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Spotlight 2: Perceptions of Bullying Among Students Who Reported Being Bullied: Repetition and Power Imbalance
(Last Updated: April 2019)

In 2017, of students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied, 56 percent reported that they thought those who bullied them had the ability to influence what other students thought of them; 50 percent reported that those who bullied them were socially more popular; 40 percent reported that those who bullied them were physically bigger or stronger; 31 percent reported that those who bullied them had more money; and 24 percent reported that those who bullied them had more power in another way.

Bullying is prevalent and often has significant negative effects on individuals, families, and schools. For example, students who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, have more health complaints, and are more likely to skip or drop out of school (Swearer and Hymel 2015; Hornor 2018). The involvement of young bullying victims in recent suicides and school shootings has heightened concerns regarding the public health problem of bullying (Hornor 2018). It is important to understand youths’ perceptions of bullying in order to design anti-bullying programs as well as assistance programs that can mitigate the negative effects of bullying. Bullying is often defined as containing three elements: repetition, power imbalance, and intent to hurt.7 Repetition is defined as the recurrence of bullying behaviors. Power imbalance means that “the power is in favor of the aggressor, with the victim of bullying finding him- or herself in an inferior status that makes it very difficult to put up any defense” (Cuadrado-Gordillo 2012). Intent to hurt refers to the injurious effects of bullying: it inflicts physical, social, or psychological harm on the individuals who are bullied.

Using the 2017 School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, this spotlight examines youths’ perceptions of bullying regarding the elements of repetition and power imbalance in bullying and whether these perceptions vary according to student and school characteristics. The 2017 SCS asked students who reported being bullied whether they thought the bullying would happen again and what type of power imbalance they perceived between themselves and the person who bullied them. Five types of power imbalance are investigated in this spotlight: (1) the person who bullied the student was physically bigger or stronger; (2) the person who bullied the student was socially more popular; (3) the person who bullied the student had more money; (4) the person who bullied the student had the ability to influence what other students thought of the bullied student; and (5) the person who bullied the student had more power in another way.

In 2017, about 20 percent of students ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the school year. Of the students who reported being bullied, 41 percent reported that they thought the bullying would happen again (figure S2.1 and table S2.1).


Figure S2.1. Among students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, percentage who thought the bullying would happen again, by selected student and school characteristics: 2017

Figure S2.1. Among students ages 12&ndash18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, percentage who thought the bullying would happen again, by selected student and school characteristics: 2017

‡ Reporting standards not met. Either there are too few cases for a reliable estimate or the coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater.
1 Refers to the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) status of the respondent’s household as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Categories include “central city of an MSA (Urban),” “in MSA but not in central city (Suburban),” and “not MSA (Rural).”
NOTE: Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2017.


Whether students felt the bullying would happen again varied by student characteristics. In 2017, of students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school, a higher percentage of White students (47 percent) than of Hispanic (33 percent) and Black students (32 percent) thought the bullying would happen again. In addition, a higher percentage of 11th-graders (54 percent) than of 6th-graders (38 percent), 8th-graders (37 percent), and 12th-graders (33 percent) thought the bullying would happen again. Moreover, a higher percentage of students in rural areas (49 percent) than of students in urban areas (37 percent) thought the bullying would happen again. No measurable differences by sex or between students in public and private schools were observed in the percentages of students’ perceptions of whether the bullying would be repeated.

The perception of a power imbalance is a core element in the definition of bullying. Students who are bullied usually perceive aggressors (students who bully them) as being more powerful than them in some way (Cuadrado-Gordillo 2012). In 2017, of students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school, 56 percent reported that they thought those who bullied them had the ability to influence what other students thought of them; 50 percent reported those who bullied them were socially more popular; 40 percent reported those who bullied them were physically bigger or stronger; 31 percent reported those who bullied them had more money; and 24 percent reported those who bullied them had more power in another way (figure S2.2 and table S2.1).


Figure S2.2. Among students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, percentage reporting various types of power imbalances in favor of the person who bullied them: 2017

Figure S2.2. Among students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, percentage reporting various types of power imbalances in favor of the person who bullied them: 2017

NOTE: Students could report more than one type of power imbalance.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2017.


