June 2012 Update: Affinity for Violence


There are 5 key concepts in the YVSP Framework and Computer Model: Community Trauma, Slippery Slope Dynamics, High-Risk Interactions, Youth Violence, and Affinity for Violence. Each of these concepts represents insights learned from an ongoing process of community -based research, and the Model is a powerful tool for crafting smarter, more systemic plans to reduce violence because it captures the interactions of these concepts with one another. Having introduced Community Trauma in last month's update, this month's article describes a second key concept: Affinity for Violence.  

How Affinity for Violence Impacts Youth Violence

The basic logic behind Affinity for Violence is that violence begets violence, and that the more one engages in violence, the more it becomes a default operating mode. This may seem straightforward, but what we learned from interviews with current and former gang members surprised us: violence not only turns into a habit, but it actually becomes a way of managing emotions and stress caused by the daily realities of gang life. We talked to gang members who described experiencing a kind of adrenaline rush during acts of violence, which as a byproduct offered temporary relief from the fear and trauma they carry constantly. In other words, gang members counter-intuitively pursue a sense of security through increasingly aggressive behaviors. This is what we mean when by "Affinity for Violence," though sometimes it seems that the stronger language of "Addiction to Violence" might be more appropriate.


Furthermore, if we are right that violence is a kind of mechanism for coping with trauma, then there is one more factor to take into account. The rush that accompanies violence declines with each violent act, which means that more violence is needed to achieve the same degree of catharsis. This makes the feedback loop spiral upward with each rotation, suggesting that the intensity of the violence will progressively escalate.


Feedback loops can  be frightening because they seem to say that levels of violence will rise exponentially. 

Simulating Impact with the YVSP Model: the Blue line shows the impact on violence resulting from an "upstream" initiative, working with youth on the edge of gang involvement; the Red line shows the impact of the same initiative in conjunction with an effort to reduce Affinity for Violence and High Risk Interactions 

But the good news is that feedback loops work two ways: just as the increase of one part raises the other parts as well, so a decrease in one part of thefeedback loop lowers all of the other parts with it. For example, reducing high -risk interactions will reduce the levels of violence which will reduce both Community Trauma and Affinity for Violence. In turn, this further reduces the frequency of high risk interactions and likelihood of those interactions becoming violent. The new feedback loop continues in this direction, moving towards peace rather than violence. This means that seemingly unrelated initiatives, focused on different strategies of reducing violence, may actually be mutually reinforcing. Thus, instances where we are tempted to find competition might actually be invitations for collaboration.  


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