School violence encompasses physical violence, including student-on-student fighting and corporal punishment; psychological violence, including verbal abuse; sexual violence, including rape and sexual harassment; many forms of bullying, including cyberbullying; and carrying weapons in school. It is widely held to have become a serious problem in recent decades in many countries, especially where weapons such as guns or knives are involved. It includes violence between school students as well as physical attacks by students on school staff.
Internalizing and externalizing behaviors
A distinction is made between internalizing and externalizing behavior. Internalizing behaviors reflect withdrawal, inhibition, anxiety, and/or depression. Internalizing behavior has been found in some cases of youth violence although in some youth, depression is associated with substance abuse. Because they rarely act out, students with internalizing problems are often overlooked by school personnel. Externalizing behaviors refer to delinquent activities, aggression, and hyperactivity. Unlike internalizing behaviors, externalizing behaviors include, or are directly linked to, violent episodes. Violent behaviors such as punching and kicking are often learned from observing others. Just as externalizing behaviors are observed outside of school, such behaviors also observed in schools.
Other individual factors
A number of other individual factors are associated with higher levels of aggressiveness. Compared to children whose antisocial conduct begins in adolescence, early starters have a worse prognosis in terms of future aggression and other antisocial activities. Lower IQ is related to higher levels of aggression. Other findings indicate that in boys early problematic motor skills, attentional difficulties, and reading problems predict later persistent antisocial conduct.
The home environment is thought to contribute to school violence. The Constitutional Rights Foundation suggests long-term exposure to gun violence, parental alcoholism, domestic violence, physical abuse of the child, and child sexual abuse teaches children that criminal and violent activities are acceptable. Harsh parental discipline is associated with higher levels of aggressiveness in youth. There is some evidence indicating that exposure to television violence and, to a lesser extent, violent video games is related to increased aggressiveness in children, which, in turn, may carry over into school.
Straus adduced evidence for the view that exposure to parental corporal punishment increases the risk of aggressive conduct in children and adolescents. Straus's findings have been contested by Larzelere and Baumrind. A meta-analysis of the vast literature on corporal punishment, however, indicates that corporal punishment is related to poorer outcomes in children and youth. The methodologically soundest studies indicate "positive, moderately sized associations between parental corporal punishment and children’s aggression." Gershoff found that the trajectory of mean effect sizes (the size of the effect of corporal punishment on children's problem behavior) was curvilinear with the largest mean effect size in middle school (M = 0.55; on average the mean of corporal punishment group was more than half a standard deviation higher than the mean of the non-punishment group) and slightly smaller effect sizes in grade school (M = 0.43) and high school (M = 0.45).
Gerald Patterson’s social interactional model, which involves the mother’s application and the child's counterapplication of coercive behaviors, also explains the development of aggressive conduct in the child. In this context, coercive behaviors include behaviors that are ordinarily punishing (e.g., whining, yelling, hitting, etc.). Abusive home environments can inhibit the growth of social cognitive skills needed, for example, to understand the intentions of others. Short-term longitudinal evidence is consistent with the view that a lack of social cognitive skills mediates the link between harsh parental discipline and aggressive conduct in kindergarten. Longer-term, follow-up research with the same children suggests that partial mediating effects last until third and fourth grade. Hirschi's (1969) control theory advances the view that children with weak affective ties to parents and school are at increased risk of engaging in delinquent and violent behavior in and out of school. Hirschi's cross-sectional data from northern California high-school students are largely consistent with this view. Findings from case-control and longitudinal studies are also consistent with this view.
Neighbourhoods and communities provide the context for school violence. Communities with high rates of crime and drug use teach youth the violent behaviors that are carried into schools. Children in violent neighborhoods tend to perceive that their communities are risky, and that these feelings of vulnerability carry over to the school environment. Dilapidated housing in the neighbourhood of the school has been found to be associated with school violence. Teacher assault was more likely to occur in schools located in high-crime neighbourhoods. Exposure to deviant peers is a risk factor for high levels of aggressivity. Research has shown that poverty and high population densities are associated with higher rates of school violence. Well controlled longitudinal research indicates that children's exposure to community violence during the early elementary school years increases the risk of aggression later in elementary school, as reported by teachers and classmates. Other, well controlled longitudinal research that utilized propensity score matching indicates that exposure to gun violence in early adolescence is related to the initiation of serious physical violence in later adolescence. Neighbourhood gangs are thought to contribute to dangerous school environments. Gangs use the social environment of the school to recruit members and interact with opposing groups, with gang violence carrying over from neighbourhoods into some schools. Alternatively, many children who grow up in violent neighborhoods learn to deliberately find and make "street-oriented" friends as an instrumental tactic used to avoid being victimized. Without the threat of violence, children more commonly develop friendships based on homophily, or shared traits.
