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YOUTH VIOLENCE: AN ECOLOGICAL VIEW. Mark Edberg, Ph.D. Associate Professor George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, and Department of Anthropology. THE PROBLEM.

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youth violence an ecological view

YOUTH VIOLENCE: AN ECOLOGICAL VIEW

Mark Edberg, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, and

Department of Anthropology

the problem
THE PROBLEM
  • According to the World Health Organization, violence is “one of the leading public health issues of our time” (WHO 2002).
  • Violence in general is among the main causes of death for people aged 15-44 years of age, and interpersonal violence among young adults aged 15-29 was responsible for 36.2 percent of that total (Ibid).
  • In many LAC countries, violence is the primary cause of death for young men between the ages of 15-34 (PAHO 2001).
the problem1
THE PROBLEM
  • Both global data and data for the United States show that youth violence has been increasing in the past several years (WHO 2002; Butts & Snyder 2006).
  • In the U.S. this increase is occurring among selected high-poverty communities and particularly related to youth under age 25 (Butts & Snyder 2006).
  • Intentional violence is the leading cause of death for African-American youth age 10-24, the second leading cause of death for Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander youth, and the third leading cause for American Indian, Alaska Native youth (in the United States -- CDC 2007).
causes contributing factors
CAUSES/CONTRIBUTING FACTORS
  • One common framework for pinpointing causes of youth violence and risk behavior is the risk and protective factors model (e.g., Hawkins, Catalano & Miller 1992), which views such behavior as an outcome of exposure to a range of risk and protective factors.
  • The model lays out a set of factors that, over the youth development process, are said to increase or decrease the likelihood that a given youth will engage in problem behaviors (violence, delinquency, substance abuse, school dropout, HIV/AIDS risk behavior, or others).
  • Exposure to risk factors increases the likelihood of problem behavior; exposure to protective factors buffers the risk factors and reduces the likelihood of problem behavior.
risk and protective factor domains
RISK AND PROTECTIVE FACTOR DOMAINS
  • Risk factors domains:
    • Individual – e.g., biological, psychological, attitudes, values
    • Peer – e.g., norms, activities, attachment
    • Family – e.g., dysfunction, violence, bonding
    • School – e.g., bonding, environment, policies
    • Community – e.g., norms, resources, crime, bonding
    • Society/environment – e.g., norms, policies
  • Protective factor domains:
    • Individual – e.g., gender, temperament
    • Social bonding – e.g., to “pro-social” groups
    • Family, school, community -- Healthy beliefs and clear behavior standards.
risk protective factor interventions
RISK/PROTECTIVE FACTOR INTERVENTIONS
  • Under this approach, programs are typically developed and implemented that address one or a selected number of risk factors in a community – for example, family dysfunction, or school dropout.
  • Such programs may have a positive impact on the specific factors they target…BUT still may not reduce youth violence.
criminal justice interventions
CRIMINAL JUSTICE INTERVENTIONS
  • Other approaches have focused on law enforcement and criminal justice interventions – identifying and arresting gang leadership, deportation (in the U.S.), stiffer penalties, and others.
  • Such interventions may also be effective in temporary suppression of gang-related and other violent activity.
  • But in the longer term, the larger issue of youth violence is not resolved.
the reasons
THE REASONS?
  • The data overwhelmingly associate high rates of youth violence with persistent income disparities, marginality, social exclusion (except, for example, in cases of civil war).
  • These factors most certainly have a collective, negative impact on risk factor domains.
  • BUT that impact is generally not confined to single or selected domains.
  • The likelihood is that youth violence occurs at high levels where there is a social ecology that supports it – that is, where many factors come together to create an overall environment in which violence is perceived to have utility and value, and where there are few supports for alternative paths.
youth violence from multiple ecological levels
YOUTH VIOLENCE: FROM MULTIPLE ECOLOGICAL LEVELS

