Entries in Violence (14)


Survey Shows Staggering Amount of Children Are Victims of Violence

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new survey found that a startling number of children and teenagers under the age of 18 have been the victims of physical violence in the last year.

According to a survey published in the journal Pediatrics, over 40 percent of U.S. children and adolescents were victims of violence, including more than 10 percent that suffered serious injuries.

The National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence included data concerning assault with and without weapons, attempted or completed kidnapping, dating violence and bias attacks. Bullying, threats or Internet attacks were considered non-violent problems and were excluded.

The survey found that 13.7 percent of young people experienced repeated violent incidents at the hands of a caregiver.

Additionally, two percent of children under the age of 17 responded saying they have been sexually assaulted or abused in the last year. That number was much higher, almost 11 percent, among girls between the ages of 14 and 17.

The authors of the survey believe that exposure to violence impacts both the individual child as well as having important societal effects. The authors also believe that intense tracking of children's exposure to violence is an imperative first step.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Do Video Games Make Kids Violent?

JupiterImages/Brand X Pictures(NEW YORK) -- Adam Lanza gunned down 27 people in Newtown, Conn. Dec. 14 and his access to high-powered firearms has put gun control front and center in the discourse around the tragedy, but the 20-year-old’s reported enthusiasm for violent video games has some experts and lawmakers wondering if those, too, need the kind of regulation so many want on gun ownership.

Senator Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., addressed this issue while discussing his proposed “national commission on mass violence” on Fox News Sunday Dec. 16.

“The violence in the entertainment culture, particularly with the extraordinary realism to video games and movies now, does cause vulnerable young men, particularly, to be more violent,” said the senator, who was joined by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

The issue of the effect of video game violence on young people came into the national spotlight in 2011 when a California law banning the sale of some games to minors was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. The 2005 law was never enforced due to legal challenges. California asked the court to treat violent and sexually explicit video games as apart from First Amendment protections, much like obscenity.

The Supreme Court deemed California’s law unconstitutional in 2011. Writing for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia described the bill as “unprecedented and mistaken” and likened the violence in kids’ games to that in commonly read children’s fairy tales. Justice Scalia also wrote that a causal link between these games’ content and harm to young people had not been proven and went on to place the responsibility to filter what children are exposed to with the parents.

“Parents who care about the matter can readily evaluate the games their children bring home,” Scalia wrote. “Filling the remaining modest gap in concerned-parents’ control can hardly be a compelling state interest.”

Laura Davies, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist in San Francisco is hesitant to support tighter controls on media of any kind. However, she believes too many children are exposed to too much violence through video games and that there can be consequences.

“A huge part of discipline and development is understanding consequences. Letting kids know that their actions have consequences,” Dr. Davies told ABC News. “Video games like Grand Theft Auto turn the consequences into positives. You kill a prostitute and get points, you’re rewarded.”

In contrast to Justice Scalia, Dr. Davies said there is a distinct difference between how a child is affected by reading about violence versus how he or she is affected by video game violence.

“They’re not affected by reading a violent book the same way they are from a video game that is visually violent and that they actually participate in and that rewards them for violent acts,” she said.

Though studies on the issue are abundant, none have been successful at directly correlating video game violence and real-world violence in children.

Chris Ferguson, department chair of psychology and communication at Texas A&M International University, has conducted several studies on violence and its effects on youth. Ferguson, who called himself a proponent of gun control, stressed the importance of mental health treatment access and of parents monitoring what their children are exposed to. However, Ferguson said he firmly believes violent video games do not lead to violence in the real world.

“If we are serious about reducing these types of violence in our society, video game violence or other media violence issues are clearly the wrong direction to focus on,” Ferguson told ABC News. “Video game use is just not a common factor among mass homicide perpetrators.  Some have been players, others have not been.”

Dr. Davies said she disagrees. Though she concedes that studies cannot prove conclusively that violent games lead to violent acts in young people, she made a distinction between those children who are naturally better able to distinguish between fantasy and reality and those, perhaps like Adam Lanza, who may not see those distinctions so easily.

“There are no numbers. It is impossible to prove causality with these sorts of things,” said Dr. Davies.  “But certain personalities are unable to so easily differentiate between fantasy and the real world. They might not fully understand that the people they harm have real lives and real families. As kids grow, most distinguish fantasy from reality.”

Though she differs in her beliefs on the cause of violent acts such as those carried out by young people like Lanza, Dr. Davies, like Justice Scalia and Chris Ferguson, agrees that parents and the schools have a responsibility to help catch problem behavior before it escalates to violence.

