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Children and violence: an introductory, international and interdisciplinary approach
Children and violence: an introductory, international and interdisciplinary approach

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3.2 Children as perpetrators

There has been a great deal of research on the personalities of bullies (for an overview, see Smith et al., 1999) and explanations given for their behaviour in terms of family background or attachment to parents. Some of the findings of this research are summarized in Reading A. In another article, Olweus (1993) suggests that bullies are more likely to hold favourable views of violence, have a marked tendency towards aggression towards both adults and other children, have a strong need to dominate and feel more powerful than other children and feel little empathy for those they are bullying. But, as stated earlier, it is important to bear in mind that children can be both bullies and bullied in different contexts. There is also some evidence that children who are bullied may resort to violence themselves as a form of self-defence. Here, a boy in Australia recounts becoming a bully:

Harry: I used to fight all the time in year seven.

Martin: Why was that?

Harry: People didn't like me and they'd try to hit me and I'd react.

Martin: And when did things start to change?

Harry: When I fought back.

Martin: Do you think if you hadn't fought back that would have been a big problem?

Harry: Yeah it would have been.

(Mills, 2001, p. 69)

Figure 6
Figure 6 Street children, Brazil.

In other contexts also, children may turn to violence as a form of defence, aiming to be more violent than those of whom they are afraid. For example, street children in Brazil face an often brutal life where they are threatened and susceptible to violence from the police and the wider community, including older street children. Some children therefore turn to violence as a way of protecting themselves, using violence as both self-defence and a way of survival. Here, a child from Recife, Brazil, discusses his use of violence.

Once when I earned money, I bought a Beretta. I spent ten days snatching watches, ‘Pah, pah’ [his onomatopoeic rendition of children stealing watches]. First I bought a Mauser and then I held it against a lady's neck. I swiped her money and a bunch of videocassettes. I spent more than a month with the gun, stealing. Then I sold it and with the money I'd stolen and the money from the gun I bought a thirty-eight. Then I stole some more, sold that gun, and bought the Beretta.

I went to the street and a kid saw that my pockets were bulging, he tried to take my money. I pulled out the gun and pointed it at him. He took my money [anyway]. I said, ‘Give it back you asshole or I'll shoot you. You think I steal so you can come and take my money?’ He gave me the money and I yelled, ‘Run!’ He ran and I went ‘Bam!’ but I missed. ‘Take another!’ I missed again. When I shot again he fell. I said, ‘Shit, I killed a boy.’ I took off. The next day the kid had a Band-Aid on his toe. I only shot him in the toe.

(Hecht, 1998, p. 34)