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Violence Against Women and School Shootings: Is There a Connection?

Updated: Oct 21

Understanding the potential warning signs of school shootings is critical. Therefore, we sat down with Dr. Nic Johnson from Lehigh University to discuss her new research published in our flagship journal, Psychology of Men & Masculinities addressing violence against women and school shootings (full cite below).

Johnson, N. L., Lipp, N. S., Corbett-Hone, M., & Langman, P. (2023). Not so random acts of violence: Shared social–ecological features of violence against women and school shootings. Psychology of Men & Masculinities. Advance online publication.

What were the key questions you were addressing in this article?
  1. What social-ecological features characterize boys and men who perpetrate school shootings?

  2. What role does VAW play in boys’ and men’s perpetration of school shootings?

What were the main conclusions of your article?
  1. VAW perpetration is common among school shooting perpetrators, with almost 70% of the perpetrators examined in our study perpetrating VAW either before or during their shooting. Forty-one percent of these individuals perpetrated VAW prior to the shooting.

  2. Those who did not directly perpetrate VAW exhibited other social-ecological features consistent with VAW such as normalization of violence, hostility toward femininity, and beliefs in their superiority or dominance over others. Within our sample, violence often acted as a way to prove one’s masculinity in the face of threats to meeting hegemonic masculine standards.

What are the key implications of your article for research, policy, or practice?
  1. We found that not only is VAW associated with school shootings, but that all of these behaviors exist within a social-ecological reality that condones violence, hostility toward women, and enactment of hegemonic masculinity in harmful ways. Thus, our implications focus on the ways that societal and community-level change might prevent future school shootings.

  2. On the societal level, it is important to work toward a cultural shift from normalization of violence (including violence against women) and the expectation of hegemonic masculinity. Discussions about gender expansiveness and the reality of multiple masculinities may be particularly fruitful as violence was commonly utilized as a way to prove one’s masculinity in the face of threats to meeting hegemonic masculine standards.

  3. On the community level, school systems and surrounding communities might examine their policies and school climate to determine whether behaviors and beliefs grounded in hegemonic masculinity are encouraged. Many perpetrators were previously identified as dangerous or hostile toward women - taking these issues seriously before they escalate into broader concerns is important.

Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?
  1. Our study focused on the ways that condoned sexism might create an environment that allows for future acts of violence to occur. However, many perpetrators had many derogatory beliefs (e.g., homophobia, racism, antisemitism) and thus, an important future direction is to examine the broader -isms that contribute to these behaviors.

  2. This line of research also warrants future school-based and community-based interventions that focus on undoing some of these hegemonic beliefs. Piloting and receiving empirical support for interventions might contribute to further prevention of violence.

How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?
  1. Our lab focuses on the prevention of gender-based violence. We anecdotally noticed that many school shootings had previously perpetrated violence against women, and wondered about how common this was and the ways in which societal beliefs might set the stage for school shootings. To do this we collaborated with an expert in the psychology of school shootings, Peter Langman, and his extensive research library.

Nic Johnson, Ph.D. Associate Professor Counseling Psychology Program Lehigh University College of Education
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