This week, a joint report on crime and violence in our nation’s schools and universities was released by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice. The research divisions of each department analyzed reports from school officials, students and police to review incidences of victimization for students and teachers. The topics covered everything from bullying and cyber-bullying to drugs to sexual assault and student perceptions of personal safety at school.
The message is clear: millions of students attend school where victimization is a daily occurrence.
Overall, crime has gone down in all categories. In 2011, more than one million students age 12-18 were victimized at school, with a little more than half of those violent in nature. As might be expected, students in cities and suburbs experienced more crimes, including theft and violent acts, than their rural counterparts. Violent victimization refers to simple assault and serious violence, which includes rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault.
An alarming number of students said they did not feel safe at school. Even those that lived in more violent areas said they felt safer away from school than at school. Students, especially female students, admitted avoiding school or school related activity out of fear of being harmed. Female students also reported higher instances of cyber bullying compared to boys. Nearly one quarter of schools reported students being bullied on a daily or weekly basis.
Bullying was the most common form of victimization reported.
As all things in America, experience differs by race. White students were less likely to report they were afraid being harmed at or away from school. All students, however, reported that they were more likely afraid of being attacked at school than away from school, the largest group being Hispanic students. Students attending schools with higher rates of gang activity were more likely to express this fear.
The survey mainly focused on primary and secondary schools, but did include reports of violence on college and university campuses. Like in elementary and secondary schools, overall the reports of crime declined. However, there was an increase in sex-related crimes, including rape, in 2011. Even accounting for the increase in enrollment, the number of reported rapes and sexual offenses jumped by 51 percent.
The keyword in all of this is reported.
Sexual assaults have always happened on college campuses. There has been a great deal of discussion recently on the deplorable ways that college campuses have handled these reports. Many colleges and universities have mishandled them, including not reporting to police or otherwise making any official record of the complaint. There are currently 55 universities and colleges facing lawsuits claiming inadequate handling of sexual assault cases in violation of government requirements.
So while there may be an increase in reporting of incidences, it doesn’t mean that there were fewer incidences before.
The statistics cited in the report are very disjointed and do not indicate any kind of real pattern – a point the researchers point out. It includes 31 homicides of students 12-18 in 2010-2011, with 19 of those occurring at schools. Three suicides were also reported as occurring at school. Furthermore, the report doesn’t include the mass shootings of the last couple of years, including the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
In the more than 200 pages of data, there is no attempt to explain causation. However, another report released earlier this year explored the disturbing amount of civil rights violations and inherent biases within the educational system that can create a culture of violence. Even for the majority of students that don’t experience direct victimization, knowing that the threat is there creates a tremendous emotional toll.
Our schools should be safe havens for our children, free of crime and violence. Any instance affects everyone in the school environment, not just the victims. It can prevent teachers from being effective, and affect students’ ability to focus and learn – which is the entire purpose of being in school. The effects of crime and violence in our schools are both subtle and direct…and always detrimental.
The report tries to focus on the positive, pointing out the dramatic decreases from decades before. The issue is not how much the incidences have declined, it’s that they are still occurring in large numbers. For the sake of our children and our nation, we need to do better.