Violence & Education: Issues & Needs

Issues & Needs — By on February 1, 2011 12:24 am

Often, the discourse around violence in schools is focused on young men.  We know that young women are experiencing unique and interrelated forms of violence, and to learn more, we reached out to youth, advocates, organizers, school staff and service providers.   We surveyed adult and youth representatives of organizations across Chicago, and held a Roundtable discussion in May 2010, to ask how girls experience violence in schools, and what was needed in order to end this violence.  This is what we heard.


Girls experience a wide range of forms of violence in their lives, including in their schools. When we surveyed adults and youth from organizations across the city, the responses we heard focused on intersecting forms of violence:

Teen dating violence: Girls in a violent dating relationship may experience abuse in their schools, if their partners are at the same school.  There is a clear lack of support from the school system for girls experiencing dating violence.

“Girls experience dating violence in numerous different ways at school. While acts of physical violence are typically safeguarded against in most academic environments, many forms of subtle abuse often persist unrecognized by the administration. Some of these additional forms of abuse include: verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, extreme jealousy, incessant name calling, constant calling or texting, controlling behavior, isolation from friends, and harassment via social media sites.”

Rape & sexual assault: Tied to the experience of dating violence was the threat and reality of sexual assault.

Bullying: Many respondents identified bullying by other students, using terms such as the

“violence of labels, psychological and verbal abuse” and “emotional battery (gossip)”

to describe the behavior. One respondent spoke of cyber bullying:

“I once heard of a girl who was being bullied online where her ‘mean girl’ made a burn page of the young woman. The young woman who was bullied turned to home schooling and is very fragile now, as if she stays within herself, not letting her guard down.”

Harassment: As respondents spoke of harassment, one thing that stood out was the fact that such harassment is not only perpetrated by youth, but often by school personnel including teachers. This fact is reflected in our insistence at the Taskforce that school culture and policies must be changed to stop teachers from harassing students.

Other identified issues:
• Girls may be pressured or forced into gangs
• Familial violence/ truama that affects girls’ ability to learn
• Girls experience a lack of support around pregnancy and parenting
• Expulsion and suspension policies
• Girls may also be witnesses, and at times, perpetrators of violence
• Racial, religous and other biases



Across the board, respondents identified the need for girls to have a space to talk about violence within their schools.  As one person explained,

“One of the biggest unmet needs for girls and young women who experience violence at school is providing a viable outlet for them to disclose the abuse. Sadly, many young women will not tell anyone about the abuse because of shame, embarrassment, or a sense that the violence is somehow their fault. Additionally, many students are not comfortable sharing personal information with teachers or administration because they fear people will not believe them.”

Suggestions to respond to this included

  • holding a retreat or conference for young women to help them build trusting relationships with one another
  • clarifying policies so that young women know who they can call if they experience violence, and creating mechanisms to safely report violence without calling the police
  • building safe spaces within schools
  • providing additional counseling to address trauma and fears, and to help girls in their healing process
  • establishing and making use of school-based health centers


As one person suggested,

“The most important first step is providing a comprehensive education on the subject. Many girls cannot recognize the pattern of abuse because they don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like. Young ladies may confuse jealousy with love or convince themselves that the behavior will stop because their partner apologizes, promises to behave better in the future, or buys them expensive gifts. Any policy enacted should focus on empowering girls to recognize abuse and report it immediately. “

Popular education workshops within schools were suggested by several respondents.


Several respondents pointed to existing restorative justice models in CPS schools, and identified a need to expand the use of such models.   Interest in restorative justice was so great that the Taskforce held a special session in November 2010, led by Ora Schub of Community Justice for Youth Institute, to model the circle process for Taskforce members.

“I really like the restorative justice policies/ programs that some CPS schools have. I feel that this is a proactive way of handling violence. I also wish however, that every school had a sort of “advocacy network” for young women and girls that are in need of emergency support, referrals, court/ legal assistance etc…”

“I think circles of students need to be set up to be accountable to each other, with support from admin and teachers.”

“[We need] restorative justice practices at all levels of schools, anti- violence messages and programs for boys as well as girls, gender/separate so there can be honest discussion, accountability circles when boys routinely harass and intimidate girls.”

“Peer Jury, workshops where they would write good thru things about each other that they admire about the other girls and when each girls list is filled, they would feel closer and maybe even become good friends.”


Because of the role of school personnel in perpetrating violence, and the overall failure of school staff to adequately respond to violence, many people identified the need to change school culture.  The goals would be for issues of violence to stop being the norm within Chicago Public Schools, to create accountability and disciplinary protocols for staff that perpetrate violence, and to develop systems that deal with violence in a

“proactive and collective way – rather than just swept under the rug or the “troubled” students getting pushed out.”