n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Youth violence : an analysis of selected aetiological pathways in a sample of South African high-school males

Volume 16, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



High levels of interpersonal violence - including common assault, aggravated assault, and murder - have been noted in recent studies of South African high school males. Attempts to account for these high levels of violence have focused on three broad categories of causal factors : (a) the desensitizing effects of exposure to community violence, (b) the role played by poverty and social disruption in the aetiology of violence, and (c) personal characteristics as mediators of violent behaviour.

In an attempt to systematically explore the aetiological significance of each of the categories of causal factors mentioned above, structured questionnaires were administered to a sample of 561 high school males (aged 16 to 25 years) attending government schools in the Durban greater metropolitan area. Seventy-nine percent of respondents reported a history of interpersonal violence, with eight percent of respondents indicating that they had killed a person. The severity of both individual and group violence was found to positively correlate with the extent of exposure to community violence. Respondents who reported a history of interpersonal violence were more likely to endorse statements reflecting pro-violence attitudes, with individuals who committed violence in a group context reporting attitudes to violence which were more extreme than those reported by individuals who acted alone. Contrary to expectation, respondents' socio-economic status was not significantly predictive of violent behaviour.
Further research is needed in order to assess the extent to which the obtained findings can be generalised to samples drawn from different social groups and from different geographical areas. Such research should ideally employ longitudinal designs and should be directed at attempts to : (a) Identify mechanisms and processes which account for the relationship between aetiological influences and violent outcomes, (b) explore the dynamic temporal relationship between aetiological influences and violent outcomes, and (c) address the much neglected issue of victim resilience.

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