When school violence occurs, major negative impacts on students’ personal and academic well-being can result. Equipped with information on the causes and consequences of school violence, we can improve strategies to prevent school violence and ameliorate its detrimental effects, thereby establishing safer learning environments.
A recent NIJ-funded study by researchers addresses what we know about the causes of school violence and the consequences of school violence for those who commit or are victimized by it, and for those who are both victimized by and commit violence. With coverage of past and contemporary literature spanning multiple disciplines, the study offers one of the most comprehensive reviews of school violence research to date. Reviewing twenty years of empirical studies, researchers identified the most significant likely causes and consequences of school violence perpetration and victimization. The findings resulting from the study can:
- Help educators and others improve strategies to prevent and reduce school violence.
- Direct researchers next steps to improve our understanding of the causes and consequences of school violence.
Pulling Together What the Research on School Violence Tells Us
Prior research has found that factors at the individual (e.g., mental health status, relationship with parents), school (e.g., school climate, school disorder), and community (e.g., economic deprivation, crime) levels are related to school violence. Though a great deal of research has identified potential sources and effects of school violence, efforts to comprehensively aggregate and identify gaps in our knowledge have been limited.
To fill this gap, researchers from Florida State University explored and analyzed studies that investigated K-12 school violence's correlates and consequences. The researchers first defined school violence as “the threat or use of force with the intention of causing harm, either at school or during school-related activities.” They then reviewed 55 systematic reviews published between 2000-2020. To supplement this review, they qualitatively summarized the results of 362 recent empirical studies — some of which were funded under NIJ’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative — published between 2018-2020. Since students may engage in, or be victimized by, violence at school, the researchers assessed the predictors and consequences of in-school violence, victimization, and related behaviors perpetrated by or against students. The researchers also considered the individual, school, and community factors with the strongest and weakest relationships with school violence.
What Are the Predictors for and Consequences of School Violence?
The researchers found several predictors and consequences of school violence perpetration and victimization. These include:
Predictors of School Violence Perpetration
In order of importance, students experiencing or exhibiting the following are most likely to perpetrate school violence:
- Delinquent/antisocial behavior
- Child maltreatment
- Peer rejection
- Moral disengagement
- Deviant peers
- Callous unemotional traits
- Exposure to domestic violence, and any past victimization.
Conversely, students who are more agreeable, exhibited prosocial behaviors, and attend schools with positive climates are less likely to engage in school violence.
Predictors of School Violence Victimization
Students are more likely to be victims who:
- Are more neurotic
- Attend schools characterized by violence
- Have experienced victimization of any kind
In contrast, youth who demonstrate higher popularity and gregariousness are less likely to be victimized.
Those Who Perpetrate Who Are Also Victims
The factors predictive of both school violence perpetration and victimization suggest the presence of some degree of victim-offender overlap, where potential victims of school violence and those who may commit it have similar histories of being delinquent, abused, or mistreated.
Consequences of School Violence Perpetration
Bullying is the strongest outcome of school violence perpetration, meaning that youth who engage in violence at school are at risk of engaging in bullying behaviors.
Less strong, but also important, consequences of school violence perpetration are self-harm, suicidality, weapon carrying, dropping out of school, dating violence victimization, violent offending, and any offending/antisocial behavior.
Consequences of School Violence Victimization
The top three consequences of school violence victimization are:
- Bullying perpetration
- Low self-esteem
In general, the consequences of victimization are primarily indications of poor psychological and emotional health, as well as social issues.
Consequences of Both School Violence Perpetration and Victimization
Bullying perpetration is the most likely problem associated with both school violence perpetration and victimization.
The study offers a number of important implications for strategies to reduce school violence and suggestions for future research.
This study sheds light on which factors are strongly or weakly associated with school violence, which are linked with school violence perpetration versus victimization, and which to target to reduce school violence. Overall, delinquency, negative emotionality, and exposure to violence are strong predictors of school violence, while bullying, antisocial/aggressive behavior, suicidality, and depressive symptoms are the most salient consequences. Evidence also suggests a unique set of risk factors that are separately associated with either perpetration or victimization. Specifically, school violence perpetration tends to have behavioral consequences, while school violence victimization mostly has emotional or psychological consequences.
The researchers recommend tailored school violence reduction strategies. Programs with the goal of reducing school violence should focus on curbing negative behavioral acts such as bullying, weapon carrying, violence, and school dropout. Conversely, programs concerned with decreasing victimization should emphasize mitigating emotional harms. Finally, as peer-related factors were identified as top predictors for both school perpetration and victimization, successful interventions should encourage peer support and build prosocial relationships.
To improve our understanding of the causes and consequences of K-12 school violence, researchers identify a number of directions for future research. These recommendations include a call for studies to:
- Differentiate between forms of serious (such as those involving weapons) and non-serious violence at school.
- Identify the causal processes that link various predictors and consequences to school violence and victimization.
- Improve understanding of peer and situational contexts that set the stage for victimization and violence at school.
- Incorporate more rigorous, longitudinal designs to draw definite conclusions about school violence's causal processes and consequences.
About This Article
The research described in this article was funded by NIJ. It is based on the report The Causes and Consequences of School Violence: A Review by Jillian Turanovic and Sonja Siennick.