The influence of gang presence on victimization in one middle school environment

Anjali J. Forber-Pratt, Steven R. Aragon, Dorothy L. Espelage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand and describe the unique differences of both bullies and victims, through the eyes and stories of the participants, from this middle school. Method: Thompson Middle School enrolls approximately 440 students to date with 85% of the student population reported as African American, 8% White, and 9% Latino. The surrounding community has more than 20 gangs with 2,000 known gang members. Case study research, with data collected from 10 student interviews and unstructured observations from researcher field notes, was used to capture experiences from one middle school. Analysis was performed using a modified van Kaam approach for each transcript. Results: Themes that emerged included: (a) powerlessness of teachers and administrators; (b), students feeling unsafe before, during, and after school; (c) pressure of conformity to join gang life to avoid danger; and (d) students feeling trapped in an unsafe environment. Conclusion: Although the similar characteristics of bullying that are discussed in the current literature were identified, we found three important distinctions between a middle school with gang presence and schools without. These include: (a) the incidents of victimization are more violent in nature toward both students and teachers; (b) fear permeates the school environment possibly paralyzing prevention efforts; and (c) the social structure of gangs convolutes what is known about peer influence on bullying and victimization incidents due to deeply rooted history of gang presence, a hierarchy of power, and fear from bystanders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-20
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology of Violence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • case study
  • delinquency
  • qualitative
  • school climate
  • Youth violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)


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