“There needs to be more mental health oversight. They say this kid had issues before and if you see a kid is living too much in the fantasy side, that needs to be addressed,” she said. “I’m not sure there is a clear cut solution. But, and especially if you see a kid is living too much in the fantasy world, parents need to limit screen time and limit violent games.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Strong Female Characters May Negate Effects of Violent Media

Getty Images(LAREDO, Texas) -- Sexual and violent content on TV may not affect viewers’ attitudes as much as we thought as long as there are strong leading ladies around to save the day, a new study finds.

Study researcher Christopher Ferguson, assistant professor at Texas A&M International University, dubs this the “Buffy Effect,” named after the popular TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The small study included 150 college students at a southern university who agreed to participate in exchange for extra credit.  The group was equally comprised of men and women, and 95 percent of the students were Hispanic.  The average age of the participants was 21.

The students were randomly assigned to watch an entire episode of one of the following: a neutral show without sexual or violent content, a sexually violent show with negative depictions of women, or a sexually violent show featuring strong independent female characters.

The neutral category included 7th Heaven and Gilmore Girls.  Neither of these episodes showed any sex or violence, but rather focused on dramatic or humorous situations between family members.

The Tudors and Masters of Horror comprised the sexually violent shows with weaker female characters category.  These shows depicted sexual aggression toward women, largely in environments where female characters were objectified and dehumanized.

Finally, the sexually violent shows with strong female characters were Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Law and Order: SVU.  While both episodes included sexual violence, they also portrayed heroines fighting back successfully against violence directed at them.

After watching the assigned show, participants were asked to complete several surveys to assess their attitudes toward women, depression and anxiety.  The study assessed depression and anxiety with standard scales used in psychiatry.  To assess attitudes toward women, participants responded to a modernized version of a validated scale used in multiple prior studies in this area.

The study found that women who watched sexually violent media were more anxious, and males who watched sexually violent media had more negative attitudes toward women, but only when strong female leads were not present.

Interestingly, males were least anxious after watching negative female depictions and most anxious with positive female depictions.

Ferguson postulates in the study that the negative depictions may be uncovering negative stereotypes some men may have about women, while the positive illustrations may be challenging those stereotypes.

Surprisingly, women’s negative attitudes towards women were highest among viewers of the neutral shows, even more so than the violent shows with subordinate portrayals of women.

“Negative portrayals of women in sexually violent media may actually provoke a kind of mild ‘backlash’ reaction at such negative portrayals, fostering a sense of female solidarity,” Ferguson writes in the study.

Sarah Coyne, assistant professor in the school of family life at Brigham Young University, was not involved with this study, but she has done research in the past dealing with violence in the media.

“I resonate with the author when he says strong positive females can be good for the media,” Coyne said.  “I think it was a well-done study.”

But don’t gear up for a Law and Order: SVU marathon just yet.  The study had many limitations, so the results cannot be applied to the general population.

First of all, it was very small, and there was significant answer variation among the individual participants.  Second, the fact that most of the participants were of the same ethnic group suggests that cultural factors could have been at play.  Finally, the participants were not surveyed before watching the shows, so it is unclear if and how much the shows were really responsible for the differences between groups.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Violent Cartoons Linked to Sleep Problems in Preschoolers

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Swapping Batman for Big Bird could help young kids sleep better, a new study found.

The study of sleep habits among 565 preschool-age children found that those who tuned in to age-appropriate educational programs were less likely to have sleep problems than those who watched sparring superheroes or slapstick scenes meant for slightly older kids.

"Content that's funny for older kids can be too violent for really young children," said study author Michelle Garrison from the Seattle Children's Research Institute, adding that even Bugs Bunny is "too much" for kids younger than 6.  "We really don't want them exposed to any violence at all."

Previous studies in children have linked violent videos to disrupted sleep, raising the risk of behavioral and emotional problems.  To test whether reducing exposure to violent media could improve sleep, Garrison and colleagues ran a clinical trial.  The treatment: Curious George, Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street.

"That kind of media content really models good social skills, like empathy, cooperation and problem solving," Garrison said.  "And we found that taking steps to reduce violent media produced tangible and sustained effects on sleep."

The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, adds to mounting evidence that screen time -- and screen content -- can negatively impact sleep.  How exactly? The jury's still out.

"There are so many possible pathways," said Garrison, theorizing that kids exposed to less violence may find it easier to fall asleep or have fewer nightmares.  "But trying to reduce media violence is an important goal for all families.  And the good news is: There's lots of great, healthy content out there for preschool children, a lot of positive options."

Garrison recommends checking for information about media violence.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


James Holmes Gave No Indication of Violent Delusions

RJ Sangosti-Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Colorado massacre suspect James Holmes gave no outward signs of mental illness or violent delusions, and mental experts said that is common among mass murderers.

