Any assumption that young people are prone to violence – such as those underpinning the Queensland Liberal National Party’s recent “crackdown on youth crime” policy – needs to be challenged by better understanding the slippery definition of what is violence.
To better understand youth violence, Flinders University youth sociology researcher Dr Ben Lohmeyer interviewed 28 young people across Australia who are subjected to violence, who use violence and who resist violence.
Their experiences have been catalogued in a new book – Youth and Violent Performativites: Re-Examining the connection between youth and violence – addressing situations of how young people become violent, as well as examining how they enact and resist violent choices.
“Rather than presume young people are violent, this book examines how violence shapes their lives and subsequently teaches them how to act and influences who they become,” says Dr Lohmeyer.
“I want to ask difficult questions, such as when does violence become an accepted part of our society and ask how do young people act out or try to avoid violence.”
Young people interviewed for this book were in the child protection system, juvenile justice system or involved in nonviolent activism.
Dr Lohmeyer believes examining these young people’s “messy” stories helps to reframe the physical violence that is routinely attributed to young people as a product of violating systems and structures.
“Another way of describing them might be as victims, perpetrators and resisters to violence. – but these young people’s experiences with violence are mixed and messy were lines like victim and perpetrator, or violent and not violent are not so clear,” he says.
He points to the story of Mia recalling her first time in juvenile detention and defending her friend who was being bullied by a dozen other inmates. “I didn’t like that, so I went up to them all, all 12 of them, and was just ‘which one of youse want to fight?’ You know? And out of all of them not one of them stepped up. So ever since then the girls would never run me down in there, but.”
Dr Lohmeyer says close listening to her story reveals a young person who has much to teach us about preventing violence. “The stories uncover many messy and imperfect attempts to resist and avoid violence, but the hopeful message coming from these stories is that young people not inherently violent. Instead, they are actively searching for ways to create a world without violence.”
Dr Lohmeyer finds that violence had become entwined with some young interviewees in complicated ways. One interviewee, Tristan, witnessed his cousin become a victim of domestic violence. Tristan and his family rushed to protect her, wielding weapons and threatening violence against the boyfriend. As the boyfriend ran away, Tristan prevented his uncle from pursuing the boyfriend, realising that revenge would likely come at the cost of prison time for his uncle.
Tristan’s story and experiences in the child protection system showed that violence has been a consistent theme in his life, and to him had become more than a way to solve problems or is isolated to extreme moments. “Violence was something that shaped his life, identity and way of being in the world,” says Dr Lohmeyer.
In re-examining youth, violence and resistance through the interviews with these young people, the book makes a valuable contribution to contemporary international scholarship on youth and violence, while also examining the potential for complicity to violence in youth research and practice.
“It offers youth scholars and practitioners a framework for reassessing their theoretical frameworks and methods for studying and working with young people in connection with violence,” says Dr Lohmeyer.
Youth and Violent Performativites: Re-Examining the connection between youth and violence, by Ben Lohmeyer, is published by Springer as part of its Perspectives on Children and Young People series. (https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9789811555411)
Dr Lohmeyer also presents articles on this subject on his own blog site – https://someyouthfulthoughts.wordpress.com/