Most of the research on student bullying and school safety focuses on high school students. In particular,
studies of harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression have rarely focused
on middle school students, nor have many studies examined school policies or strategies that make
middle schools safer.
In this research brief we use data from three middle schools in one school district in California to study
school safety for middle school students. Nearly every student in three schools participated: over 1,500
students completed surveys. The schools were ethnically diverse; a total of 47 students (3%) reported that
they were lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB); the survey did not include questions about students’ gender
identity as transgender or questioning.
Results show that middle school students report considerable bullying and harassment, as well as con-
cerns for their safety. Males and females report different types of harassment and different responses
to teachers’ efforts to promote safety. Compared to their heterosexual or “straight” peers, LGB students
report more harassment, and greater fear for their own safety. There were no major differences in experi-
ences of harassment, safety, or school safety strategies across the different ethnic groups in this study.
Finding 1: Female middle school students were more likely to experience social
bullying; male students were more likely to experience physical bullying.
Physical versus Social Bullying:
In this study, physical bullying includes being pushed shoved or hit, threatened or injured
with a weapon, being in a physical fight, or having property damaged or stolen. Most
students reported being physically victimized 1-2 times in the last school year.
Social bullying, or bias-based bullying, includes being bullied or harassed based on sex,
perceived sexual orientation, disability, body size or looks, or having mean rumors or
sexual jokes told about you. Almost half of students report being socially victimized at
least three times during the school year.