Research Essay on Youth on Their Own

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Criminological theories are useful tools because they help to understand the criminal justice system, the victims, and the perpetrators in the system. It is important to acknowledge that there are many criminological theories with different levels of analysis, and there is no single theory capable of explaining all the forms of offending behaviors. The ‘problem’ of youth crime is complex in nature. This essay argues that the ‘problem’ of youth crime can be identified as both that African youth are responsible for committing street-related crimes in Victoria, as well as media and public discourse are responsible for over-representing and racializing African adolescents. In this context, a youth offender is defined as an alleged offender who is between the ages of 10 and 17 years, during the initial time in which they were linked to a recorded offence (Crime Statistics Agency [CSA] 2018). Using official statistics, media reports, and academic literature, this essay evaluates Robert Agnew’s General Strain theory, because this theory is somewhat useful in understanding the underlying factors contributing to street crimes committed by African youth. Agnew’s theory examines that failing to achieve one’s positively-valued goals can insinuate youth crime and youth confronted by negative stimuli can turn to deviance. Furthermore, the lack of positive stimuli such as positive social networks instigates in participation crime. Travis Hirschi’s Social Bond theory is used to explain that bonds to society influence the reduced likelihood of street-related offending by African youth. This theory compensates for Agnew’s limitation of underplaying the importance of social control, to which most African youth conform.

Firstly, African youth represent a significant proportion of the overall youth community who commit street-related offenses in Victoria. Street-related crimes are crimes such as burglary, robbery, and carjacking (Wright and Topalli 2012). According to the Centre for Multicultural Youth (2014), the rate of offenses committed by the Sudanese and Somali youth populations was 7109.1 per 100,000 and 6141.8 per 100,000 respectively. In contrast, 1301.0 per 100,00 offenses were committed by the remaining wider youth community (Centre for Multicultural Youth 2014). The substantial difference between African youth committing crime and other nationalities of offenders is reinforced by Hanrahan (2018) who reported that Sudanese were the sixth largest group of offenders in Victoria from April 2017 to March 2018. Additionally, Victoria Police statistics highlight that the second highest group of alleged offenders were born in Sudan after New Zealand (Centre for Multicultural Youth 2014). Based on these findings, it appears as though African youth crime is a critical issue. In fact, there are African youth groups engaging in serious street offenses which distress the general public. This is evident through various examples which have been continuously reported by the media. For example, on the 26th of May, four African teenagers invaded a Melbourne home and held a couple of hostages for half an hour, while stealing their car, jewelry, and computers. This was amongst a series of crimes committed by the same young men who also participated in carjackings, home invasions, and burglaries in a range of other Melbourne suburbs (Australian Associated Press 2019). A media report by Duncan (2018) draws a similar conclusion that young members of the African population were liable for causing havoc at the 2018 Moomba festival. Using evidence such as camera footage, witnesses, and police testimonies, Duncan (2018) conveys the reason behind the strong presence of police during the 2018 Moomba festival was instigated by the high number of public arrests of African youth in the previous years of the Moomba festivals. The examples and statistics described above suggest that African youth crime should not be overlooked because they are responsible for a significant percentage of street crimes. Instead, the underlying causes that contribute to African youth offenses should be examined and understood through Robert Agnew’s General Strain theory of crime.

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Agnew’s theoretical framework argues that failing to accomplish a positively-valued goal motivates African youth to commit street-related crimes. To begin, Agnew’s theory claims that a specific strain experienced by an individual may lead to negative emotions such as anger and frustration (Agnew 2013). Agnew defines strain as any situation that is disliked by an individual that causes them to become dissatisfied with themselves (Agnew 2013). Strain is experienced by any individual, however, it manifests into crime if an individual is unable to cope with this strain in a legal manner (Agnew 1992). Agnew’s theory can be applied to understand African Australian youth committing offenses, using unemployment as a potential cause. Unemployment is a strain because it is a failure of not being able to achieve one’s monetary goals. Unemployment can manifest into anger which can then fuel youth into committing street crimes such as theft or burglaries in order to feel a sense of achievement (Agnew 2013). For example, Morris (2016) reported the story of a 14-year-old African Australian who was part of an African youth gang and was responsible for youth crime in Melbourne. The boy expressed his frustration over the lack of employment opportunities which contributed to his criminal offences. This highlights that employment is considered a monetary success and the 14-year-old African Australian attempted to achieve this positively-valued goal through illegitimate means of attaining money. Frustration and anger are significant emotions that are associated with a sense of power which encourages desires for retaliation (Baron 2006). In fact, Baron (2006) argues that anger is a crucial cause of street crime. Therefore, Agnew’s theory suggests the importance of identifying interventions that minimize the anger experienced by African Australian youth from unemployment, which motivates them to engage in street crimes.

