Youth symposium unpacks crime trauma

Chrysalis Academy chief executive officer, Lucille Meyer, with Chrysalis trustee, criminologist and author of Gang Town, Dr Don Pinnock.

More than 52 000 incidents of youth-related trauma are reported to police in the Western Cape annually, says criminologist Dr Don Pinnock.

Dr Pinnock, the author of Gang Town, was one of several speakers at a symposium on youth and trauma, held at the Chrysalis Academy – a leadership training organisation for young people – in Tokai, on Thursday June 28, in the last week of Youth Month.

Against the sounds of students marching in the nearby parade ground, Chrysalis’s head of training, Janine Turner, welcomed people involved in various youth-related organisations, including, among others, representatives from universities, the Department of Education, and the judicial system.

“The statistics we will hear will be grim and gloomy but we must emerge hopeful and deepen our collective understanding of trauma and offer hope,” said Ms Turner.

Chrysalis Academy CEO Lucille Meyer said trauma held youth back and almost blinded them to their potential.

She described different types of trauma, from a once-off traumatic event to an accumulation of risk and dysfunction over time.

“We are seeing the effect on the 18- to 25-year-olds who have been neglected as children, some abandoned, some men and women sexually molested as children, injured through domestic violence, or having seen what happens when a bullet hits a head in front of them, some having no food and living in abject poverty, or having been deeply humiliated in the classroom – just because of their skin colour they are seen as a threat,” said Ms Meyer.

She said the academy had looked at what others were doing around the world and in South Africa to disrupt youth trauma.

Dr Pinnock said Cape Town did not have a gang problem so much as it had a youth problem, with gangs being one of the by-products.

“And much of that is being fed by youth trauma,” he said.

He demonstrated the size of trauma in the Western Cape over one year with cases reported to the police. These included self harm, assault with a weapon, accidental injury, domestic physical assault, to burns, bites, burns and stings.

“In working with gangs, I was often asked why some kids manage to avoid the undertow of gangs and others get sucked in, even if both exhibited troublesome behaviour,” said Dr Pinnock.

“A distinction has been made between adolescence-limited behaviour and life-course-persistent behaviour. Some kids pull out in time while others just keep getting worse.

“One of the key determinants of adolescence-limited behaviour is resilience – the ability to bounce back or resist extreme antisocial behaviour,” said Dr Pinnock.

He stressed the importance of looking after pregnant mothers as they found it difficult to give a child love and nourishment. And to educate fathers so that boys in particular could watch them and learn how to be a man.

He said many youth had multiple personalities, from making tea for their mom and then walking down the road carrying a gun.

Dr Pinnock said the level of violent crime in Cape Town was worse than in many war zones.

“In this city, if you’re young, urban, black and poor you are going to be picked on by police, gangs or gang bosses.
There are nine million unemployed of which five million are under 35.”

“Half the kids don’t get to matric, don’t get a job, feel fear and helpless. They are taught the intellectual stuff but not what they need to get a job,” he said.

Dr Pinnock’s other suggestions:

Reduce community violence and increase cool things for teenagers to do.

Rethink education and include parenting training.

Rethink drug laws – too many youths are being criminalised.

Rethink the criminal justice system. The situation at present is that when youths do wrong and are awaiting trial they are locked up with other bad people and could potentially end up as gangsters.

Rethink prisons – they do no social good and much personal harm.