Recent research has linked the school environment to school violence. Teacher assaults are associated with a higher percentage male faculty, a higher proportion of male students, and a higher proportion of students receiving free or reduced cost lunch (an indicator of poverty). In general, a large male population, higher grade levels, a history of high levels of disciplinary problems in the school, high student to teacher ratios, and an urban location are related to violence in schools. In students, academic performance is inversely related to antisocial conduct. The research by Hirschi and others, cited above in the section on the home environment, is also consistent with the view that lack of attachment to school is associated with increased risk of antisocial conduct.
Prevention and intervention
The goal of prevention and intervention strategies is to stop school violence from occurring. According to the CDC, there are at least four levels at which violence-prevention programs can act: at the level of society in general, the school community, the family, and the individual.
- Society-level prevention strategies aim to change social and cultural conditions in order to reduce violence regardless of where the violence occurs. Examples include reducing media violence, reshaping social norms, and restructuring educational systems. The strategies are rarely used and difficult to implement.
- Now Is The Time is a federal initiative developed in 2013 in response to the growing number of gun related school violence incidents. The initiative will provide funding and resources to schools in an effort to reduce gun violence in schools. Funding will be provided for implementation of school interventions and training teachers and staff, programs that will support the mental and physical health of students, conflict resolution programs to reduce further school violence, and restoration of school environment after a violent incident.
- School-wide strategies are designed to modify the school characteristics that are associated with violence. An avenue of psychological research is the reduction of violence and incivility, particularly the development of interventions at the level of the school. The CDC suggests schools promote classroom management techniques, cooperative learning, and close student supervision. At the elementary school level, the group behavioral intervention known as the Good Behavior Game helps reduce classroom disruption and promotes prosocial classroom interactions. There is some evidence that the Second Step curriculum, which is concerned with promoting impulse control and empathy among second and third graders, produces reductions in physically aggressive behavior. Other school-wide strategies are aimed at reducing or eliminating bullying and organizing the local police to better combat gang violence.
- The implementation of school-wide early-warning systems, the school equivalent of a DEW Line-like surveillance operation designed to "prevent the worst cases of school violence," has been problematic. Recent developments in early threat assessment, however, show promise. Violence-prevention efforts can also be usefully directed at developing anti-bullying programs, helping teachers with classroom-management strategies, applying behavioral strategies such as the Good Behavior Game, implementing curricular innovations such as the Second Step syllabus, developing programs to strengthen families (see below), and implementing programs aimed at enhancing the social and academic skills of at-risk students (see below).
- Teachers are the professional group who works directly where school bullying takes place and who spends the most time with both bullies, victims and bystanders. Thus, whether and how teachers intervene in the case of bullying is of great importance. Research has shown that teachers prefer authority-based interventions towards bullies but seem to neglect to support the victims. Unfortunately, most teacher training curricula do not include preventive and interventive skills regarding school violence.
- Some intervention programs are aimed at improving family relationships. There is some evidence that such intervention strategies have modest effects on the behavior of children in the short and long term. Patterson's home intervention program involving mothers has been shown to reduce aggressive conduct in children. An important question concerns the extent to which the influence of the program carries over into the child's conduct in school.
- Some prevention and intervention programs focus on individual-level strategies. These programs are aimed at students who exhibit aggression and violent behaviors or are at risk for engaging in such behaviors. Some programs include conflict resolution and team problem-solving. Other programs teach students social skills. The Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, while developing and implementing a universal anti-aggression component for all elementary school children, also developed and implemented a separate social-skills and academic tutoring component that targets children who are the most at risk for engaging in aggressive behavior.
Challenges in measuring violence in schools
Research on violence affecting children in schools is challenging for a variety of reasons.
