Protecting Families from Bullying or Violence

A mother and her teenage daughter are having a conversation on the teen’s bed. Both look serious and attentive to each other.

NICHD supports research to identify risk factors for bullying and for violence and to develop new prevention and treatment strategies to protect individuals and families.

For example, an NICHD-funded study revealed an increase in pregnancy-associated homicides in the United States early in the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the risk of homicide was 35% higher for pregnant or postpartum women, compared to women of reproductive age who were not pregnant or postpartum. Homicide rates were highest among adolescents and Black women. Overall, the findings from this national study can help tailor prevention programs and policies to groups at higher risk of experiencing violence and maternal deaths.

Another study focused on how American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence describe their pregnancy experiences, contraceptive behaviors, and reproductive decision-making. Almost half of the 56 women in the study reported experiencing reproductive coercion—abuse that occurs when a person exerts power and control over another person's reproductive health and decisions. The women underscored that intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and reproductive coercion are deeply embedded in histories of colonization, racism, and ongoing oppression within AI/AN communities. The findings highlighted how culturally responsive interventions could enhance the resilience of AI/AN women and help promote reproductive health. 

Children of color in the United States are disproportionately exposed to gun violence, which can have long-lasting negative effects on health and development. An NICHD-funded study found that these racial disparities widened during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. White children’s exposure to firearm violence increased by 27%, while exposure increased by 38% for Hispanic children and 42% for Black children. The findings highlight the need for equitable access to trauma-informed programs, community-based prevention, and structural reforms.

Another study found that children who reported exposure to media violence between ages 10 and 15 years were more likely to report engaging in seriously violent behavior, such as aggravated assault, 5 to 10 years later. The link persisted when researchers adjusted their analyses to account for other risk factors that may contribute to seriously violent behavior. The results suggest that reducing consumption of violent media in childhood may decrease the odds of later engaging in violence.

Bystanders’ reactions to bullying can play an important role in stopping or encouraging bullying. Findings from an NICHD-funded analysis of data from more than 64,000 middle and high school students may help educators and school staff reduce bullying and encourage appropriate responses and more effectively use interventions they may already have. The study found that students with stronger connections to teachers and parents were more likely to engage in positive bystander behaviors, such as defending peers who were being bullied. The study findings also suggest the importance of anti-bullying approaches that focus on boys and high school students.

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