Youth Violence Interventions
"Anti-violence" Advertising Campaigns
A variety of organizations have sponsored
public education campaigns to promote violence prevention (e.g., 100 Black Men,
"Operation Peace" in Philadelphia). Several local police departments have
implemented public information campaigns to reduce gun violence. One such program
in Charlotte did encourage a number of citizens to lock up their guns to reduce
theft, but it was otherwise unsuccessful in promoting firearm safety (Vogel 1968).
The Seattle Police Department has placed inserts in public utility bills to encourage
homeowners to store their guns safely. It is not known if this program had any effect.
Media campaigns to promote safe and responsible
behavior are appealing. Unfortunately, few have been found to be effective. Robertson
and colleagues measured the impact of a saturation advertising campaign to promote
the use of safety belts in a city served by two cable systems: one system aired
more than 1000 high quality promotional spots; the other aired none. Subsequent
observation revealed no difference in the rate of safety belt use among subscribers
of either system (Robertson 1981).
Rivara has suggested that the impact of safety
campaigns is blunted by attenuation of effect (National Committee for Injury Prevention and Control
1989). No matter how powerful and repetitive a safety message may
be, some people will never encounter it. Among those who see or hear the message,
some will reject it. Among those who accept the message as true, some will not be
sufficiently motivated to change their behavior. Among those who change their behavior,
some will lapse back into old habits over time and others will fail to follow the
message on a consistent basis.
There are several reasons why media campaigns
to promote violence prevention are unlikely to be effective. First, the group most
likely to be injured or killed (young males) is also the group most resistant to
behavioral change (National Committee for Injury Prevention and Control
1989). Second, anti-violence messages must compete with a huge number
of explicit and subliminal messages that glorify aggression, violence and the use
of weapons. Third, youth receive mixed signals from authority figures. Although
most states take a hard line on gun-carrying by youth, many have made it easier
for adults to carry a handgun for protection. Juveniles may reason that if an adult
needs to carry a gun for protection, they do, too (Ash 1996).
The most significant barrier to effectiveness
may well be the "code of the streets." Andersons ethnographic research
suggests that in inner-city neighborhoods many young people consider maintenance
of "respect" through aggressive behavior or violence as more important
than life itself (Anderson 1994). However, attitudes like these are not limited to the inner
city. Kellermann and colleagues interviewed white and African-American youth in
metropolitan Atlanta, and found that none identified "just walk away"
as an acceptable option for responding to a challenge or threat. Most dismissed
anti-violence ads and celebrity testimonials as naive or self-serving; several noted
that they were exposed to so much media that no message is perceived as relevant
or genuine (Kellermann and Fuqua-Whitley 1995).