Schools are often presumed to be safe spaces where students can discover their interests, focus on their studies, and socialize with fellow learners. Along with geographic, financial, and academic factors, campus safety is a major consideration used by students and their families when selecting schools (Merianos et al., 2017).
However, the reported incidents of violence in schools over the past few years have left parents, students, and even educators to question how safe campuses really are. Be it high schools or universities, state- or privately-owned educational institutions have become places where crimes that range from bullying and sexual harassment to school shootings and hate crimes occur (Musu et al., 2019).
To provide some insights into the extent of the issue as well as what measures campus administrators are doing to resolve the problem, this article has compiled some of the key student crime statistics affecting K-12 and higher education institutions. As such, this shall serve as a resource for students and parents to understand the situation and for administrators and educators to stay abreast of the problem and see how other schools and universities are handling it.
Aside from key information highlighting student crimes, the article also discusses the significant effects of such incidents to students and staff. It also sums up common programs implemented by various educational institutions to prevent student crimes and provide support to victims.
Student Crime Statistics Table of Contents
- General Student Crime Statistics
- Crimes Committed in Schools
- Impact of Crimes in Schools
- Security Measures for Student Crime Prevention
General Student Crime Statistics
Youth violence is a global public health and social issue with crimes ranging from bullying to homicide. The majority of such incidents happened at school or are school-associated crimes (Shimizu, 2020). While reports from each country vary, it is evident that school-associated crimes are prevalent regardless of the economic and socio-political status of the country. Students experience bullying, physical fighting, sexual crimes, physical assault, and homicide, among others.
The number of on-campus crimes has been decreasing by about 32% from 2001 to 2016 (Musu et al, 2019). However, experts say that many school-associated violence remain unreported to the authorities (Ouellet & Taylor, 2019). Victims and their parents cite ineffective systems in place, non-mandatory reporting, and other issues plaguing school systems, which prevent them from taking appropriate actions. This is why more and more studies are being conducted to examine the nature and prevention of school violence; these scholarly initiatives aim to more effectively comprehend offender behavior, school crime protective methods, and student victimization (Crawford & Burns, 2015).
Below are some of the findings from the U.S. Department of Education’s study on Indicators of School Crime and Safety (Musu et al., 2019).
- In 2017, around 827,000 students aged 12 to 18 became victims of non-violent crimes within their school campus. Another 503,000 students experienced school-associated violence away from school.
- During the school year, 2015 – 2016, 79% of public schools in the U.S. reported various incidents of crimes such as theft and violence.
- There is a total of 1.4 million crimes committed in schools across the U.S. in the same school year, which equates to 28 crimes per 1,000 students.
- The victimization rate declined for students aged 12 to 18 from around 190 cases per 1,000 students in 1992 to below 40 cases per 1,000 students in 2017.
- Serious victimization rates in 2017 were four per 1,000 students at school and six per 1,000 students out of the school campus.
- The percentage of crimes in public schools differs depending on the school types. For example, in the United States, violent crimes are reported by 57% of all primary schools in the country. Also, 88% of all middle schools and 90% of all high schools in the U.S. report violent crimes.
- In 2016, there were 28,400 crimes reported against students, staff, and property on college campuses in the United States.
- Similarly, reported on-campus crimes increased between 2015 to 2016 from 18.7 to 19.2 per 10,000 full-time students.
- Among various crimes in college and university campuses, the most common are burglaries (42%), sexual harassment (31%), and motor vehicle thefts (12%).
- Overall, the number of reported on-campus crimes in colleges and universities decreased by about 32% between 2001 to 2016.
Crimes Committed in Schools
Young people experience various crimes in their lives, such as homicide, sexual violence, bullying, and other non-fatal violence (Shimizu, 2020). Many of these incidents happen at school or are school-related.
School violence can be one or a combination of the following: physical violence, psychological violence, and sexual violence (UNESCO, 2019). The manifestation of such violence in schools varies between different parts of the world. Furthermore, some of these incidents happen outside school premises but are school-associated as students and school staff are involved.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
Bullying remains the most common type of crime committed in schools worldwide (UNESCO, 2019). It involves various forms of aggression, such as physical bullying, psychological bullying, sexual bullying, and cyberbullying. At school campuses, bullying is a rampant and detrimental type of peer victimization that involves frequent and deliberately harmful behavior inflicted by a more dominant group or individual versus a less powerful group or individual (Gini & Pozzoli, 2009, cited in Broll & Lafferty, 2018).
Here are some facts reported by UNESCO in their Behind the numbers: Ending school violence and bullying study.
- A study between 40 developing countries showed that around 42% of boys and 37% of girls were subjected to bullying that involved physical altercation.
- Based on studies by UNESCO in 2019, on average, one in three students worldwide are bullied at least once a month.
- Bullying is most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, with about 48.2% of students experiencing physical bullying. It is followed by North Africa, with 42.7% of students bullied and the Middle East, with 41.1% of students bullied.