Political/Economic/Structural

Social Group

Individual

contributing factors working together
CONTRIBUTING FACTORS, WORKING TOGETHER

In a social ecology that is an outgrowth of poverty and social exclusion…

  • Youth often do not believe there is a place for them outside of the bounded social ecology in which they live.
  • Youth learn that violence is an important, or maybe the only, means to achieve a reputation and social status – as well as to obtain material gain (e.g., through drug dealing, which often involves violence).
  • Youth come to accept the risks of injury or worse (from violence) as normal, expected…and may view their probable lifespan as short.
contributing factors working together cont d
CONTRIBUTING FACTORS, WORKING TOGETHER cont’d
  • It becomes relatively easy for social organizations such as gangs to form or take root [Gangs are not new – they have grown out of these situations for generations.].
  • These organizations have shared values, codes, beliefs that are a reflection of the high-risk social ecology.
  • They provide a structure, social roles, a life-path that often make sense to youth in such contexts, and support – youth in programs I work with often say the gang “has my back.”
social ecology youth development violence
SOCIAL ECOLOGY, YOUTH DEVELOPMENT, & VIOLENCE
  • Multiple ecological levels work together to shape youth development – which includes the process of forming an identity.
  • The social context plays an important role in shaping the kinds of identities youth believe are possible for them.
  • Yet the examples of “possible identities” they see come primarily from characters in the high-risk social ecology around them.
  • These characters often gain social value through reputations or even mythologies that surround them.
example narco corridos the heroic persona and violence
EXAMPLE: NARCO-CORRIDOS, THE HEROIC PERSONA, AND VIOLENCE
  • Corridos are a traditional hero-song form in Mexico – featuring heroic acts of local, often rural people
  • In recent years, an entire pop-song genre in the form of the corrido has become widespread. These corridos, called narco-corridos, are about narcotraffickers, their exploits and their attitude of “braving any risk” and “spitting in the face of death.”
  • Many youth I interviewed in a Mexican border research project wanted to have a narcocorridos written about them.
example narco corridos the heroic persona and violence1
EXAMPLE: NARCO-CORRIDOS, THE HEROIC PERSONA, AND VIOLENCE
  • In a high-poverty setting (colonias in the border region), where there are few perceived options among the poor for having status, or gaining recognition, having a corrido written about you is one signifier of importance.
  • The fact that one may die, or engage in violence, or take other risks to have that corrido written about you may seem less important to these youth than the recognition gained. After all, whether in this life, or in the next, having a corrido means “you are something.”
example narco corridos the heroic persona and violence2
EXAMPLE: NARCO-CORRIDOS, THE HEROIC PERSONA, AND VIOLENCE
  • Narcocorridos, among other things, present an image of “willingness to face death” or “willingness to take risks” that is part of the cultural persona (in old corridos as well). Examples:

“Pistols and daggers

Are playthings for me

Bullets and stabbings

Big laughs for me

With their means cut off

They’re afraid around here”

(From Joaquin Murieta)

example narco corridos the heroic persona and violence3
EXAMPLE: NARCO-CORRIDOS, THE HEROIC PERSONA, AND VIOLENCE
  • More examples of the “willingness to face death” or “willingness to take risks” schema:

“Death is always near me

But I don’t know how to give in

I know the government hunts me

Even under the sea

But there’s a way around everything

And my hiding place hasn’t been found”

(From Mis Tres Animales)

example narco corridos the heroic persona and violence4
EXAMPLE: NARCO-CORRIDOS, THE HEROIC PERSONA, AND VIOLENCE
  • Many narcocorridos also include a reference to movement from poverty to riches or power, also a part of the persona. Examples:

“I came from Hermosillo

In search of gold and riches…”

“From the greedy rich

I took away their money

With the humble and poor

I took off my hat

Oh, what unjust laws

To call me a highwayman”

(From Joaquin Murieta)

example narco corridos the heroic persona and violence5
EXAMPLE: NARCO-CORRIDOS, THE HEROIC PERSONA, AND VIOLENCE
  • More examples of the “rags to riches or power” schema:

“I learned to live life

until I had money

I don’t deny that I was poor

And that I was a mule skinner

Now I am a great gentleman

The gringos covet my pets”

(From Mis Tres Animales)

what to do
WHAT TO DO?
  • Programs addressing SINGLE FACTORS will not get at the ecological nature of youth violence.
  • It is necessary to conduct and assessment of the multiple factors contributing to youth violence in a given community, region, or area.
  • Interventions that address the interaction of these multiple factors (the social ecology) – while more difficult to implement – are more likely to address the problem over the long term.

CP21610T