Statistically, school-age children run a greater risk of being injured or killed by someone they know than from a violent incident at school, but it's school shootings that draw the most media attention.
Dr. Matthew Robinson, a professor in the Department of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University, researches school violence and theories of crime, among other topics.
He is the author of the book chapter "Crime in Schools and Workplaces" in the textbook "Crime and Society" and of the forthcoming book on school crime prevention titled "Crime Prevention: The Essence." Both are published by Bridgepoint Education.
"Schools are extremely safe," Robinson said. "There is very little serious crime that happens in schools. Children are much more likely to be victimized at home by people they know."
Robinson's findings are based on statistics published in the U.S. Department of Justice's and U.S. Department of Education's 2011 report "Indicators of School Crime and Safety," as well as data published by the National Crime Victimization Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center on Education Statistics.
"Media reports of school crime tend to create misconceptions of a danger that is actually quite small for the overwhelming majority of school users," he wrote in the book chapter. In fact, data shows that less than 1 percent of murders of children occur on school grounds. "School violence remains relatively rare given the number of teachers and students in school," he wrote.
Robinson said oftentimes schools focus on how to respond to school violence rather than how to prevent the violence because "it's hard to predict who might commit school violence," he said. "Almost every one of the school shooters told lots of people (of their plans) and yet it still happened," he said. "A lot of people may talk about committing violence but never do it. How do you identify the one who actually is going to do it? We aren't very good at that."
More students are victims of bullying, cyber-bullying, gang activity, drug use and hate crimes than acts of violence on school grounds, according to Department of Education data. Nationwide, about one in four high school students reports being offered, sold or given drugs. Twenty percent report that gangs are present in their schools. Approximately 35 percent of students report being sexually harassed at school.
Schools' violence prevention measures range from required sign in and controlling access of outsiders to buildings and school grounds to the use of two-way radios by school staff or electronic notification systems.
But it's the low-tech methods that might be most effective.
"Research shows the most effective means of preventing violence are things like good teachers and good mental health counselors or therapists," Robinson said. "We've invested in law enforcement and we have invested in prisons, but we haven't invested as much in therapy, counseling and the things that could actually be used to prevent school violence in the first place."
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