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Bullying victims who perceive they’re targeted due to social characteristics feel the effects worse

Around a quarter of all students had been victimized in the past year, and of those, around four out of 10 felt the actions were motivated by bias. The most commonly-reported bias – around three out of 10 of those who felt bias was a factor – related to physical appearance. 

Students who feel they have been victimized because of social characteristics such as their ethnicity or their sexuality are at additional risk of trauma.

This is according to a study – “Biased and Nonbiased Victimization at School: Perceived Impacts Among Victimized Youth in a National Sample” by Allison Kurpiel – that was published in the the peer-reviewed Journal of School Violence.

For this research, Kurpiel investigated data on over 2,200 under-18s who filled in a School Crime Supplement to the 2017 and 2019 National Crime Victimization Survey, a nationally representative household survey conducted every two years in the US. 

The most common forms of victimization were being threatened or being subject to the spreading of rumors, and these were each experienced by around two-thirds of victims. Overall, students who reported bias against them felt they had suffered a greater range of types of victimization than those who did not.  

When it came to the perceived impacts, negative effects on self-esteem were the most common and were reported by more than a quarter of victims, while effects on physical health were the least common and were experienced by fewer than one in seven. 

Those who felt their victimization was linked to bias were three times more likely to suffer negative effects on their self-esteem, the research found, and also had increased odds of damage to their physical health, social relationships and schoolwork.  

Those who felt they suffered more than one type of bias had higher odds of experiencing all four of the negative effects which were measured. For example, each additional type of reported bias reported raised the odds of reporting negative effects on schoolwork by 70%. Girls were more likely than boys to suffer all four negative effects, as were those who had lower grades.  

“Students who experienced biased victimization were also more likely than nonbiased victims to perceive negative effects on their schoolwork, implying that biased victimization might contribute to lower educational achievement for minoritized groups. This association between biased victimization and impacts on schoolwork was observed for students across the academic spectrum,” Kurpiel said.

To remedy the situation, Kurpiel stated that:

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  • schools should “work to raise awareness of these issues”
  • prevention programs should aim, in particular, to identify students who are at risk because of multiple factors in their lives
  • increase school organizations designed to promote inclusivity, such as Gay Straight Alliance clubs, which have been demonstrated as effective for reducing multiple types of bias-based bullying among female students who identify as LGBT

“Schools’ anti-bullying and violence prevention programs should place more emphasis on these types of prejudicial victimization, the findings conclude, and staff should work to identify those whose characteristics might make them particularly vulnerable… Failing to do so could result in the exacerbation of existing inequalities through damage to students’ self-esteem, physical health, social relationships, and educational achievement.” 


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