70% of School Shooters Perpetuated Violence Against Women, Lehigh Study Finds

The Lehigh University study analyzed the profiles of 59 boys and men who carried out school shootings between 1966 and 2018.
Published: April 1, 2024

A new study from Lehigh University found a strong link between school shooters and their propensity for violence against women.

The study, published in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinities, analyzed the profiles of 59 boys and men who carried out school shootings between 1966 and 2018 to determine the prevalence of violence against women in their histories. The profiles were pulled from a school shooter database compiled by Peter Langman, a researcher, author, expert on the psychology of school shooters, and a co-author of the report.

According to the findings, 70% of the school shooters had perpetrated violence against women, including intimate partner violence and sexual assault, before or during their attacks.

Nicole Johnson, associate professor of counseling psychology at Lehigh’s College of Education and lead author of the study, said the findings add a layer of understanding about the attitudes and behaviors of those who perpetrate school violence and could help shape strategies to prevent future acts.

——Article Continues Below——

Get the latest industry news and research delivered directly to your inbox.

“These findings have many implications, including the importance of targeting policies and procedures that normalize violence and of taking victims of harassment and abuse seriously, prior to escalation,” Johnson said. “It demands that we attend to, and take seriously, these ‘smaller’ acts of violence that exist on the same spectrum as school shootings.”

The researchers emphasized that while there is no specific formula for identifying and preventing school shootings, there are underlying factors, such as the normalization of violence and hegemonic masculinity (e.g., expectations of toughness, antifemininity, and status among men, as well as the failure to meet these expectations) that create environments in which school shootings might take place more easily. Approximately 89% to 97% of all mass violence is carried out by males.

“We made this relationship between VAW [violence against women] and school shootings visible in hopes that school administrators, teachers, parents and communities will do the same. All of these behaviors exist within a social-ecological reality that condones violence, hostility toward women, and enactment of hegemonic masculinity in harmful ways,” said Johnson. “Pay attention to violence against women—derogatory comments, expressed intent to harm girls and women, and direct verbal or physical harassment. Listen to girls and women when they say they feel unsafe.”

The study offers recommendations for responding to these factors both in and out of schools, including:

  • Schools should make a multi-tiered commitment to a school environment absent of violence normalization
  • Schools should take seriously the “smaller scale” acts of violence and harassment against women and girls as they occur
  • All people can commit to taking victims of harassment seriously
  • All people can notice and confront statements and behaviors that perpetuate hegemonic masculinity
  • All people can strive to make the environments around us at all levels less welcoming to violence

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence or abuse, here are some resources:

Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series