A solution to address unemployment and the inability to achieve an individual’s positively-valued goal is proposed by Heller (2014). Heller (2014) recommends summer jobs to resolve joblessness amongst disadvantaged youth because unemployment is a key cause of offending. This article acknowledges Agnew’s theory and thus advocates that summer jobs can help in accomplishing goals of monetary success by providing wages to individuals. This similar recommendation is also put forward by researcher Troy Pittaway, who strongly believes that the government ought to support young African people by assisting them in their employment pursuits (The Australian 2018). In 2018, the Victorian Multicultural Commission (2018) also offered an action plan consisting of over 150 actions that aimed to create employment and education opportunities for young African people. The Victorian Multicultural Commission (2018) acknowledged that employment and education were important focus areas, and subsequently proposed actions such as assisting young unemployed African Australians to become financially secure by finding jobs and providing young African Australians access to work placement programs that lead to ongoing employment. This illustrates that utilizing Agnew’s framework is helpful in understanding that African Australian youth commit street offenses when they are unable to achieve their goals and fail to legally cope with this strain. Additionally, Agnew’s theory also aids in attempting to solve this problem by introducing reforms that increase the likelihood of African Australian youth achieving their goals.

Agnew’s theory assists in understanding that, African youth commit street crimes because of the negative stimuli they are exposed to and the lack of positive stimuli they receive in Victoria. Negative stimuli can consist of disruption of familial relationships, discrimination, and peer pressure, and the lack of positive stimuli can include poor emotional support (Nino, Ignatow & Cai 2017; Shepherd, Newton & Farquharson 2018). Agnew (1992) claims that the negative stimuli individuals experience can cause anger and resentment. These pessimistic attitudes draw youth to participate in criminal behavior. Journal articles from Nino, Ignatow & Cai (2017) and Froggio (2007) assert that a high amount of peer delinquency causes the strains; loss of positive stimuli, and exposure to negative stimuli. The study conducted by Nino, Ignatow & Cai (2017) reports that the negative stimuli consisted of negative peer relationships and the lack of positive stimuli consisted of conforming peers. Nino, Ignatow & Cai (2017) report that the youth engaged in crime were the youth who were more vulnerable to peer pressure. These youth were more likely to be involved in gangs and hence were more likely to commit street-related crimes. This explanation for deviance is illustrated by Donovan (2016) in the Victorian Youth Summit who interviewed Harriet Offei, an African adolescent living in Melbourne. Harriet revealed that many African adolescents who were dependent on their friends were also vulnerable to succumbing to the peer pressure of committing crimes (Donovan 2016). In other words, co-offending is more prominent than the act of carrying out a crime individually in Victoria by the African youth population. Examples include the St Kilda incident in which three males were assaulted and robbed by approximately 10-20 youths who were identified as African appearance (Cunningham 2018); and a violent brawl committed by approximately 60-70 youths also identified as Africans in Collingwood, which left six victims hospitalized after home invasions and multiple carjackings (Bolt 2018). Maladaptive behaviors such as aggression, risk, and sensation-seeking by African adolescents are responsible for these criminal behaviors described above (Piquero & Sealock 2010). These behaviors could also stem from early childhood trauma from being exposed or subjected to physical and emotional abuse (Shepherd, Newton & Farquharson 2018). For example, in the article written by Park (2018), Kuon Gido an 18-year-old boy was involved in the theft of a BMW car along with other Sudanese youth. Kuon claimed his actions were sourced from his anger towards his parents’ deteriorated marriage, as well as being treated as an outcast when arriving in Australia. Hence, this conveys that Agnew’s theory is applicable in understanding that African youth commit street-related offenses because of the negative stimuli and lack of positive stimuli they are exposed to.

Agnew’s theory is not being adopted by the media and public discourse in Victoria regarding African youth committing street crimes. Instead, this young demographic group is depicted in a stigmatizing manner by media and public discourse who fail to recognize the individual strains contributing to street crimes. The impact of media coverage on young South Sudanese, adds to their already war-torn struggles. This is illustrated in the 2007 murder of a young South Sudanese, Liep Gony, in Melbourne. Despite Gony being murdered by two young white men, the media and Former Federal Minister of Immigration, Kevin Andrews, publicly condemned the entire South Sudanese community for failing to integrate into Australian society (Benier, Blaustein, Johns & Maher 2018; Coventry, Dawes, Moston & Palmer 2014). They criticized this ethnic group for being the problem-group of youth crime in Victoria, rather than a victimised group subjected to violence (Coventry et al. 2014). These prejudiced views promoted by media coverage and politicians are also supported by misconstrued statistics. (Weatherburn 2011) underlined that crime statistics can be misinterpreted and misused. This is highlighted in the Crime Statistics Agency’s (2018) media release which revealed that journalists and media outlets are reporting incorrect figures. The African youth population is not responsible for the majority of street crimes because these offenders only represented 1.0% of the unique offender population in comparison to Australian-born offenders who represented 71.7% of the unique offender population in 2017 (CSA 2018). This shows that journalists ought to consult with criminologists when interpreting data and statistics because they are also accountable for racializing youth crime and keeping the public informed about recent criminal offenses (Police Accountability Project 2017). This is because the public who view misleading media coverage regurgitates the false information and consequently participates in racial discrimination towards African adolescents (MacDonald 2017).

