Bullying, sexual harassment and racial discrimination are major public health problems in Canada’s elementary, middle and high schools. Below, the reader will find a brief overview of prevalence and characteristics of those students who are involved. The needs of students involved in frequent and long-term aggression and/or victimization are generally much higher and more complex compared to those involved infrequently.1 For this reason, rates are classified as weekly (one or more times per week) and monthly (once or twice per month). Furthermore, there are three distinct groups of students involved in these behaviours: students who bully, victims of bullying, and students who bully and are victims. Studies suggest that roughly 6% of students report bullying others weekly, 8% report that they are victimized weekly, and 1% report that they are both victimized and bully others weekly (about 1/6 of bullies and victims).2

Physical Bullying

Ten to fifteen percent of students admit to being involved in weekly physical bullying. This form of bullying peaks in grades 6-8, and gradually declines thereafter. Boys are almost twice as likely as girls to report frequent physical bullying, while both genders are equally likely to report frequent victimization. An additional 25-30% of students are involved in monthly physical bullying. Gender and age patterns are consistent for self-reported bullying, although many more boys than girls say that they are victimized on a monthly basis.3

Verbal Bullying

Roughly 10-15% of students report involvement in weekly verbal bullying. Approximately twice as many students report being victimized compared to being aggressors. There are no significant gender differences in this type of bullying.4

Social Bullying

Students who engage in social bullying are not likely to get caught: harmful intentions are masked. In one Canadian study, 41% of students reported that they were victimized and/or bullied others monthly, 7% said they were victimized weekly, and 2% reported that they bullied other students socially every week.5 Girls are more likely than boys to bully and be victimized.6

Electronic Bullying

In a recent Canadian study, 13% of students reported they were victimized and/or bullied others monthly. No gender differences were apparent, and high school students were most likely to be involved.7

Sexual Harassment

Same- and cross-gender harassment begins as early as grade six and is associated with pubertal development and involvement in mixed-gender peer groups.8 Girls are at least twice as likely to report experiencing sexual harassment as boys. Girls are also more likely to have sex unwillingly and be pressured to have sex against their will.9 In a national U.S. survey, 12.5% of young women in grades 9-12 reported being forced to have sexual intercourse.10 Girls report more serious and negative impacts on their school performance and mental health.11

A study on Canadian middle schools found that boys were significantly more likely to report perpetrating harassment compared to girls.12 Another Canadian study compared weekly and monthly rates of a broad continuum of harassing behaviours. Seven percent of grade 8-12 students reported that someone at school had made an unwelcome or crude comment about their body weekly, and 11% had been touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way (against their will) weekly (16% said that this had happened monthly).13

Homophobic Harassment

Sexual minority youth (gay, lesbian, bisexual) and questioning youth (individuals who experience uncertainty about their sexual orientation) report more experiences of victimization by bullying, sexual harassment and physical abuse than heterosexual adolescents. It is common for boys to use homophobic harassment against other boys in school settings, beginning in early adolescence.14 A U.S. study suggests that teachers rarely intervene when they witness these incidents.15 In a Canadian study, 10% of students reported weekly victimization. Many more boys than girls reported victimization, and almost all boys named male peers as the aggressors. Twenty-five percent of students were victimized monthly.16

Racial Discrimination

U.S. data indicate that 13% of all students reported that they had been called a hate-related word or name and 36% reported seeing hate-related graffiti at school.17 A recent Canadian study found that 18% of grade 8-12 students reported they had called other students racist names monthly and 5% had done this weekly. Ten percent of 4-12 students said that they had been called racist names monthly, and 5% were victimized weekly in this same study.18

Sharp, Thomson, and Arora, 2000; Rigby and Bagshaw, 2001; Lawson, 2001.
Volk, Craig, Boyce and King, 2003; Rivers and Smith, 1994; Haynie et al., 2001.
Craig and Yossi, 2004; Sourander, Helstela, Helenius and Piha, 2000; Duncan, 1999.
Solberg and Olweus, 2003.
Totten, Quigley and Morgan, 2004.
Salmivalli, Kaukiainen and Lagerspetz, 1998; Lagerspetz et al., 1988; Bjorkqvist et al., 1992.
Totten, Quigley and Morgan, 2004.
McMaster, Connolly, Pepler and Craig, 2002.
WHO, 2004; Boyce, Doherty, Fortin and MacKinnon, 2003.
CDC, 2004.
American Association of University Women, 2001, 1993; Kopels and Dupper, 1999; OSSTF, Ontario Women’s Directorate and Ministry of Education and Training, 1995.
McMaster, Connolly, Pepler and Craig, 2002.
Totten, Quigley and Morgan, 2004.
Ibid; Williams, Connolly, Pepler and Craig, 2003; GLSEN, 2004.
Kosciw, 2004.
Totten, Quigley and Morgan, 2004.
US Departments of Education and Justice, 2000.
Totten, Quigley and Morgan, 2000.