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1. What is the research question?2. How did the researchers measure the key variables? Who was studied?3. What did the researchers find in this study?4. What did the researchers conclude based on their findings in this study?5. What is one future direction that the researchers proposed to pursue, based on their findings?
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Original Article
The influence of the cyber-social environment on fear
of victimization: Cyberbullying and school
Ryan Randa
College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University, Beto Criminal Justice Center, Box 2296, Huntsville,
TX 77341-2296, USA.
E-mail: ryan.randa@shsu.edu
Abstract Using a nationally representative sample of over 3500 students aged 12–18 years, the
present study examines the relationship between cyberbullying and fear of victimization through a
five-stage analysis. The analyses conducted address two primary research questions. First, whether or not cyberbullying victimization has a direct relationship to fear of victimization, net of the
effects of traditionally important controls. Second, in further exploration of the cyberbullying –
fear relationship – what other factors still have a direct relationship to fear of victimization among
those students experiencing cyberbullying. Logistic regression modeling of the relationship finds
that cyberbullying victimization does produce a positive and significant linkage to fear of victimization net of the effects of other past victimization experiences, and a disorderly school environment. Further analysis suggests that among those who report experiencing cyberbullying little
else correlates to fear of victimization.
Security Journal (2013) 26, 331–348. doi:10.1057/sj.2013.22; published online 24 June 2013
Keywords: cyberbullying; fear of victimization; schools
Traditional questions regarding the impact of environmental conditions on fear of crime and
victimization focus on primarily two conceptual areas. The first of these is the physical
environment, which can include a range of mechanisms for creating fear, from design of a
place to the characteristics of a neighborhood (for example, Fear Spots – Fisher and Nasar,
1995; Nasar and Fisher, 1993). The second is the social environment, which primarily
focuses on the context and interpretation of surroundings. Both of these categories of
environmental influence have been a critical part of the past 30 years of criminological study,
and both continue to experience growth and new developments regularly. Of particular
importance to the present study is the growth and change of the social environment over the
past 30 years, specifically the birth and growth of the cyber-social environment.
Historically, the social environment has referred to interactions between people as they
come into contact with one another. A common example of a negative social environment
might stem from descriptions of social incivilities, which could include loitering teens or
even the odd ‘cat call’. In part, the present study seeks to further explore the extent to which
these traditional types of incivility have a cyber-social counterpart. Given the growing
number of youths that have access to Internet capable devices, and the growing number of
© 2013 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 0955-1662 Security Journal
www.palgrave-journals.com/sj/
Vol. 26, 4, 331–348
Randa
devices that make social networking a point of emphasis, the cyber-social world has grown
from fringe to mainstream, and mainstream to ubiquity within a generation.
As the contemporary social world changes with time and technology of the twenty-first
century, the cyber-social environment has added a dimension to social context that has had
an undeniable cultural impact in a relatively short period of time. An impact so large that
social science must begin to explore the role it plays in all things good and bad, including
fear and victimization. If the social incivilities of the 1980 s could influence the behavior of
neighborhood residents, it stands to reason that the cyber-social environment of the new
millennium will impact behavior at home, at work and at school. From this perspective, the
present study addresses two primary questions: Is there a direct relationship between negative
cyber-social experiences, specifically cyberbullying and fear of victimization net of traditionally
important correlates of fear? And, among those reporting cyberbullying victimizations which,
if any, of the traditional correlates maintain direct relationships to fear of victimization?
