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Chapter 2:
The Magnitude of Youth Violence

Measuring Youth Violence

The Violence Epidemic

Arrests for Violent Crimes

Prevalence of Violent Behavior

Differences by Sex and Race/Ethnicity

Violence at School

Gangs and Violence

Conclusions

References

Appendix 2-A

Chapter 2


CONCLUSIONS

The United States suffered an epidemic of violence in the decade from about 1983 to 1993. Arrest rates of young people for homicide and other violent crimes skyrocketed. Several other violence indicators confirmed an epidemic of violence during that period.

There are three factors that appear to play a significant role in this dramatic surge in lethal violence or injury: gangs, drugs, and guns. The combination of increased involvement in gangs, selling drugs on the street, and carrying guns for protection had lethal implications. And it was African American and Hispanic males who were disproportionately caught up in this set of circumstances.

After 1993/1994, arrests and victims' reports of violence began to decline, returning in 1999 to rates only slightly higher than those in 1983. These declines come as welcome news. Yet several other leading indicators of violence remain high. Young people's self-reports of violence have not declined at all. Arrest rates for aggravated assault remain quite high. Some estimates of gang membership indicate that this problem remains close to levels at the peak of the epidemic. Indeed, self-reported violent behavior is at least as high today as it was in 1993. Why has this important indicator of violence remained high while other indicators have come down?

A major reason is firearms usage. It is now clear that the violence epidemic was caused largely by an upsurge in the use of firearms by young people. Ready access to firearms during a violent confrontation often had grievous consequences. Youth violence became more lethal, resulting in dramatically higher rates of homicide and serious injury. This triggered reporting to and response from police, leading to higher rates of arrest. Although firearm usage may not cause violence, it clearly increases the severity of violence.

Today's youth violence is less lethal, largely because of a decline in the use of firearms. Fewer young people today are carrying weapons, including guns, and fewer are taking them to school. Homicides at school are declining. Violent confrontations are less likely to result in killing or serious injury, and the police are less likely to be called in for an arrest.

This is a heartening trend, but this is not the time for complacency. Violent behavior is just as prevalent today as it was during the violence epidemic. Some 10 to 15 percent of high school seniors reveal in confidential surveys that they have committed at least one act of serious violence in the past year. This prevalence rate has been slowly yet steadily rising since 1980.

There is also a difference by sex in the volume of violence. Male youths commit many more violent acts than female youths, according to both arrest records and self-reports. The existence of a racial difference between African American and white youths is more questionable. Arrest records indicate that many more African American than white youths commit violent crimes, whereas self-reports indicate much smaller racial differences in incident rates and nonexistent differences in prevalence rates. The disparities between these two indicators of violence have not been satisfactorily investigated, and more research on them is clearly warranted.

Looking at all self-reported violent behavior, it is apparent that youth violence still poses a serious public health problem. Should firearms once again become appealing and accessible to young people, the potential for a recurrence of the violence epidemic is quite real. The magnitude of serious violence occurring beneath the police radar should warn us that youth violence is a persistent problem demanding a focus on prevention.

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APPENDIX 2-A

Number, percent, and rates of nonfatal firearm-related injuries of youths age 10-19 treated in hospital emergency departments, 1993-1998*

Appendix 2-A (click to enlarge)


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