When trying to measure the scope of violence in schools and to find out about the types of violence experienced by students, some key issues include: from what categories of the school community to collect the data; what data should be collected from each categories; and using which methods. For example, should there be studies or surveys where researchers ask students directly about violence in school, through self-reports about the violence they experienced as targets or perpetrators? Or should they be asked about incidents of violence that they have witnessed as bystanders? Should any of these questions be asked via self-administered questionnaires or questionnaires administered by researchers in schools? Does it make more sense to collect this data outside of schools, for example, through household surveys? Or through online surveys where students have access to the internet? Or is it better to rely on mechanisms for reporting incidents of violence in educational institutions when they are available, either in the schools themselves or outside schools (governmental hotlines, internet-based reporting systems, police and justice sectors, etc.)? What questions can be asked of children, using terminology that is easy to understand, age-appropriate and culturally sensitive?
Legal and ethical issues
In most countries there are strict rules related to research involving children, as they are under the age of consent. Therefore, requesting informed consent from the children in a study involves their parents and guardians. Asking children about violence, and particularly violence they have experienced themselves, can be traumatic. Finally, researching issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity/orientation in education and in relation to children has additional challenges. In some contexts it is not legal to discuss these issues either in schools or even outside of schools. Where it is legal, it may be considered as a very sensitive topic to be discussed with children and young people. Asking children and young people questions related to their sexual orientation and gender identity in the school setting is ethically questionable, as it could embarrass them and expose them to stigma and discrimination, unless questions are asked in strict confidence and anonymity is granted by independent researchers external to schools.
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Youth gangs in Canada: What do we know?
The National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC) of Public Safety Canada is committed to developing and disseminating practical knowledge to address the problem of youth gangs. This information sheet is part of a series on youth gangs. It includes highlights from the 2002 Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs as well as other sources of information on youth gangs.
To implement effective prevention and intervention strategies, we must start by understanding the nature and scope of the youth gang problem. This document presents an overview of current knowledge about youth gangs in Canada, including their connections with guns and drugs.
What is a youth gang?
Youth gangs typically consist of young people who:
- self-identify as a group (e.g. have a group name)
- are generally perceived by others as a distinct group
- are involved in a significant number of delinquent incidents that produce consistent negative responses from the community and/or law enforcement agencies Footnote 1.
There are other important characteristics of a youth gang that help us to understand the phenomenon. The Montréal Police Service's definition of youth gang explicitly incorporates the anti-social and delinquent behaviours that are distinctive of youth gangs. It defines a youth gang as:
"An organized group of adolescents and/or young adults who rely on group intimidation and violence, and commit criminal acts in order to gain power and recognition and/or control certain areas of unlawful activity Footnote 2."
Who joins youth gangs?
The 2002 Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs and other sources suggest that youth gang members cut across many ethnic, geographic, demographic and socio-economic contexts Footnote 3. However, youth at risk of joining gangs or already involved in gangs tend to be from groups that suffer from the greatest levels of inequality and social disadvantage Footnote 4.
Aboriginal youth are more vulnerable to gang recruitment and organized crime than non-Aboriginal youth and they are increasing in numbers and influence in Western Canada Footnote 5.
Many youth who join gangs have also been identified as youth who are using drugs and already involved in serious and violent crime. Furthermore, youth who display higher levels of previous delinquency are more likely to remain in the gang Footnote 6.
The reasons for joining a youth gang are various. Some seek excitement; others are looking for prestige, protection, a chance to make money or a sense of belonging Footnote 7.
Results of the Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs
Youth gangs are not just an urban phenomenon. They are active across the country in both large and small communities Footnote 8.
Results of the Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs and other sources suggest that youth gangs are a growing concern in many Canadian jurisdictions. Although not to the same extent as in the United States, comparisons between the two countries show that almost twice the percentage of jurisdictions in the United States report active youth gangs as compared with those in Canada (see Table 1).
The Survey asked police officers to estimate the number of youth gangs in their jurisdiction. According to these estimates:
- Canada has 434 youth gangs with roughly 7,000 members nationally. (See Table 2).
- Ontario has the highest number of youth gangs and youth gang members in absolute terms, with 216 youth gangs and 3,320 youth gang members. Saskatchewan is second (28 youth gangs and 1,315 members), followed by British Columbia (102 youth gangs and 1,027 members) Footnote 9.
