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The issue of youth crime is never far from the top of the political agenda and the front pages. Yet at present there is no large-scale youth offending survey in Scotland, which makes it very difficult to gain a wholly accurate picture of the extent and nature of crime being committed by young people across the country.
Existing research data has, however, been instrumental in our understanding of youth offending, for example in identifying a strong association between victimisation and offending among young people. The longitudinal Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime identified that victimisation and offending are, to a large extent, dual aspects of the same social situations, interactions, behaviour patterns, and personal characteristics.
The victims of crimes committed by young people are also most likely to be young people themselves and there is strong evidence that many young people who commit crimes have, before they became offenders, been victims themselves. In this context, Victim Support Scotland (VSS), commissioned Ipsos MORI
to undertake qualitative research with young people which focussed specifically on their attitudes towards crime and victimisation, support and advice services, and in particular, their opinions of possible support scenarios for young victims.
Our research highlighted a number of key challenges in relation to the victimisation of young people and the difficulties in trying to encourage them to engage with support services. While the majority of young people we spoke to had been victimised at some time in the past, very few had told anyone, or ‘grassed’, for fear of the situation being exacerbated or ‘losing face’ in front of their friends. There was a strong reluctance to tell anyone in a position of authority or trust, such as teachers, social workers and especially the police, and some didn’t even want to tell family members or friends as they were concerned about the consequences if the perpetrator were to discover that they had spoken out.
Our work also illustrated that many young victims do not regard their experience as serious and are wary of being labelled as a ‘victim’. Rather, they are inclined to consider crime as just a normal part of being young and they don’t tend to recognise the value in seeking support outside their circle of friends.
That said, young people are conscious that crime could have a number of consequences for victims and understood how it could negatively impact on their lives. They recognise that victims could suffer damaged confidence and low self-esteem, leaving them feeling so anxious that it might happen again that they are scared to go out alone or socialise with friends. Male respondents in particular talked about how being a victim could make someone feel angry and want to retaliate, and from our discussions with them, this would appear to be one of the main reasons for ongoing disputes among groups of young people.
The research findings suggest a number of improvements could be made. Firstly, there is a real need to target young people across Scotland with specialised projects or programmes aimed at educating them about issues relating to crime and victimisation, and to raise their awareness of support services and how they can be accessed.
Secondly, there is a need to address the difficult relationships young people often have with authority figures like teachers and the police, which make them disinclined to report incidents. By building trust and improving relationships with adults, young people should be more likely to report incidents to the police, which in turn should facilitate their access to the support they may require. Finally, we need to know more about the experiences of offenders and victims, suggesting that more research should be done in this field.
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