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EXPERT AVAILABLE: After Latest School Shooting, Bullying Prevention Programs Need Stronger Focus, MU Expert Says

Feb. 28, 2012

Story Contact(s):
Nathan Hurst, hurstn@missouri.edu, 573-882-6217

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­—On Monday, a student opened fire at Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio, killing two classmates and wounding three others.  Many students who witnessed the shootings describe the shooter as “an outcast who had been bullied.”  This tragic incident appears to be the latest in a string of school shootings committed by bullied students. Douglas Abrams, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri School of Law and an expert on bullying and the law, believes that public schools need to implement more effective anti-bullying prevention programs.

“Prevention programs have been successful,” Abrams said. “The most important reason for in-school prevention programs is to spare millions of bullied schoolchildren the emotional and physical pain that impedes learning; we also cannot ignore evidence of random, deadly violence by bullied students who strike back.”

Abrams says that shortly after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education studied Columbine and 36 other school shootings since 1974.  The two agencies found that nearly all the shooters had “experienced bullying and harassment that was long-standing and severe” and “approached torment.” The report explained that bullying prevention programs should concern all parents because victims bent on revenge may attack at random and not target only their tormenters. Officials say that bullying has reached “epidemic proportions” nationwide.

“Bullying has been called a ‘serious public health problem’ by the American Medical Association, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health,” Abrams said. “These latest Ohio shootings help illustrate why prevention programs are so important. Prosecuting the shooter does not protect the victims, who have already been injured or killed. By reducing bullying by as much as 50 percent, successful prevention programs can spare many innocent victims.”

Abrams has written and spoken widely on bullying and the proven success of carefully designed prevention programs in the schools.  Earlier this month, he co-directed a symposium on cyberbullying at the University of Missouri Law School.

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