Since we began to study the phenomenon of peer abuse in the school environment in 1973, almost five decades have passed. During this time we have expanded our knowledge of the profiles of aggressors and victims of violence, and we have developed a multitude of intervention programs, mainly in the school environment, aimed at preventing this type of behavior and intervening when they appear.
New technological means have also emerged that have modified the modalities of harassment: every time we can typify more behaviors produced in the virtual space. One of the most prominent is cyberbullying, which consists of using new technologies, and specifically social networks, to harass and harass colleagues.
As time progresses, we have more sophisticated and fast means of communication, and this means that violent behavior between equals shows increasingly high prevalence rates in all corners of the “westernized” world.
The challenges of the new Child Protection Law
The new Law on the comprehensive protection of childhood and adolescence establishes that, as of next year, the centers related to the care, training and protection of children must have specialists who are in charge of ensuring the extinction or reduction of this type of violent behavior between equals.
This implies a series of challenges so that a law based on prevention does not impose a burden on an educational system that has suffered enormous wear and tear in recent times.
The aforementioned Law, in its title II, establishes the duty of citizens to notify the authorities of situations of violence suffered by children or adolescents. This duty of communication is configured in a more demanding way for those groups that, due to their profession, are entrusted with the assistance, care or training of minors.
Specifically, mention is made of the obligation of public administrations to facilitate communication and information exchange mechanisms between health centers, schools, sports and leisure centers, centers for the protection of children or the criminal responsibility of minors, as well as centers reception, asylum or humanitarian care. Therefore, it aims to provide a holistic and coordinated vision of the response to violence against children, emulating the Organic Law of comprehensive protection against gender violence.
Learn from the Gender Protection Act
Learning from its predecessor can give us clues to optimize resources and improve its efficiency. According to a study by the University of Malaga , the efficacy and effectiveness of the measures imposed by the comprehensive law against gender violence have contributed to reducing the number of homicides and giving visibility to the phenomenon.
However, other highly vulnerable groups have emerged that can hardly be covered by an eminently criminal law. We refer to the increasing incorporation of adolescents into the phenomenon of gender violence, or the need to care for vulnerable groups such as the migrant group. There must be an investment in early detection and prevention before prosecuting conflicts between equals.
In these cases, what skills should professionals working in this field have? What should the specialists in charge of supervising coexistence in schools or child protection centers be?
Already in 1995 the obligation to have a Coexistence Plan and a coexistence coordinator in educational centers was established. However, in recent years there has been a steady increase in cases of peer violence. Analyzing the phenomenon from a scientific perspective can give us clues about the mistakes made.
It is striking that the profile of aggressor and victim is getting closer and closer in their characteristics. Within the individual psychosocial variables , previous victimization , lack of empathy and moral disengagement are the factors that best predict involvement in both roles. Both victims and aggressors are characterized by a desensitization to the harm of others, they do not know how to discern between good and evil, but they also act or suffer revenge.
Also, dependence on technology and the internet is a risk factor for both roles, being more important in cyberbullies . These data make visible the complexity of the phenomenon and the difficulties in distinguishing between aggressors and victims. For this reason, the application of detection and prevention programs must have professionals trained in the detection and evaluation of scientifically based risks.
The role of mediation
On the other hand, since it is an adolescent phenomenon characterized by the need for social recognition, mediation and conflict management are strategies that are proving very useful. Specifically, through the intermediation of peers in the process of detecting and controlling violence between minors.
The fact that professionals trained in antisocial risk assessment and conflict management competencies are the best equipped for this task, leads us to consider criminology as an appropriate discipline in the field of prevention, detection and control of violence in childhood and adolescence.
Author Bio: Gloria Fernández- Pacheco Alises is Professor in Criminology and coordinator of the Research Group on Migrations at the Universidad Loyola Andalucía