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Focus needed in youth violence prevention

Juvenile violence has been on the increase over the past 20 years Keystone

A more coherent policy is needed to fight the problem of violence among Swiss youths, a government-commissioned report has found.

This content was published on May 25, 2009 - 15:31

Experts are therefore calling for better prevention and coordination efforts, as well as a clear focus on "at risk" children and families.

The report, presented to the media in Bern on Monday, found that youths aged 12-17 were victims of an estimated 40,000-55,000 cases of robbery, about 30,000 bodily harm offences that resulted in a doctor's visit and 35,000 sexual attacks each year in Switzerland.

"These are significant numbers that make a coherent prevention policy legitimate," said Manuel Eisner, a Swiss sociologist who teaches at the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University in Britain, and co-author of the study.

He added that the real figures could be much higher. Figures have been rising over the past 20 years, experts say.

Eisner said that while violence was a problem for the minority, its consequences were much more far reaching.

He said that one of the most surprising findings of the report was that while there were many violence prevention programmes in Switzerland, there was a lack of coordination.

"It is an enormously complex patchwork of different people and institutions doing all kinds of different things. But there is no clear vision where they want to go and why they are doing this," Eisner told swissinfo.ch.

This was, however, a phenomenon common in most western societies, he added.

The authors of the report called for more evidence-based prevention efforts, improved statistics and for better coordination among the different players working in prevention. They also recommended the introduction of a quality label for violence prevention programmes.

Risk factors

The risk factors are essentially the same in most western, industrialised societies, Eisner said.

"This is one of the reasons why the report says that we should learn from each other, from different countries, about effective violence prevention measures," Eisner said.

There is a typical aggressive young offender profile. "He's usually male, has a low level of self control and a history of problem behaviour from childhood," he said.

Other risk factors are frequent conflicts within the family, poor supervision and discipline. Many are victims of violence at home as well.

Often offenders are not motivated to go to school and frequently feel let down by the teachers.

Repression, prevention

Eisner believes prevention and repression must not be played off against each other.

He is convinced that police have an important role and points to interesting developments in effective policing strategies.

Eisner says that it becomes more problematic when repression is seen foremost as extended prison sentences, because "the evidence currently suggests they are not the right thing".

However, repression measures by police against hooligans are very promising, he said.

"Not many other manifestations of youth violence are so concentrated in time and space. You know where [the hooliganism] is going to be and who's going to be there," Eisner added.

Violence and new media

The report recommends measures within families, schools and apprenticeships, and also for the media, particularly on the internet.

Olivier Steiner, an expert from the Basel-based College for Social Work and the report's other author, says unsupervised access to the internet for minors and a lack of parental involvement are crucial factors in the violence debate.

The survey found that nearly nine out of ten families in Switzerland have a computer and that around two out of five had a games console.

Almost 30 per cent of 12- to 16-year-olds have a console in their own room and slightly more can access the internet, according to Steiner.

"There is a risk that children play killer games and watch pornographic content online if parents refuse to get involved," Steiner said.

Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch

Key facts

Up to 50,000 teenagers in Switzerland become victims of robbery every year.
An estimated 30,000 teenagers suffer injuries as a result of violence and have to consult a doctor.
Experts estimated that 100,000 people aged 12-17 suffered injuries from physical aggression without a weapon.
Some 35,000 teenagers become victims of sexual violence.
An estimated 300,000 suffer from bullying, harassment and intimidation.

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In brief

The government-commissioned report on youth violence was published in response to calls on the issue by parliament over the past six years.

In the report, experts call for a national prevention programme, improved cooperation and continued research.

Detailed measures to increase prevention measures for youth violence are planned for next year.

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