Remarks from Elizabeth M. Duke

Remarks to the Partners Steering Committee of the National Bullying Prevention Campaign

Prepared Remarks of Elizabeth M. Duke, Ph.D.
Administrator, Health Resources and Services Administration
Washington, D.C.

December 5, 2002

Let me begin by thanking members of the Partners Steering Committee for coming to Washington today to help us continue developing the National Bullying Prevention Campaign. We welcome you and salute you for your commitment to the health of America’s young people.

Let me also, of course, thank Peter van Dyck and his staff at HRSA’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau not only for the work that they’re doing to focus all of us on the serious health issue of bullying, but for the broad range of efforts and initiatives they are in charge of that improve the health of America’s mothers and their children. Thank you, Peter.

Those of us who have looked intently at the phenomenon of bullying and being bullied know that it often represents a disturbing precursor to more serious violence and antisocial behavior.

Research from the Bureau and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that soon will be published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine points to the larger public health and social problems that begin with bullying behavior.

These researchers have concluded that bullying should not be considered a normal part of childhood or adolescence, but rather as a marker for more serious violent behaviors, including carrying weapons, frequent fighting, and fighting-related injury.

The research also indicates that bullying outside the school environment - where fewer adults would be present -- may be more likely to involve weapons and to escalate into severe violent behavior. So this problem is not just one for schools to handle, it’s one that all Americans must try to solve.

It may be that the Campaign is laying the foundation for an important new theory to combat not just teen violence in America but adult violence as well. From what we are learning, it looks like an emphasis on bullying could play the same role in combating violence that the focus on repairing broken windows has had in recent efforts to combat urban crime.

The “broken window” theory, implemented perhaps most successfully by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, holds that the presence of broken windows in a neighborhood signals bypassers that the area is not just poorly maintained, it is unprotected. It gives to those who are inclined to criminal behavior the idea that no one cares about the neighborhood -- that it may be fertile ground for their antisocial actions.

In New York, of course, Mayor Guiliani didn’t just board up windows. He cracked down on people who didn’t pay fares at subways, on drinking and drug use in public, and on other crimes that some had called “victimless.” The result: Criminals got the idea that the environment for crime had turned distinctly troublesome and left the business.

For those of us gathered here today, stopping bullying as a way to deter violence among young people may be equivalent to boarding up that broken window to stop neighborhood crime.

By working to reduce bullying, we send to our young people the message that this behavior is not a normal part of the landscape or of little lasting consequence to either bullies or their victims.

By reducing bullying, bullies will learn that their “neighborhood” is changing, that adults do care about it and what goes on there. These bullies will discover that their intimidating and violent behavior - which once went unchallenged -- now brings negative consequences. And that, in turn, will gradually make the overall environment our children grow up in less threatening and more secure.

That is the dream we have for all of our young people, and for American society at large.

I commend you for your concern with the noxious effects of bullying on young people and the rest of us, and I offer you HRSA’s full support as you work to develop and implement the National Bullying Prevention Campaign.

Thank you very much.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Health Services and Resources Administration,
HRSA Press Office,
Available on-line at: newsroom.hrsa.gov/speeches/2002speeches/bullying.htm.
Retrieved January, 2004.