Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Youth Violence in South Africa: Exposure, Attitudes, and Resilience in Zulu Adolescents

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Youth Violence in South Africa: Exposure, Attitudes, and Resilience in Zulu Adolescents

Article excerpt

Exposure to violence is common in South Africa. Yet, few studies examine how violence exposure contributes to South African adolescents' participation in youth violence. The aims of this study were to examine effects of different violence exposures on violent attitudes and behavior, to test whether attitudes mediated effects of violence exposures on violent behavior, and to test whether adult involvement had protective or promotive effects. Questionnaires were administered to 424 Zulu adolescents in township high schools around Durban, South Africa. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to test associations among violence exposures and both violent attitudes and behavior. Victimization, witnessing violence, and friends' violent behavior contributed directly to violent behavior. Only family conflict and friends' violence influenced violent attitudes. Attitudes mediated effects of friends' violence on violent behavior. Multiple-group SEM indicated that adult involvement fit a protective model of resilience. These findings are discussed regarding their implications for prevention.

Keywords: adolescence; resilience; South Africa; violence exposure; youth violence

South Africa's (S.A.) homicide rate ranks among the most violent in the world (Norman, Matzopoulos, Groenewald, & Bradshaw, 2007). Community violence is prevalent in S.A., and youth living in townships experience disproportionate levels of violence making them a high-risk group (Shields, Nadasen, & Pierce, 2008). South African youth report high levels of exposure to multiple forms of violence and elevated levels of psychological distress and aggression (Barbarin & Richter, 2001; Shields et al., 2008). Yet, few researchers study how different forms of violence exposure influence South African adolescents' violent behavior.

Exposure to violence is a phenomenon shared by high-risk youth in the United States and S.A. (Aisenberg & Herrenkohl, 2008; Barbarin & Richter, 2001; Shields et al., 2008). The past repression of the Black majority in S.A. has contributed to widespread poverty and high rates of juvenile homicide (Norman et al., 2007). African Americans are a minority of the U.S. population and the racial discrimination they face is different than that experienced by Black South Africans. Despite differences, Black adolescents in both nations share similar economic and social disadvantages to offer some meaningful comparison and replication of U.S. research, which is necessary to determine whether findings are unique to American youth or more universally applicable. This study tests violence exposure models based on U.S. research with a high-risk sample of Black adolescents to help elucidate the etiology of youth violence in S.A.


Violence exposure is related consistently to U.S. adolescents' violent behavior (Aisenberg & Herrenkohl, 2008; Buka, Stichick, Birdthistle, & Earls, 2001; Gorman-Smith, Henry, & Tolan, 2004; Gorman-Smith & Tolan, 1998; Ozer, 2005). Victimization is arguably the most stressful and salient type of violence exposure and therefore more likely to contribute to violent behavior than indirect experiences witnessing or hearing about violence. A recent meta-analysis indicated that victimization predicted more aggression and delinquency among U.S. youth than witnessing violence (Fowler, Tompsett, Braciszewski, Jacques-Tiura, & Baltes, 2009). These results suggest the proximity of violence exposure determines subsequent increases in violent behavior. Yet, few researchers have distinguished between types of violence exposure (Aisenberg & Herrenkohl, 2008; Guerra, Huesmann, & Spindler, 2003). Notably, Shields, Nadasen, and Pierce (2009) found among S.A. youth that victimization was more noxious in schools than neighborhoods, but that witnessing violence was worse in neighborhoods.

Violent Attitudes and Behavior

Favorable attitudes toward violence elevate risk for violent behavior during adolescence (Andreas & Watson, 2009; Dodge & Pettit, 2003). …

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