Before Friday’s massacre, Holmes had no previous brushes with the law beyond a single traffic violation. Dr. Marisa Randazzo, a psychologist who studies targeted violence, told ABC’s Good Morning America that a clean criminal record is not uncommon for people who commit acts of mass violence.

“In most of these cases, these are not what you would call a psychopath or a sociopath, as hard as it may be to believe,” Randazzo said. “These are often folks who often up onto this point have been functioning fairly normally but went through a series of events, a series of losses, ended up in absolute despair or desperation.”

Other psychologists told ABC News it’s likely that Holmes was living in an alternate reality driven by delusions, which may have fueled him as he bought weapons, 6,000 rounds of ammunition and riot gear in the months before Friday’s attack.

More details will likely come as investigators delve into Holmes’ recent past. But by most estimations so far, nothing about his early life was out of the ordinary. He grew up in San Diego, was a bright student interested in science and enrolled in a neurosciences doctorate program at the University of Colorado at Denver in 2011 before withdrawing in June.

No one who knew him has said he displayed any signs of abnormality. Randazzo told GMA that doesn’t mean he isn’t suffering from mental illness.

“One thing we do know about this age group, he’s 24, is that sometimes major mental illnesses, sometimes involving delusions, will develop in this age group,” she said.

Upon his arrest shortly after the shootings on Friday morning, Holmes allegedly told police that “he was the Joker,” a law enforcement official told ABC News, and he had dyed his hair red.

ABC News reported Sunday on This Week that police also found a Batman poster and Batman mask in Holmes’ apartment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Anders Breivik: Unraveling Violent Crimes and Mental Illness

ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As a panel of Norwegian judges mull over conflicting reports on Anders Breivik’s mental state during the rampage that killed 77 people in July 2011, a new commentary aims to clarify misconceptions surrounding mental illness and violent crimes.

Breivik, 33, has confessed to a bombing outside the office of the Norwegian prime minister in Oslo and a shooting massacre at a Labor Party youth camp on the island of Utoya.  More than 500 people were camping on the island when Breivik, dressed as a policeman, began firing.

“When people struggle to comprehend what lies behind the mass murder of adolescents gathered for a weekend of discussions and campfires, the simplest response is that the killer ‘must be mad,’” Dr. Simon Wessely, head of psychological medicine at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, wrote in the commentary published Thursday in The Lancet.  “The inexplicable can only be explained as an act of insanity, which by definition cannot be rationally explained.  The act was so monstrous, the consequences so grievous, that the perpetrator had to be insane.”

Some experts say Breivik suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, a mental illness marked by delusions.  In a 1,500-page manifesto posted online before the attacks, Breivik claimed he was an operative in a violent Christian conservative revolution led by members of the new Knights Templar.

But others argue the attacks, meticulously planned for months in advance, were too organized.

“My colleagues in forensic psychiatry struggle to think of anyone [with paranoid schizophrenia] who has had the foresight to bring along a sign stating ‘sewer cleaning in progress’ to avoid drawing attention to the smell of sulfur from the homemade explosives in the back of his vehicle,” Wessely wrote.

Wessely said Breivik’s case also highlights the misconception that people with mental illness get leniency from the courts.  In reality, a mental illness defense “may mean that you will spend more -- not fewer -- years behind bars,” he wrote.

If he’s found guilty, Breivik faces 21 years or more in prison.  If he’s found not guilty by reason of insanity, he will be placed in psychiatric care.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Disabled Adults More Likely to Be Victims of Violence, Study Finds

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Adults with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence than adults who are not disabled, according to a new study published online in The Lancet.

Mentally ill adults are at four times higher risk for violence, and adults with intellectual impairments are also particularly vulnerable.

A team of researchers from the United Kingdom's Liverpool John Moores University and the World Health Organization analyzed 26 studies on violence against disabled adults, with more than 21,000 participants from around the world.

"About three percent of individuals with non-specific impairments [eg, physical, mental, or emotional, or health problems that restrict activities] will have experienced violence within the past 12 months, rising to almost a quarter of people with mental illnesses," said lead author Mark Bellis of Liverpool John Moores University in a press release.

The violence, he explained, was either physical, sexual or by an intimate partner.

Experts not involved in the research say the study calls attention to the plight of many disabled adults who become targets for a variety of reasons.

"There are a number of reasons why adults with disabilities are more vulnerable to violence," said Dick Sobsey, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

"Many of them are more vulnerable or may have limited communication abilities, either by impairment or by situations they are in," he said.

Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston, added that they may not be able to fight back or report the incidents to authorities.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Video Games Can Effect Brain Function, Study Shows

JupiterImages/Brand X Pictures(INDIANAPOLIS) -- New research out of the University of Indiana School of Medicine in Indianapolis backs up earlier studies on the effects of violent video games on the behavior of those who play them.