Framework
The relationship between environments and fear is an engrained piece of the ‘fear of crime’
research landscape. There is an entire body of research in the general fear of crime area that
supports the notion of fear producing places ranging in scope from neighborhoods down to
individual places or spots (Covington and Taylor, 1991; Bursik and Grasmick, 1993;
Nasar and Fisher, 1993; Taylor and Covington, 1993; Fisher and Nasar, 1995; Will and
McGrath, 1995). With specific attention to students and schools, there are a number of
studies featuring the characteristics and conditions of the school environment which often
focus on the relationship between school disorder and fear (Welsh et al, 1999, 2000; Welsh,
2000; Astor et al 2001, 2002). Cumulatively, whatever debates remain regarding the
influence of a disorderly school environment focus on smaller elements of how and what
types of disorder impact fear among whom, but not to whether the school environment has an
impact. And, more generally, there are growing number of criminological studies that have
examined links between environments, victimization, fear, perceived risk, protective/
avoidance behaviors and more recently cyber victimization (for example, Ferraro, 1995; May
and Dunaway, 2000; May, 2001; Fisher and Sloan, 2003; Rader, 2004; Wilcox et al, 2006;
Rader et al, 2007; Reyns et al, 2011; Higgins et al, 2008; May et al, 2010; Randa and Wilcox,
2010, 2012; Swartz et al, 2011). Yet, with the growth and development of the cyber-social
context, a need has arisen for studies addressing fear and victimization both online and off-line.
The negative consequences of fear of crime have been addressed in a number of studies and
suggest a wide range of specific issues (Warr, 1990; Hale, 1996; Jackson, 2004; 2006). While
the majority of this work centers on adults and neighborhoods, the message is clear that fear of
crime/victimization is damaging. As it relates to the present study, one recent work examines
the link between fear of crime/victimization and mental health and physical functioning
suggesting that the three are interrelated, producing a spiral of negative consequences (Jackson
and Stafford, 2009). While Jackson and Stafford (2009) do not use a student population, the
very real possibility exists that these same negative consequences would be just as damaging to
a student population in diminishing their capacity to learn and perform in the classroom.
Further expansions of the ‘environment’ to include social experiences and interactions
have been developed, at least in part, through the work on the impact of social incivility on
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The influence of the cyber-social environment
fear of crime (Greenberg et al, 1982). Research with particular attention to schools and the
student environment suggests that the perceived presence of gangs at school can lead to fear
and ultimately adaptive avoidance behaviors (Randa and Wilcox, 2010). However, generally
the relationship between fear and social incivility is supported in the empirical research
through findings of positive significant relationships between social incivility and fear of
victimization across a number of levels of measurement and context outside of the school
environment (Lewis and Maxfield, 1980; Skogan and Maxfield, 1981; Perkins et al, 1990;
Covington and Taylor, 1991; Taylor and Covington, 1993; Ferraro, 1995; Perkins and
Taylor, 1996; Ross and Mirowsky, 1999). The links between the social environment and fear
have been equally rigorously explored. At schools, bullying victimization in particular has a
growing body of work. A good deal of this literature finds a relationship between bullying
victimization and fear at school as well as adaptive avoidance behaviors. Bullying has been
linked to frequent fighting, violent reprisals and student weapon carrying (Kingery et al,
1996; Cunningham et al, 2000; Furlong and Morrison, 2000; Vossekuil et al, 2000; Nansel
et al, 2003; Randa and Wilcox, 2010; Randa and Wilcox, 2012).
Exploration of cyberbullying’s impact on fear of victimization will enhance the growing
frameworks of cyber victimization, and fear – environment relationships – by establishing
what role cyber world victimization has in real world fear. Presently, both traditional
bullying and cyberbullying experiences have been shown to have direct relationships
to adaptive avoidance behaviors at school net of the effects of fear of victimization
(Randa and Wilcox, 2010). Cumulatively, there are a number of works that suggest that
both traditional bullying and cyberbullying victimization pose a serious threat (for
example, Houbre et al, 2006; Hinduja and Patchin, 2007, 2010; Carbone-Lopez et al,
2010; Hay and Meldrum, 2010; Hay et al, 2010; Patchin and Hinduja, 2010). The cybersocial world has become a mainstream reality and must be a part of an expanded concept
of the environment. While a number of definitions of cyberbullying exist, one of the recent
example presents the concept in such a way that ultimately communicates the issue
particularly well:
Cyberbullying is any behavior performed through electronic or digital media by
individuals or groups that repeatedly communicates hostile or aggressive messages
intended to inflict harm or discomfort on others. Tokunaga (2010, p. 278)
Estimates of the extent of bullying and cyberbullying vary by study, but research
consistently reports that they are common occurrences in schools (for example, Olweus,
1996; Wolke et al, 2001; Li, 2006; Smith and Gross, 2006; Kowalski and Limber, 2007;
Williams and Guerra, 2007; Erdur-Baker, 2010). The impact of these behaviors on victims
can also be quite varied depending on the nature of the incident (that is, frequency, severity,
length). A growing body of studies have linked bullying and cyberbullying with a host of
negative consequences for victims, including decreased academic performance, diminished
perceptions of safety, depression, anxiety, reduced self-esteem, self-harm, emotional distress
and suicide ideation among others (for example, Rigby, 2003; Ybarra, 2004; Houbre et al,
2006; Patchin and Hinduja, 2006; Beran and Li, 2007; Ybarra et al, 2007; Juvonen and
Gross, 2008; Esbensen and Carson, 2009; Varjas et al, 2009; Hay and Meldrum, 2010;
Hinduja and Patchin, 2010).
