Co-Victimization among African-American Adolescents

Article excerpt

CONCEPT OF CO-VICTIMIZATION

Shakoor and Chalmers (1991) described co-victimization as the experience of witnessing violent assault on another person. African-American adolescents often are exposed to forms of violence ranging from rape, murder, sexual abuse, incest, aggravated physical assault, arson, and armed robbery. Exposure occurs either directly or indirectly through the media.

Urban African-American adolescents are at greater risk for co-victimization than adolescents who live in suburban or rural settings. Johnson (1985) suggested that African-American adolescents, particularly males, are more likely to die or to require hospitalization as the result of gunshot or knife wounds than any other cause. Johnson went further by suggesting that violence threatens the survival of the African-American adolescent. He noted that the violence consists of two parts. The first involves self-inflicted activities such as the use of alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, and angel dust. The second involves violence inflicted by peers in the schools and in the streets.

IMPACT OF CO-VICTIMIZATION ON AFRICAN-AMERICAN ADOLESCENTS

Pynoos and Nader (1988) posited that many African-American adolescents who suffer from co-victimization often display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These symptoms include reexperiencing the event in play or dreams through intrusive images and sounds, sleep disorders, and constricted affect or aggression when confronted with a conflict. In addition, they suggested that grief can become problematic for African-American adolescents who are exposed to the type of violence that results in the death of a family member or close friend (Pynoos & Nader, 1990).

Eth and Pynoos (1984) indicated that the psychological trauma experienced by these adolescents harms their cognition, memory, school performance, and learning. Hyman, Zelikoff, and Clarke (1988) supported this hypothesis by postulating that adolescents exposed to violence may have lower self-esteem and consequently display a decline in cognitive performance and school achievement. Black (1982) found that, in general, adolescents exposed to co-victimization were more likely to develop psychological disorders (e.g., depression) than those who were not. Further, Green and Berkowitz (1976) suggested that frustration contributes to the aggressive behaviors exhibited by adolescents after witnessing violent acts.

Shakoor and Chalmers (1991) suggested that the frustration of co-victimization, the violence depicted on television, and the interpersonal violence in the home tend to arouse and stimulate the adolescent. They conducted a survey in which they interviewed 1,035 African-American adolescents, ages 10 to 19, from two public elementary schools and five high schools in Chicago. The authors hypothesized that co-victimization would affect the students' cognitive, emotional and behavioral development. Chicago's 1986 crime rate was 22.9 per 1,000, a figure twice as high as the national average. In 1987, 691 murders were committed in Chicago, with African-Americans accounting for 71% of the murders and 35% of the victims being under the age of 20. Based on these statistics, Shakoor and Chalmers posited that African-American youths witnessed over 50% of the murders that occurred between 1986 and 1987.

Shakoor and Chalmers (1991) used several questionnaires to gather their data - primarily the Victimization Screening Form and the Violence Screening Form. The questionnaires were administered during a workshop that focused on co-victimization and the prevention of violent acts. Over half of the sample belonged to the lower socioeconomic class.

The results of the survey suggested a relationship between co-victimization and cognitive performance as well as emotional development. African-American adolescents were more likely to experience depression, lack of trust, anxiety, and personality changes. In addition, these youth tended to use alcohol and drugs to cope with their emotional distress. …

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