Lead investigator Dr. Vincent Mathews says a group of young men underwent testing after playing violent video games for an extended period. He says that researchers measured blood flow in certain areas of the brain affecting behavior and saw in brain scans clear evidence that the games made a difference.

Those who played a violent video game for a week demonstrated decreased activity or decreased activation in areas of the brain that were “involved in focusing, paying attention," Matthews said. "They're involved in being able to inhibit responses or not respond to certain things. They're involved in emotional decision-making.”

Though it’s not the first study to link video games with behavioral changes, this research involved actual brain scans.

“There have been a number of different studies that have shown increases in aggressive behavior after exposure to violent video game-play,” Matthews said. “So I think that what our results show is a potential explanation for those observations that others have made.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Soft Drinks Don’t Make Hardened Criminals, Experts Say

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In 1979, lawyers for Dan White, on trial for the assassination of Harvey Milk, a San Francisco city district supervisor, and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, argued that White’s diet of junk food and sugar contributed to a depressed mood and altered state of mind that led to the killings. White was convicted of manslaughter, not murder, and the “Twinkie defense” was born.

More than 30 years later, scientists say they may have found a connection between soda consumption and violence in teenagers. But not everyone buys the latest version of the “Twinkie defense.”

Researchers asked more than 1,800 Boston public high school students about their experience with violence -- whether they had been violent toward family members, friends or someone they were dating. They also asked the students if they used tobacco, consumed alcohol and how much soda they drank each week.

The scientists reported that the teens who drank five cans of non-diet soda or more each week were more likely to behave aggressively than kids who reported drinking no soda. They found that the soda-guzzling students were nine to 15 percent more likely to be violent toward others or to engage in aggressive activities, such as carrying a gun or knife to school. Teens who reported drinking alcohol or using tobacco showed the same risk of violent behavior.

The study was published Monday in the journal Injury Prevention.

When asked whether drinking lots of soda can cause teens to turn violent, several experts said no. But then there are many factors associated with both violence and diets high in sugary drinks that more likely explain the connection.

“If they’re carrying a weapon and have been violent, that may be a marker of a less stable lifestyle,” said Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics and child development at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “They may be less likely to be concerned with nutrition and physical activity. They may be less likely to sit down to family dinners. They may be using soda as a vehicle for alcohol.”

Additionally, many studies have shown that people who consume diets high in junk food like soda and low in more nutritious foods are more likely to be poor. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite poverty as one of the major risk factors for youth violence. The study’s authors note that they didn’t study the socioeconomic status of the teens who reported violence. For Dr. Martin Binks, clinical director and chief executive officer of Binks Behavioral Health in Durham, N.C., that’s a big problem.

“All of their findings could have been better explained in light of socioeconomic status,” Binks said. “Knowing potential relationships between socioeconomic status and the things they’re measuring, not including that data is a major omission.”

Sara Solnick, a co-author of the study, said there’s no reason to think that drinking soda causes teens to be violent. She said the study was simply intended to give researchers a better understanding of factors leading to youth violence.

“In the effort to try to understand violence and reduce it, you have to look at all factors impacting it, and diet could well be a factor,” Solnick said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Psych Experts: Violent Video Games Distort Kids' Health, Perceptions

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Studies have persuasively demonstrated that depictions of extreme violence in video games like Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City harm youngsters' mental health, according to pediatricians who disagreed with part of a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a California ban on video game sales to children.

However, the mental health experts agreed with the justices that ultimately, parents have a responsibility to vet and control what their children watch and play.

"The studies are actually very strong," said Dr. Laura Davies, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. She had just read a paper published this past weekend in the journal Pediatrics that found violent videos disrupted preschoolers' sleep.

"Every one of us -- child psychiatrists, behavioral pediatricians and regular pediatricians, see in our practices every day that when children (younger than 7) are exposed to violence and to trauma, they act biting, hitting, kicking, name-calling, wetting themselves, poor sleep, poor eating," Davies said.  "Older kids act out by fighting, with academic problems, social problems, bullying, anxiety, fearfulness, withdrawal from friends."

Writing for the high court's 7-2 majority, Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with a lower court that the state of California failed to prove that depictions of "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" were sufficiently harmful to young minds to justify carving out a free speech exception solely for children.

For centuries, young children have been exposed to "no shortage of gore" in Grimm's Fairy Tales, he wrote. "Cinderella's evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves.  And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven."

Davies, however, said the impact of reading Grimm's Fairy Tales on the page cannot be compared with the visual and aural assault of a violent video: "It's much more vivid and much more traumatic," she said.  On another level, though, repeatedly playing these fictional, interactive video games distorts children's concept of death, she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio