This study is a description of male and female secondary students' experiences of safety in public schools. Gender differences in reported victimization and perceptions of school safety have been noted. The National Center for Educational Statistics ([NCES], 2006) reported that boys were the victims of violent acts in the schools more often than girls. Many studies have reported different results relating to how safe students perceive their schools to be (Addington et al., 2002; Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1997). This study considered gender differences and similarities in students' perceptions of school safety. The study utilized a qualitative research approach to describe students' experiences. Focus groups composed of secondary public school students discussed their perceptions and experiences of school safety. The focus groups were divided into three categories: mixed genders, all male, and all female. The data were analyzed by gender to provide descriptions of what might contribute to students' perceptions, experiences, and feelings in school. Students reported feelings of safety and danger in the schools from the following sources: peers, teachers and staff, and environmental context. Within these three categories the following themes were identified: (a) peers included friends, groups, and weapons; (b) teachers and staff included supervision and student-teacher relationships; and (c) environmental context included hallways and cameras/officers. Gender differences were noted in students' comments describing their experiences related to safety in the schools. Boys reported looking toward teachers and peers for protection from physical harm. Girls reported using relationships with friends and school faculty members as a source of emotional security and comfort. Similarities across gender were noted in students' perceptions regarding the need for extra security measures and the need for more trusting relationships with teachers and peers. Based on students' comments and considering gender differences, the effectiveness of school safety measures may be increased if administration considered the needs of each gender.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Counseling Psychology and Special Education



Date Submitted


Document Type





gender, school safety, qualitative research, adolescent