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April 2017Vol. 18, No. 2Role of Technology in Youth Harassment Victimization

Youth who are harassed and victimized by their peers suffer most from technology-based bullying when it is reinforced by in-person harassment, according to a recent U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) study. The study was conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the DOJ National Institute of Justice to evaluate technology-based harassment within the context of other types of youth victimization and risk factors.

The Technology Harassment Victimization study was conducted between December 2013 and March 2014 using a telephone survey designed for the following purposes:

  • To define technology-involved harassment incidents and their associated adverse consequences
  • To explore the role that harassment characteristics have on the impact of technology-involved harassment
  • To assess the frequency and nature of bystander involvement in technology-based harassment
  • To determine whether youth who have experienced multiple types of victimization are at particular risk for technology-based harassment

The study targeted youth aged 8–17 and asked questions about technology use, perpetration, bystander experiences, psychosocial characteristics, victimization history, and degree of emotional distress. Caregivers provided demographic information about the respondents—the child's gender, age, race/ethnicity, family structure, and socioeconomic status. Of the 2,127 youth in the original sample, 791 responded to the survey.

The study evaluated technology-based-only harassment, in-person-only harassment, and mixed forms of harassment and asked youth if they had experienced the following in the last year:

  • Name calling or hurtful teasing
  • Being excluded, ignored, or ganged-up on
  • Having false rumors spread or something private or confidential disclosed
  • Physical harm

If so, the youth were invited to share specific details about the incidents. Of the 791 respondents, 34 percent reported 311 unique harassment incidents in the last year. In 70 percent of incidents, respondents reported that there was a bystander who tried to make them feel better. While negative bystander behaviors were less common, bystanders joined in or helped to make the harassment worse in 24 percent of the reported incidents.

The study made the following conclusions:

  • Technology-only harassment is the least distressing to its young victims.
  • Mixed-peer harassment, involving both in-person and technology-based bullying, is the most distressing, especially for those who have faced multiple types of victimization in the past.
  • Future research should be aimed at finding ways to prevent and successfully intervene in mixed and in-person peer harassment.

The Role of Technology in Youth Harassment Victimization is available at (PDF- 509 KB).