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Awarded Grant to Prevent Violence and Violence-Related Injury

Middle school bullying and sexual violence: Measurement issues & etiological models

FOA Number: CE07-005: Understanding Risk and Protective Factors for Sexual Violence Perpetration and the Overlap of Bullying Behavior
Project Period: 09/01/2007 - 08/31/2010
Application/Grant Number: CE001268
Principal Investigator: Dorothy L Espelage, B.S.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
1310 South Sixth Street
Room 220a
Champaign, IL 61820
Phone: (217)333-9193
FAX: (217)244-7620
E-mail: espelage@uiuc.edu

Abstract

Schools have taken up bullying prevention as the panacea for school violence. This bullying prevention approach ignores sexual violence/harassment, but has gained momentum as a more palatable topic for school administrators, parents, and teachers. Although this is a practical solution, it ignores the fact that there exists no empirical support that bullying prevention efforts in elementary or middle school are associated with decreases in sexual violence perpetration or victimization over time. In fact, in Australia data are emerging that this approach is in fact not effective (Rigby, 2004). Thus, it remains critical to examine the overlap of bullying perpetration/victimization and sexual violence in order to inform sexual violence prevention in our US schools.  This proposed study is the first comprehensive examination of the association between bullying experiences and co-occurring and subsequent sexual violence among middle school students. This proposed study uses a social ecological framework to explore the risk and protective factors of bullying experiences and sexual violence in which adolescent behavior is shaped by a range of nested contextual systems, including family, peers, and school environments (Brofenbrenner, 1977, 1979; Heise, 1998; CDC, 2004). The ecological perspective provides a conceptual framework for investigating the combined impact of these social contexts and influences on behavioral development. Bullying is conceptualized to include name-calling, teasing, rumor spreading, verbal threats, and social aggression. Sexual violence is conceptualized as including sexual coercion, sexual harassment, and homophobic teasing. Participants will include approximately 3,500 middle school    students (6th through 8th grade) in 140 classrooms across five cohorts and their teachers from two school districts. The sample was selected deliberately to be ethnically (40% Black Students) and economically (range from 0% to 60% low income). Students and teachers will complete surveys at multiple time points across three years of data collection to assess 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). Confirmatory factor analysis will be used to examine psychometric dimensions of multiple forms of bullying and sexual violence across multiple informants (self, peer, and teacher). Hierarchical linear modeling will be used to identify trajectories of bullying perpetration, victimization, and witnessing, and sexual violence perpetration and victimization. In addition, HLM will provide for the identification of unique and shared risk (e.g., anger, pro-attitudes toward violence, peer supports for violence, child abuse experiences) and protective factors (e.g., empathy, attachment to parents) of bullying and sexual violence experiences emerge from multiple levels of social influence. Focus groups and interviews with both students and teachers will be conducted to elucidate additional information regarding the connection between bullying and sexual violence perpetration. 

 
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