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Violence and Youth

In light of alarming statistics and news stories about increasing youth violence, it’s important to put these reports into perspective. The majority of youth are not involved in serious violent crime, as evidenced by the 1996 juvenile violent crime rate of 3.5 percent.1 Also, research is consistently showing that a small number of juvenile offenders are responsible for a majority of the offenses. The Serious Juvenile Violent Crime Rate, 1996 National Youth Survey found that only five percent of youth committed 83 percent of serious crimes.2 Despite the culture’s tendency to focus on the poor choices of some young people, one should not overlook the fact that a majority of adolescents are making healthy decisions to avoid violence.
Youth arrested for a serious violent juvenile crime

Juvenile responsibility for violence

Source: National Crime Victimization Survey, 1980-1996, U.S. Department of Justice; Uniform Crime Reports, FBI

To determine the extent of youth violence, one should examine a number of indicators, from crime rates to student surveys.∗ The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (known as Add Health), a federally sponsored study of more than 90,000 teens, found slightly more than 10 percent of males and five percent of females reported committing a violent act in the

Statistics from different sources may vary due to a multitude of factors, including differing methods of data collection; choices of age ranges and time periods; measurements of perception versus actual participation; reporting by rates or actual numbers; and definitions of participation. Through this overview of statistics, IYD hopes to provide the reader with a comprehensive picture of youth risk behaviors, recognizing that some specific statistics may seem to indicate inconsistent trends or levels of participation.

past year (i.e. “physical fight, injured someone, group fight, threatened someone with a weapon, used a weapon in a fight, shot or stabbed someone”).3 Another measure of youth involvement in violence is the juvenile arrest rate. Unfortunately, from 1986 to 1995, juvenile arrests for violent crime increased by 67 percent. In that same time, juvenile arrests increased by: 90 percent for murder and non-negligent manslaughter; four percent for forcible rape; and 78 percent for aggravated assault. However, despite these alarming statistics, there was a promising overall three percent decrease from 1994 to1995 in violent crimes perpetrated by youth. Adolescents are responsible for 18.7 percent of violent crimes committed by the total population.4 Another indication of the degree of youth involvement in violence is the prevalence of school violence. A first-ever survey of violence in public schools, released by the White House in midMarch 1998, found that Juvenile vs. Adult Responsibility for Crime one in 10 American public schools experienced Juvenile Adult serious violence such as rape or robbery last year. Arson Based on questionnaire reAggr. Assault sponses from principals of more than 1,200 Robbery elementary, middle and high schools nationwide, Rape the study found: Murder • 43 percent of schools reported no incidents 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% of crime in the 1996Source: Crime in the United States, 1996. FBI 97 school year. • 80 percent of schools reported five or fewer crimes (both violent and non-violent). • 10 percent of schools reported serious violent crimes (physical attacks or fights in which a weapon was used, robberies, rapes or other kinds of sexual assault). Crime was more common at larger schools and those in urban areas. In the study, principals rated absenteeism, tardiness and fights as the three most common discipline problems.

Characteristics of juvenile perpetrators of violence
According to the Add Health study, teens are most likely to commit violent acts if they “have been a victim or a witness to violence; carry a weapon; are involved in deviant behavior, or sell drugs.” Also, welfare recipients, younger teens, urban youth and Native American teens are most at risk for engaging in violence. Fifty-one percent of juvenile offenders arrested for violent crimes were white, 41 percent were black, and eight percent were another race. 5


Although males still commit a majority of violent acts; evidence indicates females are becoming more violent. From 1991 to 1995, female juvenile arrests increased 34 percent, compared to a nine percent increase among male juveniles.6 Males generally commit more violent crimes, and prevalence rates increase with age for males throughout adolescence. In contrast, violence among female juveniles generally peaks at age 15 and then declines.7

Juvenile victims of violence
Another aspect of violence that affects today’s youth is violent victimization. The National Crime Victimization Survey found that almost 12 percent of all adolescents claimed to be victims of violent crime (aggravated assault, rape and robbery) in 1994.8 The number of juvenile homicide victims has increased by 82 percent since 1984, with the majority of the increase being attributed to firearm related homicides. Firearmrelated homicides nearly tripled since 1984, while the number of homicides Students Reporting Criminal not involving guns remained level. Victimization at School In 1994, seven juveniles per day were murdered. Fifty-three percent of those were ages 15-17 and 30 percent were younger than six years old. One in five of those juveniles murdered were killed by another juvenile.9 Juveniles are most likely to victimize other juveniles (ages 1219) in other violent crimes as well.10
(Ages 12-19)
Male 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Any Violent Property Female

