Student reports of peer threats of violence: Prevalence and outcomes

Student reports of peer threats of violence: Prevalence and outcomes

Erin Nekvasil and Dewey Cornell (2012)


Why is this important?

Threats of violence by young males may be common, but fatal acts of school violence are rare. How do we distinguish an idle threat from a threat of serious harm?

  • Almost half of all schools in US reported student threats of non-weapon related violence.

  • Students are more likely to experience threats when they also have aggressive attitudes. This may be reflective of their peer group.

  • As many as half of all student threats go unreported because students fear retaliation, think there is a social stigma in telling or believe that the school tolerates bullying.

  • Students with aggressive attitudes are least likely to report being bullied.

The current study

A study of 3 756 high school students explored their past 30 days in regards to:

  • Whether they had been threatened, and if yes - the nature of the threat;

  • If they told anyone about it. If yes - who they told. If no - why they didn’t tell; and

  • The outcome of the threat.

Students also completed an “Aggressive Attitudes” scale and questions on Substance Use.



  • 12% had been threatened in past 30 days.

  • 9% of threatened students reported the threat was carried out.

  • 69% of students that were threatened and harmed - DID NOT TELL ANYONE - because they feared retaliation or did not want/need help.

  • Males were less likely to tell anyone and all students were more likely to tell when the threat was specific.

  • Threats were more likely to be carried out when the victim had aggressive attitudes and 10 times more likely when the threat was specific.


10 times

Specific threats to injure were 10 X more likely to be carried out than general threats.

What it means for you …

If you have read this far - you probably work with students or young people - so how do you make sense of these findings? Here are our thoughts for your practice…

  • Given that threats are under-reported, you probably need to have pro-active conversations with young people about whether they feel safe and if there is anyone or anything they are worried about.

  • If young people do report a threat - take it seriously. They are more likely to report when they think it is serious and your response to this report will influence their decision to report other concerns in the future.

  • If a young person reports a specific threat (ie “I am going to stab you behind the tennis courts after school”) then take it VERY seriously. These threats are 10 x more likely to be carried out and require you to take action to protect the potential victim.

What else?

If you are working with a young person that is making threats against others - check out our blog on Assessing Violence Risk - it will help guide your assessment of the seriousness of the threats.