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Witnessing violence in early secondary school predicts subsequent student impairment
  1. Michel Janosz1,2,3,
  2. Frédéric N Brière1,4,
  3. Benoît Galand5,
  4. Sophie Pascal1,2,
  5. Isabelle Archambault1,2,3,
  6. Marie-Christine Brault2,6,
  7. Brigitte Moltrecht7,
  8. Linda S Pagani1,2
  1. 1 École de Psychoéducation, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
  2. 2 School Environment Research Group (SERG), Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
  3. 3 Institut de Recherche en Santé Publique de l’Université de Montréal (IRSPUM), Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  4. 4 Équipe Renard, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
  5. 5 Psychological Sciences Research Institute (IPSY), Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
  6. 6 Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, Saguenay, Quebec, Canada
  7. 7 Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale, de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche, Tours, France
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michel Janosz; michel.janosz{at}


Background Past research suggests that adolescents who witness violence are at risk of adjustment problems. However, few studies have implemented a longitudinal design and have accounted for direct experiences of victimisation and other major confounders. This prospective study examines the relationship between witnessing school violence and subsequent impairment and whether such associations depend on the kind of violence witnessed.

Methods 3936 adolescents from Quebec (Canada) were followed from ages 12 through 15 years. Linear regression tested associations between witnessing school violence at age 13 and subsequent antisocial behaviour (drug use, delinquency), emotional distress (social anxiety, depressive symptoms) and academic adjustment (school achievement, engagement) at age 15. We compared the relative contribution of differing forms of witnessing school violence versus being victimised directly.

Results General school violence predicted later impairment. The adjusted associations between indirectly experiencing violence as a bystander and subsequent impairment were comparable to those of direct victimisation. Witnessing covert and major violence was associated with drug use and delinquency. Witnessing minor violence was associated with increases in drug use, social anxiety, depressive symptoms and decreases in school engagement.

Conclusions Almost all students witnessed school violence, which predicted impairment. Witnessing violence was associated with risk of subsequent adjustment problems 2 years later. Directly experienced victimisation showed a comparable magnitude of risk. This suggests that when it comes to symptoms of conduct disorder, witnessing violence might have the same impact as experiencing it directly. Witnessing earlier covert and major violence predicted social impairment whereas minor violence predicted psychological and academic impairment.

  • life course / childhood circumstances
  • violence
  • psychosocial factors
  • public health
  • psychology
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  • Contributors MJ directed the data collection, conceptualised the study and drafted the manuscript. FNB helped conceptualise the study and conduct the analyses, and wrote a first draft of the manuscript. SP conducted the analyses and revised the manuscript. BG helped conceptualise the study and the analytical procedure, and revised the manuscript. IA participated in data collection and revised the manuscript. MCB, BM and LSP helped conceptualise the study and revised the manuscript. All authors approved the final manuscript as submitted and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

  • Funding Analyses were funded by a public team grant awarded by the Fonds de recherche du Québec-Société et culture (FRQSC No 136876).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethics Committee/Institutional Review Board approval obtained by Université de Montréal.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Used and unused data are available for consultation upon request to the first author.

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