Other crimes of adolescent Source: Students’ Reports of School Crime, National Center for Education Statistics violent victimization include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by a caretaker (i.e. parents, daycare workers, etc.). According to the National Study of the Incidence and Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect, 0.84 percent of children under 18 were harmed by abuse. Of those children who are abused, half are abused physically; one-third are abused emotionally; and one-fifth are abused sexually.11 In the school setting, victimization has remained stable since 1989. The Students’ Report of School Crime: 1989 and 1995, a study of both public and private school students released by the federal government, found the level of students who claimed to be victims of crime at school in 1989 remained stable in 1995 (14.5 percent in 1989 compared to 14.6 percent in 1995). Also, compared to1989, there was only a slight increase in 1995 in the percentage of students who reported violent victimization at school (3.4 percent to 4.2 percent).12


Characteristics of Juvenile Victims
Juvenile victims are most likely to be boys and African American. Boys ages 12-17 are one and a half times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than girls. Also, black juveniles are six times more likely to be homicide victims than white adolescents.13 Violent victimization rates are similar for both younger (ages 12-14) and older (1517) adolescents.

First participation – trends and implications
Most juveniles who commit violent offenses are persistent offenders who, as they continue to offend, eventually commit a violent act. The earlier the onset of a delinquent career, the greater the number of delinquent offenses juveniles are likely to commit before their 18th birthday. However, the average seriousness of the offenses in a delinquent career is not related to the age of onset. Nevertheless, the earlier a youth commits a serious violent offense, the more likely the youth is to continue this behavior in the adult years. The National Youth Survey found that 45 percent of youth initiating serious violent offenses before age 11 continued to commit violent acts into their twenties, compared with about one-fourth of those who started at ages 11 and 12, and a lower and relatively constant proportion for those who began such behavior at ages 13 to 17.14 Offenders under age 15 represent the leading edge of the juvenile crime problem, and their numbers have been growing. Violent crime arrests, for example, grew 94 percent between 1980 and 1995 for youth under age 15, compared with 47 percent for older youth. As a result, the age profile of juvenile offenders has changed since 1980. Offenders under age 15 accounted for an increased proportion of all juvenile arrests for violent crime in 1995 (30 percent) compared with 1980 (25 percent). Between 1985 and 1994 the number of delinquency cases involving juveniles age 12 and younger grew 32 percent, those involving juveniles ages 13 and 14 increased 49 percent, and all other cases involving older juveniles grew 39 percent. In all three age groups, the largest relative increases between 1985 and 1994 were in cases in which person offense was the most serious charge. The most recent juvenile arrest trends suggest that the juvenile justice system may have turned a corner since 1994. Violent Crime Index arrests declined three percent for all juveniles between 1994 and 1995, but dropped six percent among youth ages 13 and 14. While the significance of any single-year change should not be exaggerated, these recent trends are an encouraging turnaround from earlier arrest trends and run counter to predictions of increased delinquency based on the demographic trend of rising numbers of young people.15

The link between violence, substance abuse, and sexual activity
There is significant evidence that adolescents who have violent lives are likely to also be involved in substance abuse and sexual activity. 4

Both junior and senior high students who reported using substances (including liquor, marijuana, cocaine and inhalants) were significantly more likely to carry a gun to school, participate in gang activities, consider suicide often, threaten someone, or get into trouble with police.16 Other studies have examined fighting as an indicator of an adolescent being at risk for other unhealthy behaviors. A study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health reported that eight percent of all students were considered fighters (those who had been in a fight in the last 30 days). However, those eight percent of students accounted for 49 percent of those who carried a Relationship between youth firearm, 46 percent of those who violence & substance use used cocaine, 18 percent of those (Study of 7th Grade Boys) who drove while intoxicated, and 25 percent of those who had No use Beer, wine or liquor Marijuana sex with multiple partners.17 100 Students who report easy 80 access to controlled substances like alcohol and illegal drugs 60 were more likely to report 40 violent acts at school such as physical attack, robbery, and 20 bullying, than those students who reported little access to 0 Hit to hurt Gang fight Assault with controlled substances, according weapon to the U.S. Department of Justice. Of students who knew of Source: Juvenile Offenders and Victims: A National Report other students attending school drunk, 56 percent reported violent acts at their school, but of students who did not know of peers who came to school drunk, only 36 percent reported violence.18 One study found in comparison to nonviolent teenagers, violent teenagers were two to three times more likely to be weekly users of marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes; to have tried cocaine; or to have used several drugs.19

