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Youth Violence Data

In order to take action on the issue of youth violence, we must first understand the problem.

Three main approaches to measuring the extent of youth violence are commonly used: official crime statistics, self reported data, and injury/mortality rates due to assaults. Each approach is described in detail below.

1. Official crime statistics compiled by law enforcement agencies.

This type of data can answer questions about the number of crimes reported to the police, the volume and types of arrests, and how the volume changes over time.
However, it cannot completely answer questions about how many young people commit violent crimes or how many violent crimes were committed because many go unreported to the police. It could be said that arrest records are the best measure of the justice system's response to observed or reported crime.

It is also important to consider that violence rates from police reports of incidents can be influenced by the reporting system itself, and rates can increase alongside efforts made to improve reporting (1). This leads to the second approach below of self-reported victimization data in order to account for unreported acts of violence.

Data Resources for Official Crime Statistics:

2. Self-reported data from the victim or perpetrator of violent acts.

Reports from young people themselves offer a way to measure violent behaviour that never reaches the attention of the justice system. Self-reports are well suited to answering questions that relate to the magnitude of violent behaviour and how it may develop.

The advantages of self-reported data is that it can capture unreported offences, additional details not found in arrest records, and it is not subject to biases involved in the arrest process. One limitation to self-reporting is that youth may fail to report their violent behaviour accurately, either deliberately or because of memory recall issues, and they may exaggerate their involvement, reporting rather trivial events in response to questions about serious forms of violence. Sophisticated self-reporting measures can help to minimize the error of over-reporting.

Data Resources for Self-Reported Violence and Crime:

  • The 2011 Peel Student Health Report includes data about Peel students' feelings of safety at home, at school and in the community, as well as being the victim of bullying.

  • The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) surveys Ontario students every two years and collects data related to:
    • School climate and connectedness
    • Externalizing behaviours (delinquency, violence, gang membership,violence on school property, and bullying at school)
    • Socio-demographics

  • The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Profile Series (Statistics Canada) has several publications about self-reported crime and violence in Canada and by province.

3. Injury and mortality rates due to assaults.

This type of data can report on injuries or mortality (i.e. death) due to assaults that are entered into the hospital system and vital statistics. Again, it is limited in that many people injured due to a violent assault do not get treated in the hospital. Further, there are many more non-fatal injuries than fatal injuries for assault.

Data Resources for injuries and mortality:

  • Peel Health Status Data can be accessed for Peel-specific data regarding:
    • Leading causes of injuries and mortality
    • Hospitalization, emergency department visits and mortality due to assault
    • Socio-demographics (e.g. population size, education gender, income, employment, etc.)

  • The Peel Data Centre can also be accessed for data pertaining to socio-demographics for the Peel population.

Summary

All three types of measures contribute to our understanding of violence. They are valid and reliable ways of measuring the particular aspects of violence for which they are designed. The key to using the above measures, in addition to other potential data sources, is to understand their relative strengths and limitations, determine where they reinforce each other and where they diverge and then interpret the differences in findings (2).

A systematic approach to data collection and reporting would allow for a comprehensive picture of youth violence and the ability to compare rates of youth violence between jurisdictions and over time. There is currently limited Peel-specific data to fully understand the picture of violence among the Peel youth population, and how it compares to other jurisdictions. In some cases, data is only available at the provincial or federal level. More effort is required to understand the full magnitude of youth violence and its contributing factors in the Peel region.

Advocating for consistent measurement of youth violence municipally, provincially, nationally, and even internationally can help contribute to a stronger surveillance system for youth violence.

References

  1. Piscitelli, A. (2008). Measuring Violence: Canadian Municipal Violence Rates inContext. Region of Waterloo Crime Prevention Council.
  2. US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Surgeon General (2001).Youth violence: a report of the surgeon general.

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