Ukrainian Columbine? What to do to prevent school shootings in Ukraine
On April 20, 1999, two teenagers committed a massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, killing 13 people and injuring 21. Since then, violence in schools has increased, but it didn't seem to apply to Ukraine. On September 6, in one of Poltava's schools, a girl wounded two teachers with a crossbow. We analyzed whether it's the first sign that should make us look more closely at the problem.
A few days ago, shocking news traveled around Ukraine; on the morning of September 6, a young girl shot a crossbow at the Poltava school in №11. One of the teachers was shot in the back, and the school deputy director, who was trying to stop the attacker, was wounded in the arm.
Fortunately, the wounds weren't fatal, one teacher was released to be treated at home, the other was left in hospital for a few days. 19-year-old Taisia Petrova, who committed the attack, was taken into custody and declared a suspect. She faces 10 to 15 years in prison or life imprisonment for attempted murder.
At first, the girl told police that on the night of September 4-5, she had a dream that she had to kill someone, but in court, she voiced another version: bullying forced her to get a crossbow; it is known that the suspect studied at this school until the 5th grade. Later, among the personal belongings of Taisia, who neighbors described as a calm and non-confrontational person, police found a distorted photo of her father and a personal diary where she planned to set fire to her own house and several other attacks, including photos of dismembered animals.
What really made the student, unremarkable except for her unusual hair color, take a crossbow and go to school with it? The prosecutor's office is waiting for an answer from investigators and experts. They must show whether the defendant was intoxicated or mentally healthy. Did she ever harm the animals or did she just identify her inner state with these bloody photos? But we're sure that the Poltava shooting stroke a chord. Social networks are on fire: parents, teachers, and animal rights activists don't hide their extremely negative attitudes towards the girl.
Before this case, it was believed in Ukraine that all sorts of horrors in schools with shootings weren't about us, it was about the US and Russia. But now a precedent has occurred in our area. Ukrainian Columbine is how people have managed to brand this event in the press.
Is it all about bullying?
The word "bullying," which came up during the trial in Poltava, wasn't unambiguously accepted by all Ukrainians. Some believe that this tactic was chosen by the lawyers of the affecting Taisia Petrova as the most lucrative for her. But no matter what, in the courtroom, the suspect said that she had been constantly bullied by classmates and teachers. She picked up the crossbow in revenge. And, most likely, not to take revenge on specific teachers but on the school as an institution, a place that hurt her as a child.
"I changed three schools. Each of them had elements of bullying on the part of both teachers and children. They morally pressured me, humiliated me, said that I was worthless. The children were physically abusing or breaking things, damaging property. It was like a rush, that's enough! I used to be in the victim's place. At that moment [during the attack] I felt that now I was in control. Now I will scare them," the girl told the court. For now, Taisia admits her guilt and says that if she could "rewind everything," she would never do it again.
Does children's trauma justify an adult girl's shooting? No, nothing justifies it. But just as nothing can justify the preconditions, created by inaction or inattention of all adults who are close to the vulnerable psyche of the child: parents, relatives, teachers.
"Children who constantly see aggression in the media, Youtube, computer games, sooner or later may begin to implement it in their lives," family psychologist, Gestalt therapist Kateryna Vepro comments. The children's psyche is now saturated with all kinds of information. It's difficult for them to criticize and analyze it. Similarly, if a child spends a lot of time in the virtual world playing, it's hard for them to identify reality.
We can't forget that there has been a military conflict in our country for 7 years. Aggression hovers in the air. Children and teenagers react to this. It's also one of the reasons that may give in the child's understanding the permission to use a weapon against the enemy. After all, a teacher, a classmate, can also be an offender and an enemy to them. So far, it's difficult to say exactly what caused this act. But the fact of committing such actions, in any case, indicates the presence of aggression and personal problems that could be caused by conditions of various etiologies.
One can safely assume one thing: a person who's done so is unlikely to live in harmony with their inner world. Now it's important for all of us not to talk about the problem in general, but still to find out the actual reasons that caused such a reaction in the girl."
Internal pain and emptiness push children and adolescents into various antisocial actions, destroying their behavior. The desire to stand out among peers can be so strong that it can motivate the child to various actions, including aggression.
"It's important for a child to get attention, sometimes it doesn't matter in what way. If we look at this case, we see how society and the media began to discuss this event unanimously. Indirectly, the girl received all-Ukrainian attention, yes, in an anti-social way, but in fact, this request was granted. If there was an adult in her life, whom she could trust, who could understand and support her, this situation might not happen."
