by Sharita Forrest / Apr 19, 2013
APRIL 18, 2013, UI NEWS BUREAU, CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Sharita Forrest — The presence of gangs in the vicinity of schools creates a pervasive climate of fear and victimization among students, teachers and administrators that escalates the level of aggression in bullying incidents and paralyzes prevention efforts, suggests a new study in the journal Psychology of Violence.
Gang presence causes incidents of victimization toward students and teachers to become more violent. And, fearing for their own safety, bystanders, teachers and administrators adopt a laissez faire attitude toward bullying that perpetuates a culture of victimization, the researchers say.
Based upon interviews with students and the researchers’ observations, the study examined the influence that gang presence is having on bullying at one middle school in the Midwest, identified by the pseudonym Thompson Middle School in the study. Thompson is located in a rural community with more than 20 gangs and 2,000 known members.
The current study was part of a larger project funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that examined links between bullying and sexual violence. Bullying expert Dorothy L. Espelage, who is an educational psychologist at the University of Illinois, led that research.
In analyzing the data for the sexual violence project, the researchers encountered several themes at Thompson Middle School that were strikingly different from the other four schools in the case study. Anjali Forber-Pratt (Ph.D. '12 HRE), who was then a doctoral student and graduate researcher on the sexual violence project, decided to examine the themes at Thompson in greater depth and produced the current study, with Espelage as one of her co-authors.
Photos by L. Brian Stauffer: Anjali Forber-Pratt (top) and Dorothy Espelage