Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Social Capital, Opportunity, and School-Based Victimization

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Social Capital, Opportunity, and School-Based Victimization

Article excerpt

This study extends the opportunity theory of victimization to consider the social capital of adolescents at school. We argue that social capital might act as a protective factor potentially encompassing both the concepts of guardianship and target attractiveness. Drawing on a sample of 5,395 adolescents interviewed in the context of the 2007 National Crime Victimization Survey (school crime supplement), we develop school-specific measures of social capital and opportunity indicators in predicting violent and theftvictimization on school grounds. The results show that opportunity indicators are strong predictors of both violent and theftvictimization and that social capital is especially important as a protective factor from violent victimization. More specifically, the results indicate that students who developed trust relationships with adults at school benefit from these relationships by avoiding violent encounters with potential offenders. Implications for opportunity theories of victimization are discussed.

Keywords: routine activity theory; opportunity theory; social capital theory; school violence; youth victimization

Once regarded as relatively structured and safe places, schools have started to be considered among potentially risky locations where violent crime and victimization may occur. Although the perception may have been fueled by a few tragic violent incidents, researchers have nonetheless started to realize the need to understand school-based victimization as a research problem in its own right (Astor, Benbenishty, Zeira, & Vinokur, 2002; Augustine, Wilcox, Ousey, & Clayton, 2002; Burrow & Apel, 2008; Garofalo, Siegel, & Laub, 1987; Hanke, 1996; Khoury-Kassabri, Benbenishty, Astor, & Zeira, 2004; Schreck, Miller, & Gibson, 2003; Wilcox, Tillyer, & Fisher, 2009). The challenge for research is twofold. First, to examine whether theories and predictors of adolescent victimization in general also hold when we consider victimization on school grounds specifically, or whether current theories should be extended or modified for the specific school context. Second, to develop measures which remain theoretically meaningful while being specific to the school environment.

This study contributes to these objectives by examining the predictors of theftand violent victimization among high school students in the United States. Our inquiry is guided by two research questions. Drawing from opportunity theories of victimization, the first question of interest is whether the routine activities of students at school influence their risk of victimization in the same way that they do outside of school grounds. More specifically, we examine whether students who participate in (structured) extracurricular activities are at lower or higher risk of victimization compared to those who do not. Although structured activities may be considered to be protective factors from victimization in the community through a decreased exposure to potential offenders, the reverse might be true when considering victimization on school grounds. The reason is straightforward: Students who participate in such activities actually increase their exposure time at school while becoming more attractive targets as they carry valuable items to those activities. Few studies have examined the contribution of such activities on theftand violent victimization in a school setting.

The second research question moves our concerns from activities to relationships that students develop with both adults and fellow students at their school. More specifically, we draw from social capital theory (Coleman, 1990; Lin, 2001) to analyze whether students who benefit from more social resources at school also benefit from additional protection from victimization. Students who are socially isolated (either from adults and/or from other students) may lack guardianship and may be perceived as more attractive (vulnerable) targets by potential offenders. …

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