Benier et al. (2018) reported that the media was responsible for saturating stories about African youth gang crime and thus allowing racism directed towards African youths to become socially acceptable. Participants in the Benier et al. (2018) study and the article Ryan (2018), criticized the media for continuously covering stories that have a black suspect and a white victim. Because of such negative portrayals, the majority of African youth groups were constant victims of heavy racial profile policing, became socially isolated, and were prevented from achieving their educational and professional goals (MacDonald 2017; Benier et al. 2018). This suggests that media and public discourse are not utilizing Agnew’s theory. Instead, dominant media discourses link African youth with criminality, hence influencing the level to which African youth are subjected to discrimination (Nolan 2011). For example, this is evident through Herald Sun’s coverage of Sudanese youth which does not feature the difficulties and strains experienced by Sudanese (Nolan 2011). Sudanese youth in Nolan's (2011) article reveals that the media does not acknowledge that Sudanese migrant youth were once recruited as child soldiers, and such adolescents require counseling and social services before they integrate into society. Therefore, Agnew’s theory raises awareness of the importance of recognizing why African youth commit street-related violence because failing to recognize such strain by media and public discourse will lead to discrimination against African youth in Victoria.

Hirschi’s Social Control theory counteracts Agnew’s lack of emphasis placed on African youth who do not commit street crimes because they are tightly bonded to society. Hirschi (1969) states that delinquency happens when someone’s bond to society has weakened or broken. The four bonds are; attachment, involvement, commitment, and belief. Social control theory is useful in understanding the protective factors that prevent African youth’s involvement in street-related offenses. African-Australians Multicultural Employment and Youth Services (AAMEYS n.d.), a not-for-profit organization aims to consolidate and strengthen African youth’s pre-existing social bonds. This organization attempts to achieve strengthened social bonds through various projects. For example, this organization hosts primary and secondary school homework support classes to improve students’ numeracy and literacy skills (AAMEYS n.d). Another program in Victoria, similar to AAMEYS, is the Beaut Buddies Program by Foundation House (Australian Human Rights Commission 2010). Although the main focus of this program was to improve the English language skills of African youth, it also aimed to improve their involvement with their own culture. This shows that through these programs, African youths are able to enhance their bond of commitment to their academic success as well as increase their involvement in school-related activities. Both programs embody Hirschi’s Social control theory, because African youth engage in prosocial activities (Huebner & Betts 2002). Such participation is likely to reduce levels of delinquency among African youth which is emphasised in the study completed by Ryan, Testa & Zhai (2008). Hence, African youth portray conforming behaviors to society. In support of this, Smyrk (2018) claimed that the majority of Sudanese youth have become important members of society through being involved in the aforementioned pro-social tasks. Similarly, Majok, a member of the Sudanese community in Melbourne developed a passion for videography (Lam 2018). Majok is a valuable contributing member within the Sudanese-Australian society, because his videos inspired other migrant refugees to transition into Australia smoothly (Lam 2018). This signifies that developing special interests will increase self-efficacy and thus lead to an improved sense of attachment and commitment toward society (Ryan, Testa & Zhai 2008). Hence, this demonstrates Agnew’s limitation of not explaining why some African youth conform to society. However, this can be examined through Hirschi’s Social control theory which studies why there is an absence of criminal activity amongst African youth populations.

This essay establishes that explaining the problem of African youth street-related crime using criminological theories is complex in nature. This is because all criminological theories are inadequate to some degree when defining crime. Robert Agnew’s General strain theory is one useful example in comprehending the ‘problem’ of African youth street-related offenses. Which, the ‘problem’ of youth crime in Victoria is focussed on African youth street-related crime. This ‘problem’ can be studied in two different manners. The first is that a proportion of African youth is responsible for committing street-related offenses because of the strains such as the inability to achieve their positively valued goals the exposure to negative stimuli and the lack of positive stimuli. The second way to examine African youth crime is through extensive media coverage by journalists who are responsible for misconstruing data to emphasize the correlation between ethnicity and crime, thus overlooking the strains African youth experience. On the other hand, Hirschi’s Social control theory is also utilized to interpret why African youth do not commit crimes, which is a lacking feature in Agnew’s theory. Overall, this results in a misguided understanding of youth crime which can have negative consequences on the society’s ability to help reduce overall youth crime rates.

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Research Essay on Youth on Their Own. (2024, January 30). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from
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