Stopping Violence In Schools (By Dr. Laura Finley)

(Editor’s Note: This blog was written in January 2012 for the Humanity Project by Dr. Laura Finley, Vice President of the Humanity Project Board of Directors. Dr. Finley is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Barry University.)


Dr. Laura Finley, Humanity Project Board of Directors VP

As a new Board Member for the Humanity Project, I wanted to offer a short piece on an area in which I have some expertise. That is the connection between dating and domestic violence and bullying. For six years I have worked in the field of domestic violence advocacy, in addition to authoring several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on the issue. I currently serve as Chair of the Board of Directors of No More Tears, a non-profit that provides individualized assistance to victims of domestic violence and their children, and am editing the Encyclopedia of Domestic Abuse for ABC-CLIO Press, which will be published in 2013. I offer this piece to provoke thought about the similarities between these phenomena and to promote the Humanity Project’s strategy for prevention.

Both bullying and dating violence are very common among school-aged youth, with estimates between 25% and 30% of teens being involved in an abusive relationship and 30% of young people experiencing bullying. Both are, at root, about the need one person feels to obtain and maintain power and control over another. Perpetrators of dating violence and bullies both use a variety of tactics to do so, including but not limited to verbal harassment, emotional abuse, intimidation, unwanted sexual behavior or harassment, cyber-threats, use of peer pressure, and more. Far from isolated incidents, bullying and dating violence are patterned behaviors.

Although not exclusively, both dating violence and bullying often enter the school walls, yet too often educators are not adequately prepared to respond due to inadequate or non-existent training. Additionally, peers are witness to the abuse and bullying in the majority of cases, although many young people are hesitant to speak out. Victims of both problems can suffer emotionally and physically, and many experience great difficulty in school. Victims may be isolated from peers, have difficulty concentrating, and may act out or withdraw as a way of dealing with the abuse. In fact, several studies have found bullying to be predictive of later involvement in abusive dating and/or domestic relationships.

Useful strategies to address both phenomena, then, involve training educators to recognize warning signs and to know the school’s protocol once either form of abuse is identified. Also important is the training of students to understand how they can help if a friend or peer is being abused or bullied. Research has repeatedly documented the effectiveness of the bystander approach. This approach addresses students not as would-be victims or perpetrators, which tend to alienate young people, but rather as would-be bystanders who can stop bullies or abusers by speaking up and interrupting the behavior. The Humanity Project’s Anti-bullying Through The Arts program is based on a bystander approach, which is the key to its success.