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November 24, 2006

Schools need to focus on bullying 'hotspots,' not just the bullies

By Jessica Martin

In the battle against bullying, school officials and parents usually focus on the behavior of the bully, but to get to the root of the problem, they also must look at the physical context of the school, says Ronald O. Pitner, Ph.D., school violence expert and assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis.

"Bullying behavior, and school violence more generally, typically occurs in predictable locations within schools," he says.

"Research has shown that violence occurs more in unmonitored areas within schools such as hallways, bathrooms, stairwells and playgrounds. Thus, one way of cutting down on violence in schools is to identify 'hotspots' within the school where children feel that violence is likely to occur, and then to place school monitors in those areas."

In his research, Pitner asked students to pinpoint on maps the areas in their school that make them feel unsafe or where fights are likely to occur. Pitner also asked students questions about the time of day those places were unsafe and for whom they were unsafe.

"School officials can use this information in their strategy to make their elementary, middle school and high schools safer," adds Pitner, who noted that these high-risk areas likely will vary by school.

"Although this approach will not completely eliminate bullying, research has shown that it would at least cut down on the areas where violence is likely to occur," he says.

"This focus underscores the importance of viewing school bullying as both an individual- and organizational-level phenomenon."

Pitner's research on bullying and school violence has appeared in several publications, including "The School Services Sourcebook: A Guide for School-Based Professionals" (2006), "Handbook of Violence" (2002) and "The Elementary School Journal" (May 2001).

Originally published Sept. 7, 2006

 
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