Almost 30% of adolescents in São Paulo say they have been victims of bullying, survey shows
March 18, 2020
By André Julião | Agência FAPESP – In a survey of children attending 119 public and private schools in São Paulo City, Brazil, 29% of both boys and girls said they had been bullied in the previous year, and 23% said they had been victims of other kinds of violence. The survey was conducted by a research group at the University of São Paulo’s Medical School (FM-USP). The sample comprised 2,702 children around age 14 who were enrolled in ninth grade.
“What distinguishes bullying from other kinds of violence is its repetitive and persistent nature. Also, it occurs between peers and is supported by a difference in power. The weakest link in terms of social status, physical characteristics or some personality trait is picked on and victimized,” said Maria Fernanda Tourinho Peres, a professor in FM-USP’s Department of Preventive Medicine and the principal investigator for the project funded by FAPESP.
The findings show that psychological or verbal bullying (“insulting, teasing and mocking”) was more frequent (17.5%) than bullying in the form of physical aggression (3.7%). All told, 6% reported bullying with a specific sexual or dynamic dimension.
“Robbery with violence” was the most frequently mentioned form of violence (15.3%), while “sexual violence” (1.7%) was the least frequently reported.
Moreover, 15% acknowledged having bullied others – the frequency was higher among boys (19%) – and 19% admitted having perpetrated acts of violence (23% for boys only, and 21% for private schools only). Physical aggression (stabbing, kicking or injuring in other ways) was the most frequently cited type of violence (12.7%). Only 1% said they had committed sexual violence. Being a victim and being a perpetrator overlapped quite a lot: 10.4% said they had both suffered and practiced bullying, while for violence, the proportion was 6.8%.
“We produced a diagnosis of the prevalence of teenagers’ involvement in situations of violence and bullying in order to study risk factors and associated protection factors. The aim was to obtain data for use in developing prevention programs, mainly for schools,” Peres told Agência FAPESP.
The survey, known as the São Paulo Project on the Social Development of Children and Adolescents (SP-PROSO), was co-led by Manuel Eisner, Wolfson Professor of Criminology at the University of Cambridge (UK) and Director of the Violence Research Center there. It was supported by the British Academy/Newton Fund as well as FAPESP. Similar surveys had previously been conducted in Montevideo (Uruguay) and Zurich (Switzerland).
Risk and protection factors
The findings from the São Paulo survey show that the factors most closely linked to bullying and violence in the sample population were the consumption of alcoholic beverages, relationships with parents, and friendships.
According to the researchers, “negative parenting” (“violent disciplinary practices” and frequent rows between parents, for example) is a risk factor and can lead to active and passive involvement in bullying and violence.
The prevalence of bullying and violence was higher among members of groups who committed what the survey calls “transgressive acts” (i.e., deviant behavior, such as cheating on tests, skipping class, spraying graffiti, dealing drugs, and committing robberies or thefts), consumed violent and adult content media, or frequently engaged in nighttime or “transgressive” leisure activities.
On the other hand, the positive involvement of parents in the lives of their adolescent children, support from friends and social networks, and an orderly, non-violent school environment were associated with lower levels of bullying and violence.
More than half the sample population (59%) said they had consumed at least one central nervous system depressant, such as alcohol, in the past year, but the proportion of subjects who had consumed such depressants and bullied others or had themselves been bullied was much higher (70.5%). To the researchers’ surprise, self-reported depressant consumption was higher among girls (65%) than boys (54%). Among victims of bullying, 73.6% said they had consumed alcoholic beverages in the previous year.
“Although some studies point in this direction, most say that boys consume more alcohol. Something specific is indeed happening, but we don’t yet know exactly how to explain it,” Peres said.
The survey findings were presented at two workshops attended by head teachers from the participating schools, representatives of municipal and state school boards, and other education and health workers. A third event will be held during the first half of 2020 to share successful experiences and practices that have been evaluated in other countries and could be adapted to suit São Paulo’s schools.
“The next step is to try to implement programs that have proved effective elsewhere, focusing on the school climate and environment. Interventions targeting relationships with parents and parental practices are also promising. We have an in-depth diagnosis. We can now adapt practices that have worked elsewhere to our own reality,” Peres said.
In 2018, Brazil became a signatory to the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children and undertook a commitment to develop a nationwide plan to address the problem.
São Paulo recently became the first city in the world to join the partnership. The initiative is expected to attract more support for measures to reduce bullying and violence among adolescents.
SP-PROSO followed the methodology recommended by INSPIRE, a set of seven evidence-based strategies for countries and communities working to eliminate violence against children. INSPIRE was launched alongside the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children in 2016. It was created by ten agencies with a long history of child protection work, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank, among others.
The complete report on the SP-PROSO survey can be found at sites.usp.br/sp-proso/wp-content/uploads/sites/526/2019/06/relatorio_sp_proso_26_05_2019.pdf.
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