Project Directors: Dorothy L. Espelage, Ph.D.; Nan Stein, Ed.D.

Funders: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

Project Description:
Many school-based sexual violence prevention programs across the United States have begun to focus primarily on addressing attitudes and behaviors related to bullying. This practice emerged because bullying prevention is more palatable than sexual violence to school administrators, parents, and teachers. Although this is a practical solution, it ignores the fact that there exists no empirical support that bullying prevention in elementary or middle school is associated with decreases in sexual violence perpetration or victimization over time.

This research project will address a critical issue by examining the overlap of bullying perpetration/victimization and sexual violence in order to inform sexual violence prevention in US schools. Our study will include a comprehensive examination of bullying and sexual violence definitions and assessment of existing intervention/prevention efforts with adolescents (both in- school and in out-of-school settings) and will identify causes of bullying and sexual violence perpetration/victimization. Participants will include approximately 3,500 middle school students (6th through 8th grade) in 100 classrooms and their teachers across a three-year period (spring, 2008 through spring, 2010). Students and teachers will complete surveys at multiple time points assessing a wide range of bullying attitudes and behaviors, frequency of bullying perpetration and victimization, sexual harassment victimization and perpetration, and measures of proposed risk (e.g., anger, attitudes toward violence) and protective factors (e.g., empathy). These data will allow for the identification of the unique and shared risk and protective factors associated with school bullying and sexual violence.

Moreover, focus groups will also be conducted with students and teachers in the 2nd and 3rd years of the project. Teachers and key administrators will also be interviewed to gain their assessment of bullying and sexual harassment/violence in their schools among the students. In addition, the researchers will conduct reviews of the kinds of complaints of bullying and sexual harassment that have occurred in the schools, as well as the kinds of policies and trainings that the schools typically offer to their staff and students. It is vital to understand the ways in which all the school actors make sense and frame incidents of bullying and sexual harassment/violence.

Study results will be instrumental in guiding current practices around sexual violence and bullying prevention efforts.