- Physical and sexual bullying is the most common type of bullying in 96 countries except North America and Europe.
- On the other hand, psychological bullying is the most common type of bullying in 48 countries in Europe (including Israel) and North America.
- In Japan, there is a significant increase in reported bullying incidents among students. From about 73 incidents per 1,000 students in 2009, it skyrocketed to around 544 incidents per 1,000 students in 2018.
Homicide is an increasing threat to students around the world as well. Below are facts that describe the current homicide rates in schools and colleges as reported by the World Health Organization’s Youth Violence study.
- Between 2015 – 2016, there were 38 student, staff, and school-associated violent deaths in the United States. This includes 30 homicides.
- Around 200,000 homicides occur among youth aged 10 to 29 years, with the majority of incidents happening at school or are school-related.
- 84% of youth homicide victims are male.
- In the United States, the incidents of homicides have been increasing in the past decade or so. Between 1994 and 2018, there were 38 violent crimes on school campuses that resulted in multiple victims and many injuries.
Sexual violence such as rape and sexual assault are prevalent in educational institutions as well. Global health security: Recognizing vulnerabilities, creating opportunities highlights the prevalent sexual crimes that students and school staff are subjected to (Masys, Izurieta, & Ortiz, 2020).
- Between 3% to 24% of young women say that their first sexual experience was forced on them.
- Various studies around the world have indicated that a significant number of girls experience some form of sexual violence or abuse on school or university campuses. For example, in the Machinga District of Malawi, up to 2.3% of primary school girls experience rape, and 1.3% experience unwanted sex. Additionally, around 13.5% experience sexual assault, and 7.8% are targets of sexual comments.
- The same study reported that teachers and staff at 32 out of 40 schools know a male teacher who propositioned a student for sexual activities. Furthermore, teachers and staff at 26 out of 40 schools reported that a male teacher had got a student pregnant.
- In the United States, 5.2% of K-12 schools reported at least one incident of sexual assault (aside from rape) from 2017 to 2018.
- Around 11% of college students experience rape or sexual assault, which may include physical violence or incapacitation.
- Around 23% of female undergraduate students and 5.4% of male undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault.
- Only four out of five female students who are victims of sexual violence will report the incident to law enforcement. Keeping it personal and fear of reprisal are among the primary reasons for not reporting.
- Furthermore, 31% of crimes reported were sexual harassment, which is about 8,900 incidents. These cases involve any sexual act directly towards another person without their consent such as assault and rape.
- In the United States, threats are also common in schools and colleges with bomb threats (16.9%), shooting threats (28.2%), and unspecified threats (47.4%), leading the most common reports between 2018 and 2019.
- Between 2015 and 2016, about 10% of public school teachers have been threatened with injury by a student from the same school. Furthermore, 6% of teachers said that they had been physically attacked by students resulting in injury.
- Around 20% of students in 2017 reported that illegal drugs were available to them inside school campuses.
- Colleges and universities in the United States recorded more than 1,000 criminal incidents involving hate crime in 2016. These include vandalism, destruction of property, assault, larceny, intimidation, robbery, and arson.
- In the same year, there were about 12,000 burglaries within various college and university campuses. Burglaries composed about 42% of all on-campus crimes reported in that year.
- Also, 12% of crimes reported in 2016 were motor vehicle thefts, which is about 3,500 incidents. Furthermore, there were 2,200 aggravated assaults, and 1,100 robberies reported in the same year.
Impact of Crimes in Schools
Both violent and non-violent crimes in schools and colleges have negative effects on the students. In general, students who were subjected to these crimes suffer academically (MacMillan & Hagan, 2004). Additionally, students who were subjected to or are aware of crimes on their campuses have poor attendance due to fear (Ringwalt, et al, 2003).
For example, students who experience bullying often develop depression, social anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Source: The Annual Bullying Survey 2019
Students are not the only ones affected by crimes in schools. Criminal incidents disrupt the overall atmosphere of schools and colleges (Henry, 2000). This affects the staff and the community in providing a conducive environment for learning.
- Students exposed to some form of violence are found to be more likely to suffer from regressive behavior, anxiety, depression, and even substance abuse.
- Children who are exposed to high levels of community violence showed impaired behavioral and social functioning.
- Students who experienced some form of childhood violence, including school crimes are more likely to drop out than their peers. Boys who were victims of abuse are 26% more likely not to graduate while girls who were similar situations are 24% more likely not to finish their formal education.
- Furthermore, they are found to be more prone to violent behavior, which may lead to more crimes.
- A study reported that students who experienced homicide within their neighborhood in the previous week scored lower in cognitive skills than those who were tested at a different time.
- Another study in New York City showed that middle school students who are exposed to violent crimes in their neighborhoods received significantly lower test scores in English language arts (ELA).
- A separate research in Chicago (Burdick-Will, 2013) reported that violent crime incidents have a negative effect on both math and reading standardized scores of students. However, there are no significant effects on the overall grades of the students.
