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Adding up violent vulnerabilities.

Adding up violent vulnerabilities

In a highly publicized incident, a group of youths recently raped and beat a young woman in New York City's Central Park. Initial reports described the youngsters as coming from fairly stable families and having relatively crime-free, nonviolent backgrounds.

But this portrayal is probably far off the mark, according to New York University psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis. "I predict those youths who committed the assault were violent in the past and most likely came from violent families," she says.

Lewis bases her assertion on the results of an ongoing study of violent juvenile delinquents, as well as on previous research with young men on death row (SN: 10/31/87, p.287). In the latest work, she and her co-workers conducted seven-year follow-up evaluations of 95 young men first contacted at a Connecticut correctional school when they were about 15 years old. The group consisted of 77 "very violent" subjects arrested for rape, murder and other acts involving physical aggression, and 18 "less violent" subjects arrested for crimes such as shoplifting and burglary.

Violence does not necessarily breed violence, Lewis notes. A similar proportion of "very violent" and "less violent" subjects were arrested for acts of physical aggression as adults. Young men with the highest rates of aggressive criminal offenses were, however, marked by a combination of vulnerabilities: recurring psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and paranoia; neurological problems, including epilepsy and abnormal brain wave patterns; reading and intelligence deficits; and an upbringing in an extremely violent, abusive household.

Violent youngsters often respond well to treatment that addresses their specific problems, Lewis maintains. For instance, most youngsters in her study have significantly improved their reading and thinking skills with individual help from the researchers. In some cases where the boys' households are too violent for them to return to, she suggests placement in supervised group homes.
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Title Annotation:Behavior
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:May 20, 1989
Words:309
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