The role of family in violence prevention
There is little disagreement that parents and family play an important role in whether or not a young person is engaged in violence. The Add Health study found that, like many other risk behaviors, youth violence is less likely to occur if a young person feels strong connections to his or her parents and family. Connectedness was defined as feeling loved and cared for, and a sense of satisfaction with family relationships.20 Also, parental presence in the home was a protective factor for older teens (grades 9-12).


However, this same study also highlighted the ways in which the home environment can increase risk for violence. Students who reported access to guns in the home were more likely to be involved in violence.21 The Add Health survey also identified a history of recent family suicide attempts or completions as a risk factor for youth violence. Other research by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency has also found the home environment influences youth involvement in violence. Childhood victims of maltreatment were more likely to be involved in violence as teenagers than those who had not been. Likewise, adolescents who lived in a family where there was violence between their parents or general family hostility were more likely to be violent adolescents. The researchers found that exposure to multiple forms of family violence nearly doubled the risk of self-reported youth violence.22

The IYD Approach
Given the serious consequences of involvement in violence, as well as its connection with other unhealthy behaviors, the Institute for Youth Development (IYD) promotes a risk avoidance message for violence to youth. Empowered by positive relationships with family and school, young people can – and should be expected to – avoid violence. Written by Kimberly Erickson Research assistance provided by Vi Nguyen Last updated October 1998 To receive additional copies of this publication or a list of other IYD publications that are available, please contact the Institute for Youth Development at 703-471-8750.


National Crime Victimization Survey, 1980-1996. U.S. Department of Justice. Data available from: URL: http://www.childstats.gov/ac1998/xbeh4b.htm. 2 Kelley BT, Huizinga D, Thornberry TP, Loeber R. Epidemiology of serious violence. OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin. 1997 June. 3 Blum RW, Rinehart PM. Reducing the risk: Connections that make a difference in the lives of youth. Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, University of Minnesota. 4 The Federal Bureau of Investigation. Crime in the United States, 1996. 1997. Washington: The United States Department of Justice, Uniform Crime Reporting,. 5 Sickmund M, Snyder HN. Juvenile offenders and victims: A national report. 1995 August. Washington: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 6 Ibid., 7 Ibid., 8 Ibid. 9 Snyder HN, Sickmund M, Poe-Yamagata E. Juvenile offenders and victims: 1996 update on violence. Washington: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 10 Sickmund M, Snyder HN. Juvenile offenders and victims: A national report. 1995 August. Washington: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.


Sickmund M, Snyder HN. Juvenile offenders and victims: A national report. 1995 August. Washington: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 12 Chandler, KA, Chapman, CD, Rand, MR, Taylor, BM. Students’ reports of school crime: 1989 and 1995. 1998 March. Washington: U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice. 13 Kelley BT, Huizinga D, Thornberry TP, Loeber R. Epidemiology of serious violence. OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin. 1997 June. 14 Sickmund M., Snyder HN. Juvenile offenders and victims: A national report. 1995 August. Washington: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 15 Butts JA, Snyder HN. The Youngest Delinquents: Offenders under age 15. OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin. 1997 September. 16 Student use of most drugs reaches highest level in nine years [news release]. PRIDE 1996 Sept 25. summary report on Violence, Sept. 25, 1996 17 Sosin DM, Koepsell TD, Rivara FP, Mercy JA. Fighting as a marker for multiple problem behaviors in adolescents. J Adolesc Health 1995 March; 16(3): 209-215. 18 Snyder HN, Sickmund M, Poe-Yamagata, E. Juvenile offenders and victims: 1996 update on violence. Washington: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 19 Ellickson, P, Saner, H, McGuigan, KA. Profiles of violent youth: Substance use and other concurrent problems. American Journal of Public Health 1997 June 87(6). 20 Blum RW, Rinehart PM. Reducing the risk: Connections that make a difference in the lives of youth. Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, University of Minnesota. 21 Ibid. 22 Thornberry TP. Violent families and youth violence, Fact sheet #21. 1994 December. Washington The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.



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