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J Interpers Violence. 2014 Mar;29(5):846-65. doi: 10.1177/0886260513505708. Epub 2013 Nov 6.

Power differentials in bullying: individuals in a community context.

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  • 1Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.


Central to the definition of bullying is the abuse of power. Power relationships are inherent in social groups, by virtue of differing size, strength, age, socioeconomic status (SES), or social connectedness of individuals. Beyond the influence of these individual characteristics, environmental factors have the potential to affect the power dynamic in bullying and victimization, but are a relatively unexplored research area. In particular, we know little about how the community-level factors relate to bullying in the adolescent population. The present study is guided by a social ecological perspective to gain a deeper understanding of the individual and built community characteristics (e.g., parks, recreational spaces, buildings that facilitate social interaction and community connectedness) that contribute to the power dynamics related to victimization or bullying in traditional and electronic contexts. Data were collected from 17,777 students in Grades 6 to 10 as part of the 2009/2010 Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) Survey, from Geographical Information Systems (GIS) data, and from 2006 Canadian Census data. Two nested models were run using HLM with age, gender, ethnicity, SES, social inclusion factors (e.g., collective efficacy), and community resource factors (e.g., access to recreation) as predictors. Characteristics of individuals that placed them at a power disadvantage (being younger, female, and having low SES) were linked to higher rates of victimization. Lower individual collective efficacy was also associated with higher rates of traditional and electronic victimization. Community recreational opportunities were associated with decreased victimization in both contexts. The relative importance of individual and built environmental factors and conceptualization of bullying interactions within a social ecology model are discussed.


Internet and abuse; bullying; community violence; cultural contexts; youth violence

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