Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

When Victims Turn Aggressors: Factors in the Development of Deadly School Violence

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

When Victims Turn Aggressors: Factors in the Development of Deadly School Violence

Article excerpt

Richard J. Hazler, PhD., is a professor with Ohio University, Athens, OH. E-mail:

JoLynn V. Carney, Ph.D., is an assistant professor, Department of Counseling, Youngstown State University, OH. E-mail:

School counselors have seen life-threatening violence in schools grow from a virtual non-issue to become a major concern in our society (Lawrence, 1998; Sautter, 1995; Sheley & Wright, 1995). Deadly youth violence once thought to be isolated reactions of temper are now becoming recognized as developmental issues, where situational factors, societal influences, personality characteristics, and biology all play a role (Heide, 1999). The origins of these seemingly senseless acts of human destruction do not begin with a single bad day at school, but rather in a progression of traumatizing factors that build over time, provide observable warning signs, and can result in major life and death consequences. One particular developmental factor that shows up in many recent cases was once thought of as "child's play." Peer-on-- peer types of abuse in forms often referred to as teasing, harassment, or bullying have gained recognition as factors with important relationships to homicide and suicide (Carney, 2000; Hazier, 1996). This can be seen in several of the most disturbing, recent situations.

Juan Alvarez might be considered one of the lucky ones. Before turning 16 he was the butt of harassment and teasing by peers. His body and mind became harder at age 16, allowing him to take revenge on his harassers and others with troubling results. The more than 3 years he spent in jail was a much milder result than that of Michael Carneal (Falcon, 1999).

No one knows how long Michael Carneal (age 14) will spend locked away from society for killing three fellow students in Paducah, KY. What we do know is that after recognizing the horrific results were not reversible, he was ready to choose death over life as he cried out, "Kill me now! Shoot me!" (Begley, 1999, p. 35).

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did not leave their personal outcomes to chance after creating the worst peer-on-- peer school disaster in history. They took their own lives in the library at Columbine High School after exacting revenge against all those they felt directly or indirectly devalued them as human beings (Gegax & Bai, 1999).

There is an alternate scenario where the sense of being unwanted and abused by peers does not end in revenge against others, but instead in self-inflicted violence. Thirteen-year-old Kelly seemed like a happy child who could frequently be found helping the Salvation Army. The teasing about her weight and looks was nothing that her parents saw as harmful enough to justify her last statement before bed one night, "I've had enough mum. I'm going to take an overdose." A brief discussion seemed to calm the mother's fears, but Kelly did not wake in the morning (Castro & Stein, 1997).

These national headline cases are extreme, but not unique. The vast majority of similar stories receive minimal outside recognition due to being lessor acts of violence or attempts at homicide or suicide that go uncompleted. These troubled students and their actions may not be given attention by the media, but they are the daily concerns of elementary and high school students and their counselors. They are the three-fourths of school students reporting harassment or being bullied for lengths of time during their school years to a point where it caused them personal, social, or academic problems (Hazler, Hoover, & Oliver, 1991). These are the potential perpetrators of extreme violence. Under the right conditions, their anger, frustration, and hopelessness may build to the point where, in increasing numbers, they bring a weapon to school for defense or revenge (Elliot, Hamburg, & Williams, 1998; Harris & Associates, 1999). Their situations also make them more likely to be among the average of three students in a normal high school classroom that attempt suicide in one form or another in a given year (American Association of Suicidology 1997). …

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