witness to domestic violence) elsewhere, such as within the home or community.

  • School Counselors. Any counseling that students receive should take into account the home environment and the community. A thorough assessment will enable counselors to better understand a youth’s role in bullying and also provide information about contributions to the youth’s psychological well-being.
  • School Bullying Prevention Programs. At the school level bullying prevention programs should include components that address the wider range of victimizations some students might have experienced.
  • Comprehensive Counseling and Family Therapy. Students involved in bullying, particularly bully-victims who report the highest rates of child maltreatment, sexual victimization, and indirect victimization, http://www.education.com/special-edition/nature-deficit-disorder/might need more comprehensive counseling outside the school environment. These youth also might benefit from family therapy in some cases.

It is important to note that not all youth involved in bullying have experienced victimization in other domains. Indeed, the majority of youth did not report significant victimization outside of school. However, it is nonetheless important to keep the broader victimization context in mind so that the youth who do experience multiple victimization forms can obtain the services that they need.

Take Home Message

School officials need to consider the wide range of victimizations youth involved in bullying might have experienced to best help them end their bullying involvement and increase their psychological well-being.

Full Reference for Study

Holt, M., Finkelhor, D., & Kaufman Kantor, K. (in press). Hidden victimization in bullying assessment. School Psychology Review, 36, 345-360.

Links to Lab and Author Websites

http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/researchers/holt-melissa.html
www.unh.edu/ccrc
www.unh.edu/frl

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