- For the country as a whole, the vast majority of youth gang members are male (94%) Footnote 10.
- Almost half (48%) of all youth gang members are under the age of 18. Most (39%) are between 16 and 18 years old Footnote 11.
- The largest proportion of youth gang members are African Canadian (25%), followed by First Nations (21%) and Caucasian (18%) Footnote 12.
- Police agencies and Aboriginal organizations indicate that there is a growing percentage of female gang membership in western Canadian provinces, including British Columbia (12%), Manitoba (10%) and Saskatchewan (9%) Footnote 13.
Gangs, crime and violence
The movement of gang members from one jurisdiction to another appears to have an impact on the criminal activities and involvement of youth, as does the return of gang-involved youth or adult inmates from correctional facilities Footnote 14.
From a prevention perspective, it is vital to understand that youth involvement in crime and violence is linked with the experience of the gang itself Footnote 15.
In the United States, studies of large urban samples show that youth gang members are responsible for a large proportion of all violent adolescent offences. On average, 20% of gang members were responsible for committing about 80% of all serious violent adolescent offences Footnote 16.
While similar offence data is not available in Canada, a quasi-national study of the criminal careers of a birth cohort Footnote 17 found that 16% of alleged young offenders who were classified as chronic offenders were responsible for 58% of all alleged criminal incidents Footnote 18.
Gangs, guns and drugs in schools
Gun violence in major cities in Canada has been a growing concern, especially in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Montréal Footnote 19.
Gun violence is also more prevalent among street gangs that involve primarily young men less than 30 years of age Footnote 20.
The Drugs, Alcohol and Violence International (DAVI) study, a joint Canada-U.S. effort, provides important evidence about the relationships between gangs, guns and drugs in Toronto and Montréal. A total of 904 male students (grades 9 to 12), school dropouts and young offenders were interviewed. The results indicate that:
- There is a correlation between gang presence in schools and the availability of both guns and drugs in schools.
- 18.7% of boys (ages 14 to 17) in Montréal and 15.1% in Toronto have brought a gun to school.
- School dropouts who get involved in drug selling are at higher risk of being involved in gun-related violence Footnote 21.
Most youth who join gangs have already been involved in crime, violence and illegal drug use. The prevalence and scope of youth gang involvement varies across the country, but the "gang effect" of increased delinquency, drug use and violence is a common thread.
Integrated, targeted and evidence-based community solutions are necessary to reduce and prevent the proliferation of gangs, drugs and gun violence.
- 1 Canada. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Environmental Scan: Features: Focus on Youth Gangs. Ottawa: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2006.
- 2 Montréal. Montréal Police Service. Provincial Action Plan on Street Gangs. Québec: Department of Public Security, National Coordinating Committee, 2004 [Meeting, Toronto, May 25, 2005].
- 3 Astwood Strategy Corporation. 2002 Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs. Ottawa: Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, 2004.
- 4 Wortley, Scot and Julian Tanner. "Social Groups or Criminal Organizations? The Extent and Nature of Youth Gang Activity in Toronto" in From Enforcement and Prevention to Civic Engagement: Research on Community Safety / edited by Bruce Kidd and Jim Phillips. Toronto: Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto, 2004: 59-80.
- 5 Richter-White, Holly. Direct and Indirect Impacts of Organized Crime on Youth, as Offenders and Victims. Ottawa: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Research and Evaluation Branch, Community Contract and Aboriginal Policing Service, 2003; RCMP, 2006.
- 6 Gatti, Uberto, Richard E. Tremblay, Frank Vitaro and Pierre McDuff. "Youth Gangs, Delinquency and Drug Use: A Test of the Selection, Facilitation, and Enhancement Hypotheses," Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 46(11), (2005): 1178-1190.
- 7 RCMP (2006); Wortley et al., 2004.
- 8 RCMP (2006); Astwood Strategy Corporation (2004).
- 9 Astwood Strategy Corporation, 2004.
- 10 Ibid.
- 11 Ibid.
- 12 Ibid.
- 13 Ibid.; Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) (2003). Alter-Natives to Non-Violence Report: Aboriginal Youth Gangs Exploration: A Community Development Process. Saskatchewan: FSIN, 2003.
