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Schools and Crime - The Victims

students junior violence violent

Since the systematic data on school crime were mainly derived from surveys of personal victimization, less is known about school crimes in which the victim was the school collectively than about crimes against students or teachers. The National Institute of Education estimated the annual cost of vandalism in American schools at $200 million, but these reports from principals about vandalism in the late 1970s were less complete and less trustworthy than the data from students and teachers about their own experiences with crimes (U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare). The principals' accounts of offenses against public order known to them—drug sales, intoxication, false fire alarms, and bomb threats—and of theft of school property, including larcenies that resulted from burglaries, were also less reliable than victim reports on personal experiences.

The following conclusions can be drawn from the available data about the characteristics of individual victims:

  1. Students are more frequently the victims of violent crimes in school than are teachers. However, "robbery" of a student may mean extortion of lunch money or bus passes by fellow students, whereas robbery of a teacher is more often perpetrated by youthful intruders and accompanied by gratuitous violence.
  2. Male students are more than twice as likely to be victims of both robbery and assault than female students.
  3. In 1976, when data for the nationwide Safe Schools study was being collected, the rate of violent victimizations in junior high schools was twice as high as the rate of violent victimizations in senior high schools (U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare). In 1989 and 1995 the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that violent victimizations continued to occur at twice the rate in junior as in senior high schools (Bastian and Taylor; Chandler et al.). But the notion that high schools are safer than junior high schools from everyday school violence has been challenged by a small study of school violence by Louis Harris and Associates, conducted in 1993, which contradicted the findings of the larger studies; it indicated that high school violence was at least as prevalent as junior high school violence and perhaps worse (Louis Harris and Associates). Even assuming that the larger studies are correct and that there is more violence in junior high schools, without detailed self-report data it is not possible to choose between two inferences that might be drawn from the differential rate of victimization at different school levels: first, that junior high school is a violent stage of youth development and that youngsters grow more peaceful as they pass into the high school years; and second, that some junior high school youngsters are violent but that these antisocial youngsters tend to drop out gradually so that high schools are safer, on the average, than junior high schools.
  4. Younger, less experienced teachers are more likely to be attacked or robbed than older colleagues.
  5. Minority students are more likely to be attacked or robbed at school than white students. This is probably because they are more likely to attend schools with higher rates of violence, located in less affluent neighborhoods. The greater the proportion of minority students in a school, the higher the rate of attacks on, and robberies of, both students and teachers.
  6. The larger the school, the more extensive the vandalism. The bigger pool of potential perpetrators and the anonymity in a large school may explain the relationship between the dollar value of school property losses and school size.
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