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How to Help: Violence Prevention

Awareness and concern about preventing campus violence has increased in recent years, in the wake of a number of high profile incidents in middle, secondary, and post-secondary schools. Campus violence, specifically homicide, does in fact occur infrequently. College students are less likely to be victims of violent crime than are non-college students of comparable ages. When violence does occur, perpetrators typically don’t just “snap,” contrary to media portrayals. Most perpetrators (over 75%) consider, plan, and prepare before engaging in violent behavior. And most (over 75%) discuss their plans with others before the attack.

Violent acts are usually the end point of long, identifiable trails of problems, conflicts, and struggles. We cannot know whether to be concerned about a student’s risk of violence by the student’s appearance, but we can be alerted by his or her behavior. Most perpetrators of violence (about 90%) concern several other people with troubling behavior before their attacks. Most are in despair or suicidal prior to their attacks. (However, most students who feel desperate or suicidal do not have thoughts of harming others. Only a small subset of suicidal students is also homicidal.)

Violence is a product of interaction among three factors:

  • The individual who takes violent action (actually the smallest factor)
  • Characteristics of the campus setting that facilitate or permit violence, or that do not discourage violence. Includes factors such as detachment or isolation among staff or students, inequitable discipline, inflexibility, support of a pecking order or cliques, a code of silence for troubling behavior, authoritarian or controlling attitudes.
  • Triggering conditions that lead the person to perceive a lack of alternatives to violence, such as significant loss or multiple losses, perceived rejection or injustice, or feeling ostracized by others.

Early identification of someone at risk for committing violence is critical to violence prevention. Others will often hear about or observe the person’s ideas and plans for violence before harm can occur. It is the responsibility of anyone in the Luther community who observes warning signs for violence to pay attention to those signs and to report them to Luther staff members who can intervene in the situation.