- 14 Canada. Correctional Service Canada (2002). An Examination of Youth and Gang Affiliation within the Federally Sentenced Aboriginal Population. Ottawa: Correctional Service Canada, 2002; Astwood Strategy Corporation (2004).
- 15 Gatti et al., 2005.
- 16 Thornberry, Terence P., David Huizinga and Rolf Loeber. "The Causes and Correlates Studies: Findings and Policy Implications," Juvenile Justice 10, 1, (2004): 3-19.
- 17 The study used linked data from Statistics Canada's Youth Court Survey and Adult Criminal Court Survey to describe the court careers, up to the 22nd birthday, of Canadians born in 1979/80.
- 18 Carrington, Peter, Anthony Matarazzo and Paul deSouza. "Court Careers of a Canadian Birth Cohort," Crime and Justice Research Paper Series, no. 6. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2005.
- 19 Dauvergne, Mia and Geoffrey Li. "Homicide in Canada, 2005" Juristat 26, 6, (2006). Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.
- 20 Canada. Criminal Intelligence Service Canada (CISC). 2006 Annual Report on Organized Crime in Canada. Ottawa: CISC, 2006.
- 21 Erickson, Patricia G. and Jennifer E. Butters. Youth, Weapons and Violence in Toronto and Montréal. Report prepared for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, Ottawa, 2006.
- Astwood Strategy Corporation. 2002 Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs. Ottawa: Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, 2004.
- Canada. Correctional Service Canada (2002). An Examination of Youth and Gang Affiliation within the Federally Sentenced Aboriginal Population. Ottawa: Correctional Service Canada, 2002.
- Canada. Criminal Intelligence Service Canada (CISC). 2006 Annual Report on Organized Crime in Canada. Ottawa: CISC, 2006.
- Canada. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Environmental Scan: Features: Focus on Youth Gangs. Ottawa: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2006.
- Carrington, Peter, Anthony Matarazzo and Paul deSouza. "Court Careers of a Canadian Birth Cohort," Crime and Justice Research Paper Series, no. 6. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2005.
- Dauvergne, Mia and Geoffrey Li. "Homicide in Canada, 2005" Juristat 26, 6, (2006). Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.
- Erickson, Patricia G. and Jennifer E. Butters. Youth, Weapons and Violence in Toronto and Montréal. Report prepared for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada. Ottawa, 2006.
- Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN). Alter-Natives to Non-Violence Report: Aboriginal Youth Gangs Exploration: A Community Development Process. Saskatchewan: FSIN, 2003.
- Gatti, Uberto, Richard E. Tremblay, Frank Vitaro and Pierre McDuff. "Youth Gangs, Delinquency and Drug Use: A Test of the Selection, Facilitation, and Enhancement Hypotheses," Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 46, 11 (2005), pp. 1178-1190.
- Montréal. Montréal Police Service. Provincial Action Plan on Street Gangs. Québec: Department of Public Security, National Coordinating Committee, 2004 [Meeting, Toronto, May 25, 2005].
- Richter-White, Holly. Direct and Indirect Impacts of Organized Crime on Youth, as Offenders and Victims. Ottawa: Community Contract and Aboriginal Policing Service, Research and Evaluation Branch, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2003.
- Thornberry, Terence P., David Huizinga and Rolf Loeber. "The Causes and Correlates Studies: Findings and Policy Implications," Juvenile Justice 10, 1, (2004), pp. 3-19.
- Wortley, Scot and Julian Tanner. "Social Groups or Criminal Organizations? The Extent and Nature of Youth Gang Activity in Toronto" in From Enforcement and Prevention to Civic Engagement: Research on Community Safety, edited by Bruce Kidd and Jim Phillips. Toronto: Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto, (2004), pp. 59-80.
|U.S. (2000)||Canada (2001)|
|Percentage of jurisdictions reporting youth gang activity||40%||23.7%|
|Estimated number of youth gangs||24,500||434|
|Estimated number of gang members||772,500||7,071|
|Density per 1000 population||2.75||0.24|
|Area||Number of Youth Gangs||Number of Youth Gang Members||Youth Gang Members per 1,000 pop.|
|Prince Edward Island||0||0||0|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||0||0||0|
- Date modified: