'It Hurts a Hell of a Lot . . .': The Effects of Indirect Aggression on Teenage Girls

Laurence Owens, Phillip Slee, Rosalyn Shute

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


This article reports on a qualitative investigation of the effects of indirect aggression from peers (e.g. spreading false stories, exclusion from the group) on teenage girls. Focus groups, pair and individual interviews were conducted with teenage girls and their key teachers to explore the effects of indirect aggression on girls. The perceived characteristics of typical victims of indirect aggression also emerged from the study. The girls initially respond to indirect aggression with confusion and may deny suffering any ill-effects. However, as is the case with other forms of victimization, girls certainly experience a range of negative psychological effects including anxiety, loss of self-esteem and depression. This pain leads to a desire to escape through leaving the group or the school and even to thoughts of suicide. The girls fear that the harassment from peers may not end and witnesses or bystanders do not intervene for fear of what may happen to them. The pain of indirect aggression may be compounded by irrational self-talk by the girls. Some girls react to indirect aggression by retaliating against their aggressors and often conflict is resolved by girls who employ one-to-one strategies that avoid the power of the group. Some victims of indirect aggression are reported to bring the wrath of peers upon themselves through their actions in provoking others. However, the tendency to blame the victim may be a way of alleviating guilt on behalf of the perpetrators of aggression. Victims of indirect aggression may be particularly vulnerable if they are new or have few friends or lack assertiveness. An understanding of the painful effects of indirect aggression on girls is an important prelude to designing interventions to assist girls in their peer relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-376
Number of pages18
JournalSchool Psychology International
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2000


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