Guide to Bullying Prevention

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Is it a Hate Crime?

Hate crime is a criminal offense committed against persons or property, motivated, in whole or in part, by an offender's bias against an individual's or a group's race, religion, ethnic/national origin, sex, age, disability, or sexual orientation.52 Law enforcement agencies, reporting groups, government agencies, and other victim assistance organizations use a number of guidelines to determine whether hate motive is involved in an incident or attack; these are referred to as "bias indicators.” Below are some of the more common factors to consider.

Massachusetts law states: “In some instances, one bias indicator may be sufficient to support an inference that a crime was motivated by bias or bigotry (e.g., bias-related epithets or markings). In other cases, more than one bias indicator may be necessary to warrant such an inference.”53

Things to Think About

  • Were the offender and victim of different racial or religious groups, ethnic/national origin, or sexual orientation?

  • Did the victim appear to be a member of a particular race, religion, ethnic/national origin, or sexual orientation, even though s/he in fact is not part of that group?

  • Were there bias-related comments, written statements, or gestures made by the offender?

  • Were bias-related drawings, markings, symbols, or graffiti left at the incident scene?

  • Were certain objects, items, or things that represent bias used or left behind at the incident scene (e.g., hoods, Confederate flags, burning crosses, swastikas)?

  • Has the offender been previously involved in similar hate incidents, or is the offender a member of a hate group?

  • Does the perpetrator have an understanding of the incident's impact on the victim, the victim's family, or the community?

  • Did the victim's family recently move into the area? Is the victim's family acquainted with their neighbors and local community groups?

  • Was the victim a member of a race, religion, ethnic/national origin, or sexual orientation that is overwhelmingly smaller than other groups where the victim lives or the incident took place? This factor may lose some significance with the passage of time (i.e., it is the most significant when the victim first moves into the neighborhood, becoming less significant as time passes without incident).

  • Was the victim visiting a neighborhood where previous hate crimes have been committed against other people of his or her race, religion, ethnic/national origin, or sexual orientation?

  • Was the victim engaged in past or current activities promoting his or her race, religion, ethnic/national origin, or sexual orientation?

  • Although the victim may not be of the targeted races, religions, ethnic/national origins, or sexual orientation, was s/he a member of an advocacy group supporting the precepts of the victim's group?

  • Did the incident coincide with a holiday relating to, or a day of particular significance to, a race, religion, ethnic/national origin, or sexual orientation?

  • Have there been other incidents occurring in the same locality, at or about the same time, and have the victims all been of the same race, religion, ethnic/national origin, or sexual orientation?

  • Has the victim or victim's community been subjected to repeated attacks of a similar nature?

  • Does a substantial portion of the community where the incident occurred perceive the incident was motivated by bias?

  • What was the manner and means of attack? For example, does the color of paint, the use of particular words or the spelling of words, or the use of symbols or signs suggest a possible hate motive?

  • Does the incident indicate possible involvement by an organized group? For example:

  • Has a specific hate group claimed responsibility for the crime?

  • Is there printed literature involved?

  • Does the name of the group in the literature suggest hate motivation?

  • Does the name of the group suggest a "copy-cat" syndrome?

  • Is there documented or suspected organized group activity in the area?

  • Was this group actually involved, or was this a fear or scare tactic?

  • Are there historical animosities existing between groups comprising the victim's and the offender's race, religion, ethnic/national origin, or sexual orientation?

  • Is there an ongoing neighborhood problem that may have initiated or contributed to the incident? Could the incident be retribution for some conflict with a group in the community, or a segment of the population?

  • Has there been prior or recent news coverage of incidents of a similar nature?54

By the Numbers

  • 24% of students reported witnessing race-related bullying now and then or often.55

  • 13% of students aged 12–18 have been called a derogatory word related to race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sex, or sexual orientation within a period of 6 months.56

  • 36% of students aged 12–18 have seen hate-related graffiti at school.57

  • The majority of students ages 7–13 rejected the view that it was okay to exclude peers from an activity because of their biological sex or race.58

Delve Deeper

For more information about hate crimes, see

The Time is Ripe: Adolescence and Bullying

While all middle school and high school teachers have expertise about adolescents, it’s useful to think about some of the characteristics of both males and females in this age group before you begin to tailor your prevention program. The following is an excellent activity for a staff meeting.
Adolescents Are...



What are they like?

What is important to them?

What do they want?

What do they need?

What is happening with them developmentally?

Risks and Opportunities Related to Adolescence

Adolescents are constantly and quickly changing, and normal developmental shifts can leave young people at particular risk for bullying. Parents, adults involved in schools and sports programs, and other caring adults may unknowingly exacerbate the problem by assuming adolescents need less support and guidance than they actually do. Adolescents often become reluctant to ask for help, but it doesn’t mean they no longer need it.

Parents and other caring adults may misinterpret a young person’s withdrawal from them and feel they are giving a young person the space s/he needs. And while a certain amount of withdrawal from the world of adults and into the world of their peers is an important part of adolescence, depending on the severity of the withdrawal, it can actually be a sign that everything is not okay. Adolescence can be confusing time for everyone.

Fortunately, in addition to risks, adolescence also presents educators and parents with opportunities for nurturing pro-social behaviors. The degree to which teaching efforts are developmentally-tailored will greatly determine whether or not particular characteristics of adolescence can be leveraged as opportunities, rather than risks. The guidance of caring adults in an adolescent’s life can make an enormous difference.

Remember, most adolescents are:

  • Preoccupied with group conformity and peer acceptance

  • Acutely aware of differences

  • Struggling with issues of dependence and independence

  • Socially curious

  • Focused on sorting out right from wrong (mostly through testing their and others’ values)

  • Self-conscious about the physical changes in their body (which to varying degrees can greatly affect their self-esteem)

  • Potentially great leaders and problem solvers




Moving from concrete to abstract thinking

Can think more clearly about abstractions such as civil liberties, democracy, social justice, fairness, honesty; are able to take the perspective of others

Development and learning differ from child to child, and misunderstandings are common

Moving from authoritarian values to democratic tolerances

Ripe for political thought; able to construct group agreements that represent rights and responsibilities of community living

Some children will make bad choices if left to their own devices.

Focused on sorting out right from wrong

Open to examining their values; focused on justice and fairness

May be susceptible to unhealthy influences

Moving from individual focus to community focus; struggling with issues of dependence and independence

Beginning to put aside own needs for the good of the group; are responsive to adults’ respect for their growing autonomy and abilities

Can be very influenced by their peers to join in behaviors they might not really condone; will resist authoritarian means of controlling their behavior

Becoming more independent and able to problem solve

Able to contribute meaningfully to a community, serve as leaders, and be co-creators of a caring community

Adults may underestimate young people’s need for guidance and support

Maturing physically at different rates (may be awkward, different size from their peers, or more sexually developed)

May be used as an opportunity to nurture appreciation for differences

Sexual harassment; self-conscious about their bodies; greater potential for stronger adolescents to abuse those who are weaker

Preoccupied with fitting in

Can be used as an opportunity to explore issues of sameness and difference

Can be non-tolerant of differences; hate crimes; prejudices and discriminatory behaviors

Defining self in relationship to peers, rather than adults; needy for peer approval

Can think for themselves; can begin to act from their own values and beliefs

Easily influenced by peers; can be threatening to be seen as different in any way; any rejection by peers can lower self-esteem

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