Security Measures for Student Crime Prevention
Student crime prevention involves programs and efforts from students to the community. A concerted effort by educational institutions, local administration, and the government along with the cooperation of the parents and the neighborhood are required to effectively prevent crimes in schools and mitigate its effects (Cook et al., 2009).
School Campus Security
School and college campuses around the world are beginning to tighten their security measures. This is especially true for neighborhoods with high crime rates. Some of the measures are:
- Conducting background checks and screenings on staff and volunteers.
- Issuance of district and school identifications.
- Mandatory sign-ins.
- Use of video cameras and other surveillance equipment.
- Installation of metal detectors and deployment of security personnel.
Student Support Programs
In order to minimize the victimization of students and staff, support programs are necessary to address behavioral and social health issues in the school population. Such endeavors range from prevention to resolution of conflicts in order to deescalate situations. Student support programs may include:
- Anti-bullying programs
- Counseling services for at-risk students.
- Positive behavioral interventions and support
- Conflict management, medication, and resolution
- Alternative school placement programs
- Zero tolerance rules.
Cooperation with the Parents and the Community
Continuous communication with the parents ensures that educators have a clear picture of the students’home situation. Furthermore, programs within the community allow schools and colleges to promote the safety of the students and the staff. Some of these may include:
- Family orientation sessions and workshops.
- Open communication with school staff and administration.
- Community engagement and outreach programs.
- Social events in the neighborhood.
Experts Are Conducting More Studies to Understand Student Crimes
Violence against the youth, particularly students, is considered a worldwide health and social problem. Fortunately, violent and non-violent criminal incidents have been decreasing across the globe. On-campus and school-associated crimes include, but are not limited to, homicide, bullying, sexual violence, illegal drug use, and more. It should be noted that there is limited data on how extensive such crimes happen in schools, and how many incidents remain unreported.
These crimes significantly affect the ability of students to learn. It affects their sense of security, which leads to decreased academic performance and school attendance. Students who experience crimes regularly often develop anxiety, depression, and other behavioral issues. Furthermore, crimes affect staff and educators, including their ability to facilitate the learning of students.
On the bright side, various studies have been conducted to fully understand the effects of crimes and what measures can be made to prevent and mitigate them. Programs have also been developed and implemented to provide student support, especially for those who are vulnerable. Additionally, school and college campuses have begun increasing security measures, especially in areas where crimes are prevalent.
However, the efforts to curb this problem must not stop there. Students, parents, educators, and school administrators must continue to reach out to their respective communities to create a safe space for students in and out of school campuses. Meanwhile, parents must remain vigilant and proactively check if their kids’ schools are rolling out the necessary security measures. After all, the cooperation of students, educators, school administrations, parents, and the community is required to prevent crimes and provide support to those who are vulnerable.
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- Burdick-Will, J. (2013). School violent crime and academic achievement in Chicago. Sociology of Education, 86 (4), 343-361. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038040713494225
- Columbia, R., Kadzamira, E., & Moleni, C. (2007). The Safe Schools Program: Student and Teacher Baseline Report on School-related Gender-based Violence in Machinga District, Malawi. Washington, DC: USAID.
- Cook, P. J., Gottfredson, D. C., & Na, C. (2009). School crime control and prevention. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1368292
- Crawford, C., & Burns, R. (2015). Preventing school violence: assessing armed guardians, school policy, and context. Policing: An International Journal, 38 (4), 631-647. https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-01-2015-0002
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- Krug, E. G., Dahlberg, L. L., Mercy, J. A., Zwi, A. B., & Ascencio, R. L. (2002). World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva: World Health Organization.
- Laurito, A., Lacoe, J., Schwartz, A., Sharkey, P., & Ellen, I. G. (2019). School climate and the impact of neighborhood crime on test scores. RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 5 (2), 141. https://doi.org/10.7758/rsf.2019.5.2.08
- Listenbee, R. L., Torre, J., Boyle, G., Cooper, S. W., Deer, S., Durfee, D. T., . . . Taguba, A. (2012). Report of the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.
- Macmillan, R., & Hagan, J. (2004). Violence in the transition to adulthood: Adolescent victimization, education, and socioeconomic attainment in later life. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14 (2), 127-158. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-7795.2004.01402001.x
- Masys, A., Izurieta, R., & Ortiz, M. R. (2020). Global Health Security: Recognizing Vulnerabilities, Creating Opportunities. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
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- Musu, L., Zhang, A., Wang, K., Zhang, J., & Oudekerk, B. (2019). Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2018. Washington, DC: NCES.
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- Sharkey, P. (2010). The acute effect of local homicides on children’s cognitive performance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (26), 11733-11738. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1000690107
- Shimizu, Y. (2020, June 8). Youth violence. WHO Newsroom.
- UNESCO (2019). Behind the Numbers: Ending School Violence and Bullying. Paris: UNESCO.