The Pathway to Violence


According to the United States Secret Service “the goal of a threat assessment is to identify students of concern, assess their risk for engaging in violence or other harmful activities, and identify intervention strategies to manage that risk.” The threat assessment process is method by which we can try to identify students who have started or are progressing on the pathway to violence.

The pathway to violence is a model that seeks to define the stages that a person enters while moving towards a plan for targeted violence. Targeted violence is a broad term used to describe a violent act directed at the perceived source of the grievance. Targeted violence is not two students engaging in a fight in the lunchroom, or aggressive bullying in the hallways. Targeted violence results when a person with a grievance can internally justify the use of a planned and researched attack directed at the perceived source of the grievance. In a worst case scenario an individual can come to accept that extreme violence is a rational response to a primarily personal issue.

At its core, the intent of threat assessment is not to arrest, suspend, expel, or necessarily take legal action against someone. The true intent of threat assessment is to interrupt the process by which a person is moving along the pathway to violence and divert them towards a different outcome through positive interventions and support. In some cases a student may have engaged in behavior which may warrant suspension but which the support team believes may result in a triggering event which escalates the student to violence. 


The pathway to violence can be shown by this graphic:

DHS-Pathway to Violence

Common Terminology

Leakage: 

Leakage is an action that people surrounding the person can identify as concerning. Leakage could be the slip of a tongue regarding an attack, it could be an aggressive social media post that infers a threat, concerning language in a student essay, or maybe a student in the hallway overhears two students talking about Columbine. In the majority of active shooter investigations leakage events are later discovered but no one person has the complete picture of all of the leakage to identify the higher level of concern. The threat assessment process seeks to use an interview process to pull these sources together when assessing identified behaviors.

Tripwire:

Tripwires are events and/or interactions that are set up with individuals of concern specifically to identify if someone should be identified as a concern. For example, many school attacks happen after break weeks when students are home in potentially concerning environments. Counselors and interested adults should make a point to interact with students before and after break weeks to see if their mood has changed or other behaviors can be identified. 

Triggering event:

A triggering event is sometimes referred as the even that gives rise to a grievance, such as being failed from a class. A triggering event can be an anniversary of something from a person's past like the death of a parent. But a triggering event can also refer to something like the "last straw" which prompts a person to move upwards on the pathway to violence into the attack phase. In the broadest sense, a triggering event is something which the person on the pathway to violence identifies with or focuses on as part of their ruminating over a future attack.