The present study adds to the growing body of literature on cyberbullying by assessing
the relationship between victimization and fear among students and exploring what kind of
© 2013 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 0955-1662
Security Journal
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impact the cyber-social experience can have on the physically present social experience.
Furthermore, this work will attempt to unpack fear of victimization among those students
who have reported experiencing cyberbullying victimization.
The Present Study
The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)–School Crime Supplement (SCS)
(2009) is used here to explore the relationship between cyberbullying victimization and
fear. This supplemental survey is a part of NCVS national level multi-stage cluster
sample, and for this analysis provided nearly 4000 observable cases. The school crime
supplement is an occasional supplement, collected every other year since 1999 through
additional interviews of individuals aged 12–18 years who had been enrolled in school
during the prior 6 months. Traditionally, a multi-stage cluster sample of this scope would
suggest an advanced multi-level modeling technique, yet given the lack of specific school
identifiers logistic regression models will be used. The analysis will unfold three basic
stages and be presented in five tables. The first two tables will present the pairwise
correlations and descriptive statistics of all variables included in the analysis. The second
stage, presented in the third table, is a logistic regression model evaluating the effect of
cyberbullying on fear of victimization at school net of the effects of controls. The third
and final stage of the analysis, presented in the fourth and fifth tables, will further explore
the relationship by illustrating differences between those students who have, and have not,
reported being victims of cyberbullying. This final stage of analysis will also address the
second research question posed above regarding the utility of traditional correlates of fear
among a subsample of only cyberbullying victims.
Dependent variable
The dependent variable and principle element of the present study is fear of victimization.
This variable is a composite reduction of three survey items that address how often a student
is fearful of victimization. The SCS asks respondents: ‘How often are you afraid that
someone will attack or harm you in the school building or on school property?’, ‘How often
are you afraid that someone will attack or harm you on a school bus or on the way to and
from school?’ and finally ‘Besides the times you are in the school building, on school
property, on a school bus or going to or from school, how often are you afraid that someone
will attack or harm you?’. Each of these survey items has responses categories ‘Never’,
‘Almost never’, ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Most of the time’. Creation of the fear variable used in the
analysis presented below combines these items so any response indicating fear – all but
‘Never’ – is recorded as Fear = 1 and the remainder are recorded as Fear = 0. The final item
included in the analysis has 879 positive responses (α = 0.79).
Independent variables
The primary independent variable is Cyberbullying (0 = no, 1 = yes), and similar to the
dependent variable this is a multi-item measure recorded dichotomously to reflect any
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© 2013 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 0955-1662
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The influence of the cyber-social environment
cyberbullying victimization experiences. The individual items were introduced to the
respondent through a statement: ‘Now I have some questions about what students do that
could occur anywhere and that make you feel bad or are hurtful to you. You may include
events you told me about already. During this school year, has another student …’:
‘Posted hurtful information about you on the Internet, for example, on a social
networking site like MySpace or Facebook?’, ‘Threatened or insulted you through
email?’, ‘Threatened or insulted you through instant messaging?’, ‘Threatened or
insulted you through text messaging?’, ‘Threatened or insulted you through online
gaming, for example, while playing a game, through Second Life, or through XBOX
[live]?’, ‘Purposefully excluded you from an online community, for example, a buddy list
or friends list?’ These six items allowed the respondent yes or no answers and were
ultimately combined so that any positive response to any item would result in a
Cyberbullying score of 1 (α = 0.63).1
There are several theoretically important control measures included here and among
them traditional bullying victimization has been an important factor in both student fear
and adaptive behaviors (Randa and Wilcox, 2010, 2012). The Bullying variable is also
constructed as a dichotomous representation of SCS items including: ‘… has another
student …’; ‘Made fun of you, called you names or insulted you?’, ‘Spread rumors about
you?’, ‘Threatened you with harm?’, ‘Pushed you, shoved you, tripped you or spit on
you?’, ‘Tried to make you do things you did not want to do, for example, give them money
or other things?’, ‘Excluded you from activities on purpose?’, ‘Destroyed your property on
purpose?’ Any positive response to any of these categories results in a score of Bullying = 1
(α = 0.75).
