Over the past decade, youth crime has been on the decline. However, the rate of violent crime committed by youth is on the rise.
The definition of youth varies with each source and is clarified throughout the body of this report. Violent offences include: homicide; attempted murder; robbery; sexual assault; other sexual assault; major assault; common assault; uttering threats; criminal harassment; and other violent offences.
Sexual Violence and Youth
The adolescent sexual offender is defined as a youth, from 12 to 17 years of age, who commits any sexual act with a person of any age, against the victim’s will, without consent, or in an aggressive, exploitative or threatening manner.
Youth aged 12 to 17 have nearly double the rate of sexual assault offenders than that of the 18 to 34 age group, and more than double the rate of 35- to 44-year-olds, according to a Statistics Canada study published in 2008.
Sexual violence affects a significant proportion of youth. For example, 3–24% of women surveyed in the WHO Multi-Country study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence report that their first sexual experience was forced.
In part due to a deficit in research, rehabilitation efforts remain problematic. Treatment options are minimal for youth sexual offenders. A research report by Public Safety Canada stated that existing research provides little direction on effective treatment for this population and much work needs to be done.
A report by the Halton Trauma Centre in Ontario clarified that despite the high number of youth sexual offending cases reported in many provinces and territories in Canada, only British Columbia and Nova Scotia have mandated protocols for the treatment of youth sexual offenders. This report aimed to share the need for Ontario and other provinces in Canada to implement similar procedures, including specific suggestions for protocols in Ontario.
Homicide and Youth
Globally, Canada ranks 28th out of 70 countries for the country with the most homicides committed by youth (15- 24 yrs.).
According to the World Health Organization:
- Homicide perpetrated by youth is escalating with credit attributed to the increase in numbers of attacks involving firearms. Attacks not involving firearms such as fists, feet, knives and clubs result in fewer incidents of death.
- In 2000, an estimated 199 000 youth homicides (9.2 per 100 000 population) occurred globally. In other words, an average of 565 children, adolescents and young adults between the ages of 10 and 29 years die each day as a result of interpersonal violence.
In 2013, homicide rates across the country totaled 505 and 166 of those murders occurred in Ontario. The definition of youth varies from source to source though it is commonly accepted in Canada that individuals 29 yrs. or younger fall within that classification.
According Stats Canada’s most recent report regarding youth and homicide 39 youth between the ages of 12 – 17 yrs. (1.63 per 100 thousand) were accused of homicide in 2013- an increase of 14%, or 4 more homicides, than the previous year. This increase was driven entirely by female youth, as there were 5 female youth accused of homicide in 2013 compared to 1 in 2012.
Youth accounted for 9% of all persons accused of homicide in 2013, though some characteristics of homicides involving youth accused differed from those involving adult accused. For example, 30% of youth accused of homicide were accused in a gang-related incident, compared to 9% of adults.
*Since 2003, there have been 7 children (under the age of 12) accused of homicide in Canada. While a small number of children have been accused of homicide over this period, it is important to note that, in Canada, children under the age of 12 cannot be held criminally responsible for homicide, or any other criminal offence.
The above crime statistics report all incidents reported to the police regardless of charges laid or outcome. However, the Youth Court Statistics Canada 2010/2011 report focuses on actual cases representative of charges and results. In 2011/2012 Youth Court Statistics recorded 13, 095 violent offences committed by youth.
Youth by this definition ranges from 12 – 17 yrs. only.
Violent offences charged and convicted in a court included: homicide- 46 convictions; attempted murder- 7 convictions; robbery- 2,413 convictions; sexual assault- 905 convictions; other sexual assault- 347 convictions; major assault- 2,864 convictions; common assault- 4,026 convictions; uttering threats- 2,025 convictions; criminal harassment- 172 convictions; and other violent offences- 290 convictions.
In Canada a separate justice system exists for youth 12 – 17 yrs. and adults 18 yrs. and older. Upon reviewing national statistics youth and young adults who are charged with the offence of violating the Criminal Code have decreased. The criminal justice system opted to deal with offences through the use of warnings, cautions and referrals to community programs.
Not Just a Justice Issue
Society often views the occurrence of crime as a policing issue. However, workshops and campaigns designed to serve the professional development of sectors inclusive of law enforcement, social, health, educational and of families have encouraged an understanding that the rates of criminal offence among youth are a societal concern and responsibility. Enforcement is the last line of defense when every other institution has fallen short of supporting youth at risk to commit violent crime.
The World Health Organization identified 3 significant factors influencing the development of violent behaviour among youth:
- Poor behavioural control
- Attention problems
- History of early aggressive behavior
- Low educational achievement
Influences by Family and Peers
- Poor supervision of children by parents and harsh physical punishment to discipline children
- Parental conflict in early childhood
- A low level of attachment between parents and children
- A mother who had her first child at an early age
- Experiencing parental separation or divorce at a young age
- A low level of family cohesion
- Low socioeconomic status of the family
Social, Political and Cultural Factors
- Gangs and a local supply of guns and drugs are a potent mixture, increasing the likelihood of youth violence
- Low levels of social cohesion within a community have been linked to higher rates of youth violence
- The quality of a country’s governance – its laws and the extent to which they are enforced, as well as policies for social protection – has an important effect on violence
- Factors such as income inequality, rapid demographic changes in the youth population, and urbanization have all been positively linked with youth violence
- Cultures that do not provide non-violent alternatives for resolving conflicts appear to have higher rates of youth violence
Intervention and Prevention
Intervention and prevention strategies have been undertaken to nip the problem of youth violence in the bud. Interventions seeking to change an individual’s skills, attitudes and beliefs have been implemented in the school setting and focus on conflict resolution and anger management.
Prevention strategies also include early intervention strategies that focus on providing parents with information about early childhood development, effective discipline and improving communication. These techniques have been touted as the most promising remedies curing violence perpetuated by youth.
Other approaches focus on community settings and societal factors related to youth violence. This can range from public information campaigns to community policing in the schools. These approaches also include judicial, legislative and educational reforms designed to deal with social change and gun violence among youths.
Most of these approaches have not been evaluated.
While the stats are compelling, stock approaches to reducing violent crime among youth hardly leave one with a sense of hope. But for a few exceptions, these strategies seem to offer a shiny veneer intended to distract the masses from any real accountability that is personal, elected or privileged. And these glossy appeasements hardly conceal the dents in the rapidly eroding façade of public civility.
Reversing generations of strife that has inspired a culture of violence among youth requires a major overhaul of a myriad of social, economic, health, educational and political systems. The ability to nurture up young folk that are healthy and contributing members of society, flourishes when solutions are developed at the grassroots level.