By Sean Malloy
Young people are the chief victims of violence in our society, according to a new study. A discussion paper published for the National Youth Affairs Research Scheme pieces together the relationship between young people, violence, victimisation, poverty and the family.
The paper, titled "Young people as victims of violence", was written by Boronia Halstead, a research officer at the Australian Institute of Criminology.
Halstead challenges stereotyping of young people as perpetrators of violence against the elderly and minority groups, pointing out that "the main victims of [violent] young people are young people".
She also notes that "the factors that predispose young people towards perpetration of violence are in many cases the same factors that make them vulnerable to violence". Low incomes, unemployment, inadequate social security payments and the resulting pressures on families are cited as the most common context of violence against young people.
"The combination of family upheaval, loss of employment options and lack of income support contributes to stresses which place young people at risk of exposure to physical violence both within and outside the home", writes Halstead.
Unemployment, low self-esteem and boredom are factors common to young victims and perpetrators of violence. Halstead relates this to the cycle of violence, in which young people who have been victims of violence later become perpetrators themselves.
While the majority of young male victims of violence experienced beatings or some form of assault, the majority of young female victims experienced violence involving sexual assault.
A 1988 survey of crimes by age recorded that 94 per thousand 16-19 year-olds experienced physical violence. In the same survey 893 per thousand 16-19 year-old women experienced some form of sexual violence.???
Halstead also quotes a survey on children and violence that records one in four girls and one in 11 boys as victims of child sexual abuse. This type of abuse in the family is directly linked with homelessness of young people. "These young people are often moving from an abuse situation in the family into further abuse on the streets", writes Halstead.
On the streets, a section of young people who have been victims become perpetrators of violence, usually against other young people on the streets. Young people who are homeless or estranged from their family also experience violence from the police force, according to Halstead. She quotes a survey of young homeless in which one-third complained of police violence and 60% of those charged with a criminal offence claimed to have been physically assaulted while in police custody.
"The fact that young people often congregate in public places in groups whose behaviour and demeanour may be out of the ordinary often attracts the attention of police", writes Halstead.
"Media campaigns about alleged juvenile crime waves, for example, though not always substantiated by careful examination of the facts, tend — when combined with police and political interests and public stereotypes of a youth problem — to result in 'law and order' campaigns."
Halstead says it is difficult for young people to report violence against them by police because of their lack of legal or personal support and the lengthy technical procedure to report such an incident.
Young Aborigines and young non-English speaking people carry an extra burden of violence in our society, observes Halstead.
Halstead refers to the over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody and the violence from police and authorities that goes with it. She cites a study that interviewed 171 Aboriginal juveniles and found that 88% reported being hit, punched, kicked or slapped by police.
"The intensity of racist violence is influenced by economic and international crises", writes Halstead, referring to violence against non-English speaking people. "The present high level of unemployment fuels beliefs in some sectors of the community that migrants are to 'blame' for the problem. The Gulf war was a trigger for hostility and suspicion against Middle Eastern migrants."
Halstead concludes that "problem sensitive" services for young people are needed.
Reducing violence against young people and in society generally means removing the factors which create a basis of violence. The groups that suffer the brunt of victimisation "correspond with those sections of the community suffering greatest socioeconomic disadvantage", writes Halstead, "such as homeless youth, Aboriginal youth and young offenders. Such young people have fewer options for safe accommodation, safe recreation and safe relationships with others."