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Survey of Teen Health and Safety Finds Crime Prevalent at Schools

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More than one-third of 11,000 adolescents polled for a new federal survey reported they were threatened, robbed, or attacked at school in 1986.

Some 34 percent said they were threatened or hurt by another at school, 14 percent said they were robbed, and 13 percent said they were attacked.

Such incidents resulted in physical injury to a student more than a third of the time, the survey found.

Those findings--which school-safety experts described as providing a disturbing picture of the severity of crime in and around the classroom--were contained in a wide-ranging new study of the status of student health. (See related story, this page.)

The National Adolescent Student Health Survey was released last month by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance; the American School Health Association; and the Association for the Advancement of Health Education.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the study was based on the written responses of 8th and 10th graders in more than 200 public and private schools in 20 states.

The survey is one of the first federally funded studies in nearly 20 years to take a comprehensive look at the behavior, knowledge, and attitudes of adolescents on a number of health- and sex-related issues, including alcohol and drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and suicide.

'A More National Perspective'

The survey's findings were greeted with particular interest by school-safety officials, for whom they provided a welcome glimpse into the statistically murky field of school crime.

No comprehensive study on the subject has been conducted since 1978, when the National Institute of Education issued the landmark two-volume report, "Violent Schools--Safe Schools."

Because the nie study, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, has never been followed up, educators have had little but sketchy local data by which to discern trends over the past decade.

"We knew school crime was out there, but we hadn't suspected it was quite as prevalent" as the new survey shows, said Ronald W. Garrison, field-services director for the National School Safety Center. "Now we have a more national perspective."

"These statistics validate the need for schools to deal with these issues," added Stuart Greenbaum, a spokesman for the center, which is located in Encino, Calif.

'Violent Crime in School'

The survey found that about one-third of the crimes against students involved the use of a weapon.

More than one-third of the students--34 percent--reported that someone had threatened to hurt them at school during 1987.

Fourteen percent of those surveyed said they had been robbed while at school, and 13 percent said they had been assaulted at school or on a school bus in that year.

The survey also found that:

Forty-nine percent of boys and 28 percent of girls reported having been in at least one fight during the past year. A fight was defined as an incident in which two people hit each other or attacked each other with weapons.

Nearly one in five girls--18 percent--reported that someone had tried to force them to have sex against their will outside of school within the year.

Forty-one percent of boys and 24 percent of girls surveyed said they could obtain a handgun if they wanted to.

Twenty-three percent of boys said they had carried a knife to school at least once during the school year, and 7 percent said they carried one daily.

Among boys questioned, 3 percent had carried a handgun to school once in 1987, and 1 percent said they carried one to school daily.

Some National Estimates

Extrapolating from those figures, Mr. Garrison of the National School Safety Center offered estimates of the total level of crime among the 13.5 million students in secondary schools last year.

He calculated that in 1987:

6.6 million boys and 3.7 million girls were involved in a fight.

5 million students were threatened with harm, and 1.7 million were attacked.

Nearly 2 million students were robbed.

More than 5.5 million boys and 3.2 million girls had access to handguns.

945,000 boys carried a knife to school daily, and 135,000 boys carried a gun to school daily.

Mr. Garrison conceded that his estimates were not statistically reliable. Even so, he said, they provide support for "what we've been hearing from police and school officials--the ages of the kids as offenders are going down, and the offenses are getting worse."

'Crimes Against Youths'

The health survey's findings are supported by some little-noticed statistics released last spring by the U.S. Bureau of the Census for the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Those statistics, gathered in the Census Bureau's National Crime Survey, indicate that 12- to 19-year-olds are more likely to be victims of crime and violence than any other segment of the population. For example:

One in six youths was the victim of street crime, compared with about one in nine adults.

One of every 18 young people was assaulted, robbed, or raped in 1986--more than double the rate for adults. Of the estimated 1.6 million attempted or completed crimes against juveniles, 40,000 were rapes, 230,000 were robberies, 450,000 were aggravated assaults, and 875,000 were simple assaults.

Only about one-third of all violent crimes committed against youths were reported to police.

The Census Bureau's survey did not isolate the incidence of violence to the young occurring in or around schools. But it found that, overall, nearly 3 million incidents of attempted or completed "street" crime--assault, robbery, rape, and theft--took place in schools or on campuses during 1986. That figure includes crimes against adults, according to James R. Wetzel, director of the Center for Demographic Studies at the Census Bureau.

Among those school-related incidents were an estimated 61,500 aggravated assaults, of which 25,500 caused injury; 44,000 robberies, 8,700 of which involved injury; and more than 300,000 simple assaults, 80,900 of which involved injury.

More than 70,000 of those incidents involved the use of a weapon--in an estimated 1,700 cases, a gun. More than 590,000 thefts involved the loss of goods or cash valued at $50 or more.

New Data Expected

The findings of the National Crime Survey will be supplemented early next year by a new study measuring young people's perceptions of crime and safety in the nation's schools.

Edwin W. Zedlewski, a staff economist for the National Institute of Justice who is working on the new supplement, said that the questions used in the survey will "tap the same dimensions" as the 1978 nie study. But, he stressed, the supplement will not be a full-fledged follow-up to that study.

"We're convinced that 'Violent Schools, Safe Schools' numbers [estimating school-crime trends] are extraordinarily high, but the National Crime Survey's numbers are extraordinarily low," he said. "The real answer is somewhere in between, and that's where we want to look."

Charles R. Kindermann, associate director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, said the new supplement will not be based on a sufficiently large survey sample to provide an accurate measurement of school-crime rates.

"I don't want people thinking this is an nie II," he added.

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