Control variables
Two additional victimization experience control variables are labeled Personal Crime
Victimization and Household Total Victimizations. Personal crime victimization is a count
of the number of NCVS incidents reported by the individual respondent in the past 6 months.
The total number of incidents ranged from 0 to 5 where 0 and 1 were the most frequent
scores. A total of 326 individuals reported any criminal victimization incidents in the past
6 months. In addition, Household Total Victimizations, a measure of total number of criminal
incidents reported within the household, has a range of 0–6 where resulting total number of
households reporting any victimization was 1152.
A number of recent empirical works suggest that in addition to personal victimization
experiences, physical and social disorder may impact the fear–disorder–victimization
paradigm (for example, Randa and Wilcox, 2010, 2012). As such, the present study includes
a number of school environment disorder variables. These measures address the presence of
gangs, guns and drugs at school through the use of four separate variables. The measure of
Gang Presence is a three-item index scale of SCS items: ‘Are there any gangs at your
school?’, ‘During this school year, how often have gangs been involved in fights, attacks or
other violence at your school?’, ‘Have gangs been involved in the sale of drugs at your
school during this school year?’. The presence of guns at school, measured as Peer Weapon
Carrying, is the respondents answer to the SCS item: ‘Do you know of any other students
who have brought a gun to your school during this school year?’ where yes = 1 and no = 0.
© 2013 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 0955-1662
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Randa
The final disorder measures involve the respondent’s perception of drug use at
school. The first of the drug-related disorder measures is Drug Presence, a multi-item
measure of responses focusing on access to specific drug types. The SCS item ‘Is it
possible to get _______________ at your school?’ specifically addresses ‘alcoholic
beverages’, ‘marijuana’, ‘crack’, ‘other forms of cocaine’, ‘uppers such as ecstasy,
crystal meth or other illegal stimulants’, ‘downers such as GHB or sleeping pills’,
‘LSD or acid’, ‘PCP or angel dust’, ‘heroin or smack’, ‘prescription drugs illegally
obtained without a prescription, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin or Xanax’ and ‘other illegal
drugs (excluding tobacco)’. For each of the 11 items, the SCS accepted four possible
outcomes: yes, no, don’t know and don’t know drug.2 For the present study, both ‘don’t
know’ and ‘don’t know drug’ were coded as missing and the remaining scores were used
to create an α scale (α = 0.89). Disorder related to drug presence is pursued further
through the development of Peer Drug Use. This variable is a single-item measure asking
respondents: ‘During this school year, did you know for sure that any students were
on drugs or alcohol while they were at school?’ Responses were scored as 1 = yes
and 0 = no.3
Two additional measure of school social environment are based on work by Mayer and
Leone (1999) who developed two specific constructs: (i) ‘system of law’ and (ii) ‘secure
building’. These items are replicated here as System of Law and Building Security. By using
the same SCS items, this four-item scale required respondents to agree or disagree with the
following: ‘everyone knows the rules’, ‘students know the punishments’, ‘school rules are
strictly enforced’ and ‘the punishment for breaking a school rule is the same no matter who
you are’. These items were coded so that higher scores corresponded with agreement
4 = ‘strongly agree’ and 1 = ‘strongly disagree’. Respondents scores were summed to
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