A culture of violence?

It is also essential, as part of understanding local contexts, to explore the extent to which a culture of violence exists and the extent to which violence manifests itself in different ways – for example, in domestic violence, hate crime or alcohol-related violence, experiences of intimidation or bullying, public disorder and rioting, political violence emanating from violent demonstrations, as well as in military actions overseas. Violence may have an on-going impact on a number of aspects of the lives of young people; it may become normalised as part of everyday life and accepted as ‘the way things are’. Moreover, those in power may sometimes consider that their interests are best served by allowing a culture of violence – with conflicting factions becoming further entrenched in their opposing positions – to continue. Societies across Europe have many sources of difference – socioeconomic, political, ethnic and religious lines. It is important that these are considered carefully as part of contextual analysis. Young people may see violence as a legitimate way of handling conflict, they may be ready to use it as a means of advancing a particular cause, or they may find it difficult to see solutions or alternatives to violence. The sense of powerlessness experienced by many young people should not be disregarded in terms of how it motivates some young people to take extreme actions. This reinforces the need to talk openly and directly with young people about violence – and to explicitly name issues such as racism and sectarianism as issues of violence, in order to challenge the prevailing culture and to find alternatives. It is also worth noting the complexity of young people’s lives – not just in terms of pressure to succeed, or pressure to fit in, but also in terms of community expectations. For example, young people from innercity neighbourhoods can spend a significant amount of time managing competing demands and pressures from different sources – which may include representatives of armed groups, as well as parents, teachers, leaders of extra-curricular activities, local community leaders and police officers. At the age of 15 or 16, this requires a complex set of skills in order to stay safe, let alone succeed.

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