Violent Minds: The Gender Gap - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Violent Minds: The Gender Gap

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Research shows men have committed just about every large-scale shooting or other occurrence with mass casualties.

Why are men almost always behind these heinous acts?

Is it genetics, their home environment, or maybe a cultural divide?

Unfortunately, acts of mass violence are a reality Americans have seen repeated over the years.

In 2007, on the campus of Virginia Tech, a gunman goes into classrooms, shooting and killing students and professors. In all, 33 people died, including the gunman -- a Korean-born undergraduate.

In July 2012 in Aurora, Colo., a man bursts into a movie theater and opens fire. Twelve people die, 70 are injured. The alleged gunman currently awaits trial.

In December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., a gunman kills 20 young students and six teachers before turning the gun on himself.

In these cases and other acts of mass violence, men caused the violence.

Alan Heisterkamp works to prevent violence through his work with college and high school students through the University of Northern Iowa's Center for Violence Prevention.

"The most common denominator of 61 out of 62 mass shootings were men," said Heisterkamp. "While we can talk about mental health, access to guns, anger management, we also need to take a 360 look at male culture and what are we teaching our young boys about what it means to be a healthy man or unhealthy, potentially violent, man."

He says this culture discourages boys from expressing their emotions -- and that can lead to violence.

"Think about the messages we send them: Don't show emotions and don't cry. So what are they supposed to do with that?" said Heisterkamp. "I think it gets to a point where it does build up, and it'll be something small that could happen, it'll be a trigger, it'll be a moment where he lashes out and you think, 'Where did that come from?'"

KWWL sat down with two groups of Cedar Falls High School students -- separated by gender -- to find out what they think and how they handle daily pressures.

Both groups say staying focused on goals, being involved in sports or other activities, and not being afraid to change your group of friends helps.

But they agree, boys and girls experience -- and handle -- conflict differently.

"We release a lot of what we're holding in, so we're telling people how we feel," said a female student named Becky. "We cry, we laugh, we do everything in the shortest amount of time. And if you look at a guy, you don't typically see them sitting in their room crying, don't see them getting in big arguments with their friends, it just doesn't happen."

"Girls are more dramatic about it and get on Twitter and tweet about and start more drama and keep building drama," said a male student named Kris. "Guys eventually will forget about it and get over it."

"Girls are always the ones on social media complaining and the guys, it doesn't even faze them," said a female student named Andrea.

"It's hard to deal with it because you can't stop it," said another female student named Kayla. "Unless you don't have a Twitter -- which is an easy solution, but it's not like having a Facebook or Instagram or any social media -- it's hard to stay away from, even if it's not bad."

"Girls are a lot more likely to express their emotions to other people, friends ... they're a lot more verbal," said a male student named Danny. "Guys are a lot more likely to be stoic and suppress their emotions, forget about it, put it in the past -- but it's still there. That might lead to more outbursts from guys, but not as much catty stuff."

Back at UNI, Heisterkamp says the outbursts can be fueled by societal pressures.

"Many times, it pushes these kids who were on the edge anyway in thinking about how they can demonstrate their power, influence and force," said Heisterkamp. "And if I can't do it in socially acceptable ways, I'll do it in ways I know work because I've seen it modeled before."

So what will stop more violence?

Heisterkamp says it's something that society has to address as a whole -- and may take some time.

"We acknowledge that women can (react) violently and be aggressive," he said. "But the fact remains that we have much more work to do with regards to addressing men's violence and being able to think educationally on the front end with boys growing up."

To that end, UNI has modeled itself into a regional training center for two programs which confront bullying and violence.

MVP, or Mentors in Violence Prevention, uses peer mentors in the schools to confront bullying or violence.

Another program, called Coaching Boys into Men, calls on athletic coaches and other male authority figures to teach respect for women, avoid violence and develop healthy definitions of masculinity.

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