South Bronx adolescents don't feel safe at home

November 14, 1999

Almost half (46 percent) of the young people in the South Bronx say they don't feel safe in the building where they live, new research shows.

Interviewed by public health and urban violence professionals, 23 percent of the adolescents reported they had been beaten up, 10 percent stabbed, and eight percent shot. In addition, many of the youths had witnessed violent acts; 60 percent had witnessed someone being beaten up, 25 percent someone being stabbed, and 23 percent someone being shot. However, many of the respondents also reported that they took action to reduce the violence, such as helping friends to resolve conflicts peacefully, avoiding dangerous places, and seeking protection from friends.

The street survey of 169 adolescents is part of a new study seeking to integrate young people's perceptions of violence into violence prevention programs in the South Bronx and other urban areas in America. The scientists from Hunter College, City University of New York, University of Illinois, Youth Force, Bronx, New York, and University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey report their findings in the December issue of Health Education & Behavior.

"Violence prevention programs need to address the real threats that young people experience, not those imagined by adults," said Nicholas Freudenberg, DrPh, head of the study. "Our focus groups identified many of these real threats including family abuse or neglect, youth programs that fail to provide the skills needed to avoid violence, mass media that portrays non-white young men as the enemy, and police attitudes that make victims reluctant to report crime."

The researchers did not find significant differences between young men and women in rates of exposure to violence. Young women were asked in focus groups to speculate why there wasn¹t a difference. They felt that women may have become more aggressive in recent years. "We are stronger and don't take ---- from anyone," one young woman said, but as a result "we get in more trouble now."

Intimate relationships also play into the violence scenario brought out in focus groups. Young women said men hold most of the power in the relationships, men determine the relationship's nature and length, and this leads to women's feelings of vulnerability to violence.

"We need to develop interventions that address both the gender-specific and shared needs of young men and women, seek out the causes and consequences of different forms of violence, and address each adequately," said Freudenberg.

Compared to New York City as a whole, the South Bronx has more than twice the rate of poverty, a greater proportion of adolescents, and higher rates of health problems such as infant mortality, low birth weight, and births to teenagers. Its homicide rates are two to three times that of New York City as a whole. With a population of 470,000, it contains the poorest Congressional district in the United States.

The study was supported in part by funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
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Health Education & Behavior, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), publishes research on critical health issues for professionals in the implementation and administration of public health information programs. SOPHE is an international, non-profit professional organization that promotes the health of all people through education. For information about the journal, contact Elaine Auld at 202-408-9804.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health http://www.cfah.org. For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, pchong@cfah.org 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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