Bullying comes in various forms, and there is no unified definition of it that is accepted by science, governments, and educational systems. Many factors appear to be related to bullying, and one of the more recently explored of those factors is violence in the home. Domestic violence now appears to be highly correlated with the incidence of bullying found in schools. And it isn’t just related to the perpetrators of bullying. Perhaps surprisingly, domestic violence demonstrates a positive correlation with three groups that are involved: The bullies, the victims, and those who demonstrate both conditions. Learn about Domestic Violence and what happens with Bullying and Violence.
In recent years there has been an increase in research into bullying violence, specifically centered on its nature, its participants, and factors that can be related to the causes of bullying. In the United States, the State of Massachusetts became the focus of intense political action with regard to bullying in the schools when two student suicides occurred barely nine months apart in 2009/10.
Eleven-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and 15-year-old UK native Phoebe Prince both committed suicide by hanging in Massachusetts after each received extended intense bullying at their respective schools. Following the second student suicide in less than a year, Massachusetts lawmakers hurried into law an anti-bullying legislation. Other states have either preceded them or followed suit, and a report in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Education states that 46 states had at that time already passed anti-bullying legislation, with 45 of them also mandating that all schools institute anti-bullying policies.
Bullying remains an escalating problem in Western society. The growth of social media has facilitated new avenues for bullying, and the behavior has taken on new and ominous proportions as a result. The means for, and likelihood of, bullying increase proportionately as technology continues to advance. Other previously identified risk factors included tobacco, drug, and alcohol use/abuse; poor academic performance; and mental health problems.
But some disturbing relationship factors outside of those previously identified, and beyond the known involvement of the electronic world, have also been suggested by ongoing research. While electronic bullying has garnered much of the news media attention in recent years–and rightfully so–there has also been a growing awareness that domestic violence in the home appears to be a strongly related factor in student bullying in schools.
Spurred by public outcry after student suicides, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has included in its ongoing statistical investigations of possible causative factors, several significant reports. The CDC publishes a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report from April 22, 2011 specifically focused on bullying practices among students in Massachusetts middle schools and high schools. For the first time, this data was systematically examined for relationships of family violence and bullying. The data had been gathered two years earlier in a study resulting from the 2009 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey (MYHS).
The MYHS data indicated that over 30 percent of high school students and more than 44 percent of middle school students had been involved in or affected by bullying. Furthermore, for the middle-schoolers 7.5 percent acknowledged having been bullies and over 27 percent said they had been victims of bullying. A revealing statistic here is that almost 10 percent acknowledged that at different times they had been both a bully and a victim of bullying–a combination status that this report categorized as “bully-victims.” The percentage figures for high school students were almost as high.
The findings revealed in the April 22, 2011 MMWR for the first time identified a positive statistical link between bullying (bullies, victims, and bully-victims) and exposure to violence at home in the form of being physically hurt by a family member or having witnessed domestic violence.
While other risk factors outside of school have previously been identified, this one factor alone may go far in explaining why evidence has suggested that classroom intervention programs are not by themselves sufficient in prevention.
In the original survey, data was gathered and divided into four groups: bullies, victims of bullying, victim-bullies, and those who were neither victims nor bullies. For high school students almost 70 percent fell into the fourth classification–being neither bullies nor bullied. For middle school students the percentage was notably less attractive with only 56 percent reporting no bully-effect.
However, compared with this most favorable classification, the bully-victims from both high school and middle school were between four and five times as likely to have been physically hurt by a family member, and between three and four times as likely to have witnessed violence in their family unit. Further study is needed but the implication is clear that domestic violence, either physically received or witnessed, seems positively linked with behavior issues such as bullying.
While the figures for the remaining two classifications, bullies and those being bullied, are less significant, that is in no way indicative of this being a non-consequential correlation. In fact, it may be even more disturbing to note that the correlation between bullying of any sort and domestic violence is most prevalent among those who have been both perpetrators and victims of bullying.
These are the individuals whose home environment has graphically illustrated for them both the perpetrator and the victim of violence. These are the people who have seen both sides of the issue on an extremely personal level. And these are the people who have most frequently responded by acting out both of these roles outside of the family unit. The violence children witness in the home does not necessarily make them victims, and it does not necessarily make them bullies. It, in fact, apparently has a tendency to make them both victim and perpetrator.
While not specifically addressing bullying alone, a more recent multi-state study echoed the seriousness of these results. The 16-month study concluded in December, 2011, and conducted by the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, indicates that of those surveyed, five percent had carried a gun to school at one point or another just within the previous 30 days. Seven percent said that in the previous 12 months they had been threatened or actually harmed with a weapon while on school property. Twenty percent, one in five, said they had been bullied on school property.
Domestic violence frequently goes unreported, but even for that which is reported the figures are staggering. According to the 2010 executive summary of results from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, over 35 percent of all women respondents and more than 28 percent of all men surveyed indicated that in their lifetime they had experienced domestic violence upon themselves by an intimate partner in the form of physical violence, rape, and/or stalking.
Studies have indicated that domestic violence is a breeding ground for more violence as children who experience it grow up to exhibit it. And the bad news is that our students who are unfortunate enough to experience this at home are not just growing up to exhibit the same lifestyle choices as adults in their later homes. As children and young adults they are also bringing elements of this lifestyle to other children at school in the form of bullying. Domestic violence and bullying definitely seem to be causally related. More research is needed, but the discovery of this relationship is important and timely, as bullying continues in epidemic proportions in our schools, online, and in the lives of our young.