What can be done to prevent this from happening again?
The crossbow in the Poltava school is the first sign of an active display of youth aggression in the warring country. It's almost a toy, you can buy it in a regular store, but there's no guarantee that in the next case a grenade, a trophy unregistered weapon, or a perfectly legal parent's prize pistol will not fall into the hands of a dissatisfied teenager. Unfortunately, the American Columbine massacre isn't perceived by all children and adolescents as something terrible and tragic. Besides, children tend to copy high-profile cases. "So I could do it too, couldn't I?" what may be a funny meme for adults can be an instruction for aggressive actions for a teenager.
According to Kateryna Vepro, right now we can take several measures that will make it impossible for a school shooting to repeat in Ukrainian schools.
- The primary task of school psychologists and psychologists in general, as the expert believes, is the need to teach children to show aggression in sustainable ways. Aggression arises in each of us. There are many ways to release it without harming yourself and others. Sport is one of them. Exercise helps not only to develop physically but also to suppress the manifestations of aggression. You need to understand exactly what causes aggression in a child. Based on this, look for acceptable ways of its manifestation.
- To do this, adults need to stop shifting responsibility for the child to each other (say, parents to school, and vice versa) and learn to become more responsive and less indifferent. "A child with increased tension becomes shut down and communicates less. Their usual way of life changes, social ties are reduced. Any changes in habitual behavior are a reason to pay attention to the child," the psychologist emphasizes.
- If we talk about parents, especially those families where weapons are stored at home, they must strictly comply with storage conditions. Children shouldn't be taught to shoot with a weapon until their psyche is formed. Parents must also control their aggression and remember that aggression breeds aggression. If the family shows aggression towards the child, it's obvious that she'll show it. In an upbringing where aggression is the norm, it's hard for a child to perceive the world differently.
- Psychologists, together with the Ministry of Emergencies and the police, should create instructions for school staff, parents, and children. They should outline the measures needed step by step to minimize risks.
- It's important to conduct preventive conversations on ways to show aggression; to find out from schoolchildren what provokes aggressive behavior to a greater extent, carry out diagnostics to identify vulnerable children to antisocial manifestations of aggression. "This story should be a lesson for us, adults so that similar situations don't happen again in the future. The school must be a safe environment for children. After all, they go to school to gain knowledge, develop social communication skills, but not be afraid of their life being threatened."
What methods already exist?
The United States is the country where the problem of school shootings is most acute in the world. Dozens of cases of school shootings take place here every year. One of the last occurred in Idaho in May this year. A sixth-grader shot two children and a school employee. The armed girl was neutralized before she managed to inflict fatal injuries on someone. For many years, the United States, where weapons are freely available, hasn't been able to cope with the problem of mass shootings in schools and other public places. However, school leaders, activists, and local authorities have been able to develop measures to reduce risks in the event of an emergency.
- One of the radical methods is to carry a hidden weapon. There are schools in at least 14 US states with teachers armed with firearms. To carry a gun in class, teachers take special courses. The initiative hasn't yet been widely used in the United States, but teachers from schools far from major cities say that in the event of an emergency, police will only be able to reach them after a long time, so carrying weapons seems their only solution.
- Psychological support for students in difficult situations is considered to be a more traditional measure to combat mass shootings in schools. In this case, the main burden falls on school psychologists, who can identify potential danger and prevent tragedy with the help of tests. After all, according to statistics, many shooters experience psychological problems and mental disorders but don't receive the necessary assistance.
- Anti-terrorist training in schools is also one of the methods to counter attacks. They can be held 5-6 times a year in one educational institution. Students should observe complete silence and follow the instructions of teachers. Many exercises take place without warning, and students don't know whether it's a real or imagined attack. Sometimes school staff plays the role of attackers, shooting rubber bullets. However, many teachers and public figures oppose such training. According to critics, these measures aren't effective, but they cause psychological trauma to children.
- The most classic way to combat mass shootings in the United States is to strengthen security and control at the entrance to schools. The National Education Association advises schools to verify the identity of everyone who enters the building. It's recommended to put locks on the doors to offices and classrooms, which can be quickly locked in case of a threat. The number of victims can also be reduced by doors, which can be automatically locked from the security panel in case of an emergency, and video surveillance cameras.