Paris, France, May 2021 – As part of a series of web conferences on the prevention of group violence among young people, the European (Efus) and French (FFSU) Forums organised an online meeting on 18 May on the topic of peer-to-peer prevention, which gathered about 50 local security actors: local elected officials, municipal technicians and association representatives.
The young people involved in this kind of group violence are teenagers and young adults. As such, they are going through a period of life where they are building their personal and social identity. They can find themselves in violent situations, whether as perpetrator or victim.
When a young person builds their social identity, they do so by confronting adults and by bonding with peers with whom they share a similar social identity and a strong sense of belonging. Groups of youths coalesce around friendship and their shared neighbourhood. Many of the youngsters involved in group violence feel pressured by their peers (“we can’t say no”) and by values such as loyalty, honour and reputation. It’s precisely because they understand what these young people are going through and because they are “like them” that peers can act in the neighbourhood to prevent or mitigate conflicts.
A complementary approach
The peer-to-peer preventive approach is complementary to more traditional approaches for the prevention of tensions, harassment and violence, and must always be part of a global prevention policy. Even though it’s not new, this approach is sometimes questioned, in particular because it raises ethical questions. It is seldom used in France and in Europe.
Mediation at school
Mediation at school is done by deploying social mediators in and around schools with the objective of preventing conflictive situations, such as harassment for example. School mediators can provide individual or group counselling to pupils and design projects that are included in the school’s extra-curricular activities.
It is very important that such initiatives be supervised by teaching staff and adults in order to avoid having young mediators shoulder on their own problems that are beyond their capacity. Furthermore, this kind of initiative must be long-term and be regularly assessed.
Some schools will be wary of such schemes because they don’t want to risk putting young people in risky situations when traditional mediation, i.e., by adult mediators, works well. It is thus important to thoroughly brief the young mediators so they don’t find themselves in any kind of danger.
On the other hand, it is also important not to burden them with overly restrictive guidelines because it would stifle their spontaneity. Moralising discourses should also be avoided.
Role models and positive leaders
This preventive approach relies on older role models that the youngsters listen to and respect. Who can be a role model? Are they free to act as they wish, or should they be supervised by ‘traditional’ prevention professionals? Should we institutionalise such exchanges between generations? How to evaluate the impact of this approach? Representatives from local authorities shared their experience.
Rap for peace
The City of Saint-Denis (near Paris, France) mentioned the mediation work done by Adama Camara. This 32-year-old ex-prisoner (he served a sentence for having shot several young people to avenge his brother who had been stabbed to death) now spends his time doing prevention activities in deprived neighbourhoods. In Saint-Denis, he intervened with pupils aged 13 to 15 of two colleges that were at the centre of inter-neighbourhood fights among youths. This month of July, he will organise writing workshops (rap, slam, poems) in Saint-Denis as part of his prevention scheme titled Descente de mots (“word raid”) with young volunteers and potential leaders.
The municipality of Saint-Denis has decided to extend this initiative to other colleges and to enrol other adult role models (for example theatre companies).
From Paris to the Bronx
Mamadou Doucara, director of a youth centre in Paris, enrolled two “charismatic youngsters” to prevent fights between young residents of the 18th and 19th districts (arrondissements) of Paris. The youth centre provided them with cameras so they could shoot a documentary. Following this, a trip was organised in the Bronx in New York for a group of youngsters from the two rival neighbourhoods. In the end, the fact that the two young role models knew the neighbourhoods well and were aware of what was going on helped dispel the conflicts.
Boxing workshop and trekking in Bastia
In Bastia, in Corsica, where several group fights among youths took place recently, the prevention association LEIA is offering experimental preventive workshops – boxing, exchanges in group, trekking, theatre… – that are conducted by an educator and a psychologist.
Working together with neighbourhood actors
These examples and the participants’ experience show that preventing group violence among young people requires a holistic approach involving a large array of local actors, which can include peer-to-peer prevention. It is important to rely on the neighbourhood actors for any kind of prevention, including peer-to-peer.
We must once again stress that peer-to-peer schemes doesn’t replace professional intervention and should always be part of an overall strategy.
> Upcoming web conferences on the issue of group violence among young people: September (date to be confirmed): Support to victims and work on memory
> Read the FFSU press release on the prevention of group violence among youths (in French only)
Did you know?Since 2020, the FFSU has been conducting support missions in several municipalities of the Seine-Saint-Denis department (near Paris, France) on the issue of group violence among young people, in partnership with the Metropolitan Mission for the Prevention of Risky Behaviours (Mission métropolitaine des conduites à risque, MMPCR) and the Centre for Sociological Research on Law and Criminal Justice Institutions (Centre de recherches sociologiques sur le droit et les institutions pénales, CESDIP) and with the support of the Prefecture. On the basis of local audits, the assessment of existing schemes and a benchmarking of other European practices, a strategy will be designed for the whole department.