Youth Violence: De-escalation Strategies and Socio-Legal Responses

22 Jul to 23 Jul

Coordinators: Asher Flynn (Monash University), Mark Halsey (Flinders University), Murray Lee (University of Sydney)

Description of the meeting

Increases in youth violence have been widely reported globally. In the United States, for example, homicide is among the ‘top three leading causes of death’ among young people aged 10 to 24 years (John Wihbey, Harvard Kennedy School, 12 July 2013). In London, victims of serious youth violence have risen 20 percent since mid-2012 (Tom Powell, 21 September 2016). In Italy, a paradox of more effective targeting of mafia leaders has led to an upsurge in young people (called “urban terrorists” by the Italian judiciary) vying for positions of power and prestige in the illicit economy (Felia Allum, 23 March 2017).

Globally, media reports of youth violence tell of Australian “teen street gangs” (Herald Sun, 4 Jan 2018), English “kids as young as 12 … out-of-control” (Daily Mail UK, 18 Nov 2017) and why particular communities must fear the American “kids … [who are] irredeemable, no-good thugs” (Fox News US, 1 Nov 2017). Melbourne—the large, capital city of Australia’s second most populated state—has been grappling with the rise of ethnic (Sudanese) gangs allegedly engaged in increasingly brazen and violent crimes, including car-jacking, armed robbery, and wonton destruction of public property. The Australian newspaper recently wrote of the “reign of fear in Melbourne’s west” (6 Jan 2018), while the tabloid Herald Sun newspaper has referred to a “youth crime wave” (13 Jan 2018). Such concerns are not limited to race or geographical location. In November 2017, the Express UK reported that, a “mentality from young radicals” could “spark terror resurgence in the Basque country’, with claims that the ‘nationalist group ETA could make a resurgence and bring back violence and bloodshed to the streets of northern Spain”.

This style of reporting has worked against a sustained analysis of the complex combination of foreground and background factors underpinning youth violence. As a consequence, a series of predictable causal tropes (e.g. “disrespect”, “innate aggression”, “immorality”) have been used to describe the causes of youth violence, while calls for decreasing the age of criminal responsibility, treating juvenile offenders as adults, giving police increased powers (e.g. move-on laws), introducing mandatory minimum sentences, and creating more stringent bail and parole conditions, have likewise been posed as “solutions”.

In contrast to the conceptual reductionism of many current regulatory and legal responses, the proposed workshop considers youth violence as emblematic of more complex political, economic and socio-cultural conditions (see Flynn, Halsey & Lee 2016). Youth violence, we contend, most often emerges within cultures or sub-cultures which tolerate or celebrate particular types of interpersonal conflict, and which reflect and/or reinforce particular gendered, typically masculinised, identities. Arguably, youth violence also stems from the demise in legitimate rites of passage, from deep-seated feelings of alienation or humiliation, and from a desire for “vengeance” against political and economic systems that appear to some young people, to privilege the well-being and rights of the wealthy and powerful over and above the well-being of young citizens and the socially excluded. Youth violence also emerges as an unfortunate accompaniment of the pleasure and night-time economies—particularly in relation to the over-consumption of alcohol and/or co-consumption of illicit drugs.

We are also keenly aware that the techniques for engaging in youth violence have changed substantially in recent years—chiefly as a result of globalisation and the digitalisation of modern life. This has in turn led to fundamental changes in the nature, intensity and scale of youth violence (and violence more generally). Social and legal mechanisms for dealing with activities such as cyber-bullying, image-based sexual abuse (“revenge porn”), youth radicalisation, online “swarming” behaviour, and so forth, have struggled to keep pace with these and similar events. The multiple and complex causes of youth violence therefore pose many challenges for those concerned with the social and legal regulation of such behaviour.

Our chief concern is that political, social and legal responses such as boot camps, designing out crime, tougher sentencing, as well as mass media campaigns (particularly around the effects of alcohol and drugs), have contributed to a discourse of fear which itself mitigates against a sustained and nuanced inquiry into the aetiologies of youth violence (see e.g. Lee 2008). Young perpetrators of violence have been cast, in effect, as a “different species of threatening … for whom we can have no sympathy and for whom there is no effective help” (Garland 1996: 461).

Given the above, the workshop is especially timely and brings together a diverse group of international scholars focused on best practice in the de-escalation of youth violence and/or diversion of so-called “wayward” or “dangerous” youth into contexts and initiatives that promote desistance from violent behaviour. Papers will fall within the following five innovative and empirically grounded socio-legal themes:

  1. Mob and political violence – protest violence, violence within and at sporting events, juvenile/young adult prison riots, responses to immigration and other political policies.
  2. Alcohol and drug related violence – violence committed in the night-time economy both within public (e.g. pubs, bars) and private (e.g. family and domestic violence) settings, steroid use, prescription and illict drug-related crime.
  3. Digitally-enabled violence – violence committed with the assistance or facilitation of the cyber world, such as hate crimes, organised violent group attacks/rallies, technology-facilitated sexual assault, harassment, rape and abuse, inciting of suicide and self-harm.
  4. Gang and armed violence – violence committed within group contexts, violence committed for or as part of gang membership, violence committed with weaponry (e.g. guns, knives, baseball bats etc.).
  5. Radicalisation and Terrorism – violence committed as part of a shared ideology (e.g. nationalism) and the methods of recruiting young people into terrorist-related activities.

The key concepts of power, gender, race and class will feature throughout these five themes. Public perceptions of crime and, more particularly, fear of youth and difference, will also provide an important conceptual frame for the workshop.

Our experience in Oñati

The Youth Violence and Descalation workshop, convened on 22 and 23 July 2019, saw around a dozen delegates from around the globe gather at the IISL. Representing a range of disciplines, institutions and organizations, key topics covered included the gendered nature of violence, the social and media construction of youth crime, the changing nature and status of gangs, the intended and unintended targets of counter terrorism strategies, problems with drug prevention efforts, regulation of online abuse  / violence, and the use of online platforms to orchestrate assaults. Discussion across the two days was lively and stimulating with all participants appearing to appreciate the chance to explore common terrain and new ideas. Thank you to all the delegates for their contribution. We also wish to thank the IISL for their hospitality and acknowledge the wonderful assistance of their dedicated staff, especially Malen Gordoa, who contributed substantially to the success of the event. 

For more information: 

Malen Gordoa Mendizabal

IISJ (Meetings)
Avenida de la Universidad, 8
Apartado 28
20560 Oñati (Gipuzkoa) - Spain
T: +34 943 71... Ver teléfono
E: m.gordoa@iisj.es
  @IISJOnati