In 2017, of students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school, the type of power imbalance that they reported most often was the ability of students who bullied them to influence what other students thought of them. A higher percentage of female students (62 percent) than of male students (48 percent) reported that those who bullied them had the ability to influence what other students thought of them. Higher percentages of White (60 percent) and Hispanic students (57 percent) than of Black students (43 percent) reported that those who bullied them had the ability to influence what other students thought of them (figure S2.3 and table S2.1). Also, a higher percentage of 12th-graders (70 percent) than of 7th-graders (54 percent), 6th-graders (52 percent), and 8th-graders (50 percent) reported that those who bullied them had the ability to influence what other students thought of them.8 In addition, a higher percentage of students in private schools (72 percent) than of students in public schools (55 percent) thought those who bullied them had the ability to influence what other students thought of them. The percentages of students who perceived that the person who bullied them had the ability to influence what others thought of them did not differ measurably by urbanicity.


Figure S2.3. Among students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, percentage who thought those who bullied them had the ability to influence what other students thought of them, by selected student and school characteristics: 2017

Figure S2.3. Among students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, percentage   who thought those who bullied them had the ability to influence what other students thought of them, by selected student and school characteristics: 2017

‡ Reporting standards not met. Either there are too few cases for a reliable estimate or the coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater.
1 Refers to the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) status of the respondent’s household as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Categories include “central city of an MSA (Urban),” “in MSA but not in central city (Suburban),” and “not MSA (Rural).”
NOTE: Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2017.


In 2017, of students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school, one-half perceived those who bullied them as being socially more popular. No measurable differences by any student or school characteristics were observed in the percentages of students who reported that those who bullied them were socially more popular.

Two out of five of students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school perceived those who bullied them as being physically bigger or stronger in 2017. There were no measurable differences by most student and school characteristics in the percentages of students who perceived that those who bullied them were physically bigger or stronger. The only characteristic that was an exception was urbanicity: a higher percentage of students in urban areas (46 percent) than of students in suburban areas (38 percent) reported those who did the bullying had more physical power.9

In 2017, of students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school, about one-third perceived that those who bullied them had more money. Bullied students’ perception of this financial power imbalance differed by race/ethnicity and grade level. Specifically, a higher percentage of White students (34 percent) than of Black students (24 percent) reported that those who bullied them had more money. Additionally, higher percentages of 9th-graders (40 percent) and 10th-graders (38 percent) than of 7th-graders (27 percent), 8th-graders (26 percent), and 6th-graders (25 percent) reported that those who bullied them had more money (figure S2.4 and table S2.1). However, no measurable differences were observed by sex, urbanicity, or control of school in the percentage of bullied students who perceived an imbalance of financial power between themselves and those who bullied them.


Figure S2.4. Among students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, percentage who thought those who bullied them had more money, by selected student and school characteristics: 2017

Figure S2.4. Among students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, percentage who thought those who bullied them had more money, by selected student and school characteristics: 2017

‡ Reporting standards not met. Either there are too few cases for a reliable estimate or the coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater.
1 Refers to the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) status of the respondent’s household as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Categories include “central city of an MSA (Urban),” “in MSA but not in central city (Suburban),” and “not MSA (Rural).”
NOTE: Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2017.


In 2017, of students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school, about one-quarter thought that those who bullied them had more power in another way. For the most part, there were no measurable differences by student and school characteristics in the percentages of students who reported that those who bullied them had more power in another way; however, higher percentages of White (26 percent) and Hispanic students (26 percent) than of Black students (16 percent) reported that those who bullied them had more power in another way.


This spotlight indicator features data on a selected issue of current policy interest. For more information: Table S2.1, and https://nces.ed.gov/programs/crime/.


7 Bullying is defined, by the U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth, including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm (Gladden et al. 2014).
8 The seemingly large differences between grade 12 and grades 9, 10, and 11 were not measurably significant, due to large standard errors.
9 The seemingly large differences by race/ethnicity and grade level were not measurably significant, due to large standard errors.