Newsletter 199 - "Understanding School Violence 3!"


This group of articles is a summary of a web link by the “Western Cape Education Department (WCED). (24 May 2018). Safe Schools Programme. SaferSpaces”

What are the Risk Factors? 

Individual Factors

  • Individual risk factors, including gender and age, can increase the risk for certain forms of violence victimisation and perpetration. The 2012 NSVS findings indicated that female learners (24.3%) reported a higher rate of violence victimisation than male learners (19.7%) (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). With regards to sexual violence at school, 7.6% of girls and 1.4% of boys  reported experiencing sexual assault in the previous year. For physical assault, violent threats and robbery, the rates were similar for girls and boys, only being slightly higher among boys. 
  • With regards to age as a risk factor, violence victimization at school was highest among 15-16 year-old learners. Comparatively, theft was more commonly experienced by 12-14 year old learners (Burton, 2006) and bullying was also found to be more prevalent among Grade 8 learners, than older learners (Flisher et al., 2006; Liang et al., 2007).

Relationship Factors

  • In the home context, the attitudes and actions of parents, caregivers and siblings has a strong impact on a child’s behaviour as well as their norms and attitudes (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). This influences how the child interacts with those in their school and community. Learners who have been victimised at home are at increased risk for violence victimization at school. Further, if a child’s friends or peers bring illegal drugs or weapons to school, the child is at increased risk of experiencing violence (Burton & Leoschut, 2013; Brown, Simelane  & Malan, 2016).

Community Factors

  • The community in which a learner grows up also influences their risk for violence victimization at school (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). There is an increased risk of witnessing and/ or experiencing school violence in schools situated in communities where alcohol, drugs and weapons are easily available. These communities are often very violent themselves (Leoschut, 2008). Alcohol, drugs and weapons can serve to facilitate and/or exacerbate violence. The 2008 NSVS found that learners who could easily access alcohol and illicit substances in their communities, were significantly more likely to experience violence victimization at school. These learners are also at increased risk when travelling to and from school (Equal Education, 2016; Burton & Leoschut, 2013). The Human Sciences Research Council, in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education, undertook a survey with over 20 000 educators at 1,380 schools in South Africa (HSRC, 2017). Survey findings indicated that 20% of educators perceived the school environment as violent and believed that their colleagues and the learners at their school could be carrying weapons. Further, approximately 17% of educators had witnessed violent interactions involving weapons at their school.
  • In communities where gangs predominate, gang violence can affect learners on their way to and from school (Mncube & Harber, 2013). This violence can also erupt in schools, particularly where: learners at the school are members of a gang; schools have inadequate safey infrastructure around the school premises; and/ or access control is poorly monitored (Equal Education, 2016). This gang activity, in and around schools, includes: gangs robbing and/ or threatening learners; fighting – often including weapons;  and selling drugs to learners (Mncube & Harber, 2013). Gang violence is a particular risk factor for school violence in the Western Cape (Burton & Leoschut, 2013; Brown, Simelane  & Malan, 2016). 
  • While violence in communities can increase the risk for violence in schools, this is not inevitable. Well managed, safe schools can play a role in mitigating this risk (Burton & Leoschut, 2013). Protective factors at the school-level which can mitigate the risks posed by being situated in a violent neighbourhood include: effective, non-violent discipline; a clear code of conduct; good relationships between educators and learners; and encouragement and empowerment of learners to achieve academically. Further, safe schools can have a positive influence on the safety of surrounding communities, particularly with regards to altering community norms on violence.

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