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It Takes Two: Rethinking the Aggressor-Victim Relationship (page 2)

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Feb 11, 2009

Causes of Aggressor-Victim Relationships

In order to think of bullying in terms of a two-person relationship we must consider different causes of aggression, especially in terms of how the two children involved relate to one another. Although research is limited in this specific area, current studies point to four identifiable causes of the aggressor-victim relationship:

1) Preconceived Opinions: The opinions and beliefs children have of one another directly affects their treatment of each other. Aggressors hold specific beliefs about specific victims, and these beliefs predict patterns of aggression (3).

2) Social/Physical Hierarchy: A second potential cause is a difference in power between the aggressor and victim. Current studies shows that children who bully are often physically stronger, more popular, and less anxious or depressed than their targeted victims (4). This research suggests that aggressor-victim relationships may form when a potential aggressor finds a victim who can be successfully dominated because the victim is weaker, has few friends who will stick up for the him or her , and shows signs of suffering (such as crying). Potential aggressors may even “shop around” for victims until they find peers they can dominate before engaging in lasting aggressor-victim relationships.

3) Mutual Dislike: A third potential cause of aggressor-victim relationships is the presence of mutual dislike (or enemy relationship) between the two children. Our research has shown that children are about five times more likely to report that an enemy victimizes them than a friend or acquaintance (5). Moreover, victimization from enemies appears to be more strongly related to maladjustment than victimization that does not involve enemy relationships. This suggests that these aggressive, negative relationships may be especially upsetting for children.

4) Peer Influence: A fourth potential cause is the influence of friends. It is well known that friends influence each other in many ways, and our research has shown that friends often share the same targets for aggression (6). If one aggressor targets a particular victim, it is likely that the aggressor’s friends will target that victim. It is possible that children may encourage their friends to bully or pick on a specific victim by describing the child as weak or deserving of abuse, laughing at the targeted child, or jointly bullying, or trading stories of bullying, the victim.

Potential Solutions

This perspective of aggression as a relationship between specific aggressors and victims not only leads us to investigate different causes of the problem, but also implies that we should consider different solutions. One implication is that we should view the occurrence of aggression not just as a problem of the aggressive child, or of the individual victim, but as a problem in the relationship between the aggressor and victim. This view leads us to consider whether relationship-focused interventions with both the aggressor and victim might be feasible. For instance, coalition building (such as getting aggressors and victims to engage in cooperative activities) and conflict management strategies (such as helping both parties negotiate peaceful coexistence) might be useful in resolving these relationships.

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