NEWS

Violence plagues schools

One in 10 senior high school pupils in Athens belongs to a gang or hangs out with others who engage in troublesome behavior that often leads to collective acts of delinquency. These children are often involved in violent standoffs to frighten their peers and younger children, theft of money and belongings, and extortion. The attacks are frequently inspired by motives of racism or revenge. Gangs regularly use violence in group attacks and, in standoffs among themselves, the troublemakers readily use weapons, usually metal bars and chains. The horrific murder of an 18-year-old by a 17-year-old fellow pupil in the southern suburbs a few weeks ago, which shocked Greece, was only the tip of the iceberg of a growing social problem. A survey of senior high schools, conducted by the Criminal Research Workshop of Athens University under Professor Nestor Kourakis, showed a noticeable growth in gangs, even in the well-heeled suburbs of Glyfada and Maroussi. The survey also included the municipalities of Galatsi, Nea Smyrni, Vyronas, Zografou and Kaisariani. The researchers found that delinquent youths often take drugs, 36.2 percent compared with 7.2 percent of the overall sample. They drink alcohol, start fights and spend their free time on illegal pursuits. And they choose forms of entertainment, such as attending soccer matches, that give them opportunities to indulge in acts of violence. Among offenses committed by teenagers are writing graffiti on buildings (56.2 percent), vandalizing school premises (52.8 percent), shoplifting (46.1 percent), sampling illegal drugs (46.1 percent), hooliganism at soccer grounds (37.1 percent), brawling (37.1 percent), damaging the property of others (16.9 percent), burglary (14.6 percent), buying drugs (9 percent), selling drugs (5.6 percent) and selling stolen goods (4.5 percent). Fortunately these gangs have not yet become organized into hierarchies. Rarely does one individual – the oldest, toughest, strongest – lord it over the others, and their activities are not governed by formal rules. But they do have their habits and hangouts, the members feel they are special and they are bound to each other by feelings of solidarity. The researchers, Kourakis, Paris Zygouras and Maria Galanou, explored the connection between peer groups and individual or collective acts of delinquency. They polled 885 pupils aged 17-18 at eight of the most representative public and private senior high schools. The study focused on 89 pupils (10.1 percent) who had been involved in collective delinquency. Of that group, 45 (5.1 percent of their total sample) were classified as average offenders involved in minor offenses: damage to school premises, graffiti, dealing in or taking drugs, hooliganism, shoplifting and burglary. The remaining 44 (5 percent) were classified as serious offenders because, in addition to the abovementioned acts, they had also been involved in organized offenses, such as making threats, gang fights and selling drugs or stolen goods. «A particular kind of deviant and transgressive subculture develops in groups of troublemakers, which usually derives from the pupil’s problematic relations with family and school,» said Kourakis. «This subculture encourages risky behavior and even collective acts of crime. «However, as with our previous survey of juvenile courts, there is no evidence that these groups of troublemakers have formed full-fledged gangs in the sense of a separate identity, structure and organization with a recognized leader and hierarchy. «This conclusion is significant because it enables us to deal with the situation calmly, being aware of the dangers that face Greece, but refusing to demonize teenagers who are the products of a society with dysfunctional institutions.» Delinquent teenagers are generally dissatisfied with school, have problems with their teachers, and 43.9 percent admit their performance is «rather poor» or «very poor,» compared with 20 percent of the overall sample. While the average pupil mixes in a large, fairly amorphous group, troublemakers tend to mix in groups of no more than five or six individuals. The latter keep company with people their parents do not know and who are generally not their schoolmates but are from the neighborhood or places where young people meet in the evening. The economic status of families with delinquent teenagers is usually fairly good. Most of their mothers work and they occasionally work themselves. The fathers tend to be tradesmen or office workers, and a surprisingly high number of mothers of serious offenders are university graduates (40.7 percent). Delinquent teenagers are more likely to state that they clash «quite often» or «very often» with their parents. Teenagers who commit illegal acts in groups say that they often fight with other groups and are attacked as individuals (70.9 percent) and as part of a group (79.9 percent) by others trying to take money or property from them, frighten them or blackmail them. The fact that most of them know or at least recognize their assailant group suggests that in some cases these are gang brawls.