School Bullying and Victimization Data: Just the Facts

by Dr. Kathleen Smith

Earlier this week on Bacon’s Rebellion, James Bacon posted “The Fruit of School Disciplinary ‘Reform.’” Regarding the matter of bullying, I am adding a few additional statistics from the Youth and Juvenile Justice System 2022 National Report from the National Center for Juvenile Justice.

The abstract embedded in the report includes the following:

The report draws on reliable data and relevant research to provide a comprehensive and insightful view of youth victims and offending by youth, and what happens to them when they enter the juvenile justice system.

It offers empirically based answers to frequently asked questions about the nature of youth victimization and offending, and the justice system’s response.

Chapter topics are as follows: youth population characteristics; youth victims; offending by youth; juvenile justice system structure and process; law enforcement and youth; youth in juvenile court; and youth in corrections.

The report is structured as a series of briefing papers on specific topics and includes information on youth and their involvement with the U.S. justice system through the 2019 data year; each chapter ends with a list of data sources.

I would urge everyone to read the report. It offers many insights and surprises, as well as many “I thought so’s.” Following are only a few highlights regarding youth victimization.

According to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS), nearly 1 in 5 (19.5 percent) of high school students reported having been bullied at school at least once during the 12 months prior to the survey.

This aligns to the findings of the School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) which collects data from students 12–18 years of age. This data reported 22 percent of students in 2019 were bullied at school. Of those students who reported bullying, nearly 1 in 5 reported being bullied more than 10 days in the school year.

“At school” includes the school building, on school property, the school bus, or going to and from school. “Bullying” includes being made fun of; being the subject of rumors; being threatened with harm; being pressured into doing things they did not want to do; excluded from activities on purpose; having property destroyed on purpose; and being pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on along with injury as a result of the incident.

The YRBSS was used to show how bullying has changed over time:

The proportion of students who were bullied at school in 2019 (19.5%) was about the same as the proportion in 2009 (19.9%).

The proportion of students who experienced electronic bullying in 2019 (16%) was about the same as the proportion in 2011 (16.2%). Electronic bullying includes being bullied through texting, Instagram, Facebook, or other social media.

Interestingly, this report found that students were less likely to experience non-fatal (theft and violent crime) victimization in and on their way to and from school in 2019 than in 1992. The National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics produce the Indicators of School Crime and Safety report that monitors the amount of crime students ages 12–18 experience when they are in (or on their way to/from) school and when they are away from school. This reported indicated that the rates of violent crime and theft — in school and away from school — each declined substantially between 1992 and 2019.

From 1992 to 2019, the rate of violent crimes against students ages 12–18 occurring away from school fell 86% (from 94 victimizations per 1,000 to 14), while the rate at school fell 70% (from 68 to 21). In 2019, youth experienced more thefts at school than away from school, but the relative decline in the rate of theft was the same for students at school and away from school (down 92% for both). Annually since 1992, the rate of theft at school was higher than the rate of theft away from school.

Other data on violent crimes from the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) indicated that 22 percent of the victims of serious violent crime reported to law enforcement agencies in 2018 and 2019 were children under age 18. The NIBRS reports data on more than 1 million victims of serious violent crime (murder, violent sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) known to law enforcement agencies in 45 states and the District of Columbia, representing 45 percent of the U.S. population.

More specifically, children were the victims in 9% of murders, 58% of sexual assaults, 8% of robberies, and 13% of aggravated assaults. Of all child victims of serious violent crime, less than one-half of 1% were murder victims, 7% were robbery victims, 35% were victims of aggravated assault, and 57% were victims of sexual assault.

Finally, data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) show that since 2009, suicides have outnumbered homicides among youth ages 10-17.

Youth homicide victims (ages 10–17) outnumbered youth suicide victims through 1999. More recently, however, the trend reversed as suicide victims outnumbered homicide victims annually since 2009. In 2019, the number of suicide victims was 80 percent above the number of homicide victims.

The report also indicates that between 1990 and 2019, 35,805 youth ages 10–17 died by suicide in the U.S.

Dr. Kathleen M. Smith has been an educator since 1975. She has served as Regional Director for the Mid-Atlantic States for Advanced l Measured Progress and Director of the Office of School Improvement with the Virginia Department of Education.