On top of all the other challenges that they face in helping bullies and victims, educators often face this basic problem: Some students fall into both categories.

Researchers call these kids “provocative victims,” or “bully victims,” and they disagree about the number of students who actually fit this description. Studies in the U.S. indicate that anywhere between five and 30 percent of all kids are bully victims. This large range might be attributed, in part, to the fact that bully victims are hard to identify.

According to Xin Ma, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, one of the problems with many school-based bullying prevention programs is that bullies and victims are split into separate groups. Ma believes that a viable program must acknowledge that these two roles often have indistinct boundaries.

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Other researchers agree that this definitional shift is urgent. Experts such as Anthony D. Pellegrini, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, say that the students who fall into this category are the most volatile members of the classroom. Pellegrini says that these are the students most likely to commit suicide and other acts of extreme violence. To make his point, he highlights one well-known example: When Colorado’s governor appointed a panel to look into the Columbine High School shootings, they determined that the perpetrators, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, were both bully victims.

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