Paris, France, April 2021 – The French Forum for Urban Security (FFSU) and Efus organized a web conference on the prevention of group violence among young people – a phenomenon of particular interest and relevance to communities both in France and across Europe. The session – held on 25 March as part of FFSU’s National Convention on Local Security (Assises de la sécurité des territoires) – brought together nearly 140 participants.
The web conference took place against a backdrop of growing unease with regard to this issue. Last February, three people were killed amid violent clashes between youth gangs in the Paris region, putting the phenomenon of group violence firmly back into both the political and media spotlights.
An old but evolving phenomenon
Efus continues to pursue its work at the European level on this old but ever complex phenomenon, which, at least in France, seems to have been on the rise in recent years. According to the French Ministry of the Interior, 357 altercations were recorded in France in 2020 – practically one per day – against 288 in 2019. According to official data, three people were killed and 218 injured in the 357 recorded clashes last year. It must be noted, however, that these figures should be interpreted with caution, since the phenomenon is difficult to measure.
French local authorities are keen to tackle this phenomenon, which has been going on for decades even though it is now taking new forms linked to social media. During the web conference, participants discussed the definition of group violence and shared ideas about strategies for different localities, the place of peers and families in preventative efforts, and the evolving impact of social media on this form of confrontation.
Understanding group violence: definition and characteristics
Group violence is a multifaceted and shifting phenomenon, both in terms of its definition and its characteristics. Territorial factors offer just one fragment of the explanation: in cases of group violence, cause-and-effect are often blurred, and events that might seem insignificant to external observers can spark major conflagrations.
Group violence is the materialisation of much deeper social phenomena: questions of youth identity, often based on various complex ideas of honour, mingle with territorial claims.
Outbreaks of group violence are generally characterized by a strong confusion between the individual and the group: individual conflict quickly becomes that of the collective. It is therefore essential to tackle the issue of youth brawls through both a collective and an individualised approach. It is also necessary, alongside other more direct preventative measures, to work on long-term strategies to counter the culture of violence among young people.
Mobilising civil society: parents and peers
Young people generally exist in three distinct spheres: in school, in public spaces and in the family. While educational actors are often the most likely to get involved in countering issues of group violence, parents and peers must also be mobilised, particularly in light of the increasing trivialization of violence in present-day society.
Supporting parents struggling against violent situations can go a long way in tackling youth involvement in dangerous brawls. Parental authority is sometimes weakened, even completely rejected, during adolescence, when young people are developing their personal identities, even as such authority remains an essential benchmark for youth socialization. In any action to prevent youth violence, the whole family unit must be taken into account.
Peer support is also an important technique for reaching out to young people, and can often be more impactful than traditional prevention activities. Young people themselves may be better placed to calm tensions among their peers than external professionals. Sharing experiences can be particularly useful to directly raise awareness among young people as they share common issues/struggles. This does, however, carry the risk of inspiring dangerous acts of imitation so must be closely monitored.
The impact of social media and the Internet
Social media have had a major impact on the gravity and escalation of group violence. In the present context, it is essential to make use of digital tools in order to better anticipate and counter outbreaks of group violence.
Supporting young people in navigating this vast new digital public space is an indispensable aspect of preventative policy. So far, however, few major projects seem to have been implemented, besides Les Promeneurs du Net (Web Walkers). This website – funded by French public authorities and inspired by a Swedish practice – allows young people to easily access advice and information on how to stay safe online.
The main takeaway from this web conference is that there are no miracle instant-fix solutions to the problem of group violence. Instead, we must focus on identifying and implementing a comprehensive set of long-term practices.
> Find out more about FFSU’s National Convention on Local Security (Assises de la sécurité des territoires)
> Read FFSU’s press release on the role of local authorities in the prevention of group violence
> Read the article on the FFSU published in the French daily L’Humanité