Is Youth Violence Preventable?

explosive burning carsIn a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), authors Sarah Bast and Victoria DeSimone examine the question of whether or not the pathways to violence can be disrupted, specifically with regard to youth. The report, “Youth Violence Prevention in the United States: Examining International Terrorists, Domestic Terrorists, School Shooters, and Gang Members” argues that, “youths who become international terrorists, domestic terrorists, school shooters, and gang members share similar factors that play a role in their pathways to violence.” Among these four categories of violent offenders (international terrorists, domestic terrorists, school shooters, and gang members) are five types of factors which create and pave the path to violence. These factors include:

  1. Personal-level risk factors, such as psychological/mental health and personal background.
  2. Group-level factors, such as social networks and their dynamics.
  3. Community-level factors, such as social environments and any alienation or marginalization.
  4. Sociopolitical-level factors, such as foreign policy, external happenings, and media.
  5. Ideological-level factors, such as an appealing narrative or ideologues.

“Individuals proceed along the path to violence when they experience problems with which they are unable to cope and become convinced that non-violent solutions will not rectify their  grievances.” The authors note that personal-level risk factors, group-level risk factors, community-level factors, and sociopolitical-level factors were seen in all four types of violence. However, the first two factors (personal-level and community-level) provide the best opportunity at which to insert prevention measures  in an effort to disrupt the pathway to violence. According to the report, there are three central elements to violence prevention.

  1. Early education for school children and educators acts as a safeguard by increasing awareness and mitigating those first steps into a pathway to violence.
  2. Early intervention can redirect an individual who is already on the pathway to violence if the intervention occurs before a crime is committed, and before the individual has fully committed to a violent crime.
  3. Off-ramping is the third prevention component, and involves a community-led intervention, in which an individual is guided away from violence and assisted in reintegrating into the community. This third method of prevention is the last opportunity to disrupt the pathway to violence without bringing in law enforcement.

“There is no one perfect prevention strategy, framework, or program. Rather, different forms of prevention will resonate with different potential recruits, much like different factors affect an individual’s path to violence. The most effective strategies build on indigenous knowledge, expertise, and leadership to produce strategies that are culturally relevant and appropriate to local conditions.” This report, which builds on the National Counterterrorism Center’s (NCTC) 2011 terrorism study, is meant to inform the reader that creating a diverse and dynamic toolbox is the best way to fix what is broken. Especially with regard to the three types of prevention strategies, it seems that an ounce of prevention could certainly be worth a pound of cure.

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