Estonian Schoolchildren’s Opinions about Violence and the Possibilities for Preventing It

Author:Silvia Kaugia
Position:Magister artium, Lecturer of Comparative Jurisprudence, University of Tartu

1. Introduction - 2. Self-control as foundation of social control - 3. Crime and violence in society - 4. Schoolchildren of Tartu on violence and its prevention - 5. Conclusions


Silvia Kaugia

Magister artium, Lecturer of Comparative Jurisprudence, University of Tartu

Estonian Schoolchildren's Opinions about Violence and the Possibilities for Preventing It

1. Introduction

An individual's behaviour is largely dependent on whether and to what extent he or she acknowledges which code of conduct he or she pursues in his or her behaviour; the acknowledgement of rules, in turn, determines the attitude of the individual towards the phenomena currently affecting our life in society at a particular moment.

A phenomenon that has become an inseparable part of our daily life is violence that can be expressed in very different forms - as school and domestic violence, violence against children and animals, etc. As a rule, violence is defined as behaviour that causes or may cause bodily injuries. However, violence can be defined in a broader basis as well, by including in the definition both physical and psychological damage along with indifference to or disregard for others' needs.

Violence is a phenomenon that characterises society as a whole, and embraces certain gender specificity. While men experience violence mostly in public places and the offender is predominantly an unfamiliar person, women fall victims to violence most often in their family and the offender is the woman's partner. Statistically, home is the most unsafe place for a woman. According to a survey of the Open Society Institute, 2851 women fall victim to physical or sexual violence in Estonia every day and 2/3 of these cases take place at home. Also, 227 men experience violence every day, but only 9% of the cases take place in their homes2.

In addition to adults, violence (including sexual violence) also affects youth (schoolchildren) daily. A survey of sexual abuse, conducted in 1999, revealed that 70% of the responding children had experienced sexual abuse (including mild and severe verbal abuse, mental abuse, physical and severe physical sexual abuse3. When we look at the statistics collected on crime victims in 2007, we see that in 7% of the offences registered in 2007, the victim was a minor. Young people aged 14-17 were most often victims of theft, whereas children aged below 14 experienced physical abuse4.

A survey of school violence, conducted in basic schools by the Estonian Union of Child Welfare in 2001, indicated that 46.97% of the respondents had experienced poking or pushing as milder forms of physical violence. The number of pupils who had experienced mockery was 39.57%, personal items had been taken away or hidden from 34.1% of the pupils. Approximately 16% of the pupils in basic school had been hit or beaten5.

School violence has not disappeared over the last few years either. According to the survey "Deviant Behaviour of Estonian Minors," conducted by the Institute of Law, University of Tartu, and the Ministry of Justice in 2006, of the children responding to the questionnaire, 24% had experienced school violence, and every fifth child had fallen a victim to the theft of his or her personal items. The most common victims of violence were minors aged from 14 to 15, while 3-4% of the girls and 6-7% of the boys had experienced violence6.

Violence is not characteristic of a secure society; yet the attitude of the members of society towards violence characterises, to a great extent, the level of their legal conscience. Awareness of the violence problem (especially among young people) as well as searching for and identifying measures to reduce it gives a bigger contribution to increasing the security of society. One of the factors, the importance of which both in developing (legal) conscience and reducing violence cannot be overestimated, is social control, which applies both to self-control as well as informal and formal control. Social control, as an evaluation system, shapes public opinion which may play a considerably greater role in social life and a form of social behaviour, than it may seem at the first glance.

2. Self-control as foundation of social control

It is a well-known saying that to make the world a better place, one should start with oneself. To paraphrase the saying, we may say that before you evaluate the conduct of other people, you should look at your own, and do so through your own internal prism.

The rules that guide a person's behaviour can be categorised into external and internal: external rules of conduct are those that have been fixed (in writing) and that are expressed in certain acts by people; we can regard internal rules of conduct as the way of thinking and the convictions of a person, referring to them as thinking patterns or attitudes. Internal patterns of conduct do not presume the presence of group spirit existing in the external world in the sense of a localised collective consciousness that is separate from the individual. The rules of conduct that guide thinking exist only in individuals and may solely be expressed indirectly through their words and actions. We can speak about an individual's social consciousness only in the case of abundance of uniform internal rules of conduct of people, and only in this sense7.

In investigating internal control units, focus is placed on self-control that guides an individual's Ego and Superego and thus impedes deviant behaviour. An inadequate internal control is often the consequence of an unfavourable social environment (above all family).

Self-control forms the basis of any type of social control and represents containment of disrupting emotions and impulses. The people who possess this skill (1) are good at restraining their impulsive feelings and disrupting emotions; (2) remain calm, positive and determined also during the moments of trial; (3) think clearly and maintain their ability to focus even under stress8. Self-control is founded on a person's morals and stems from his or her conscience which is an internal, individual perception of justice.

Conscience serves as an internal moral voice, the core of justice, a so-called regulatory filter. With a clear conscience, a person is satisfied because the feeling of solidarity serves as an act of self-realisation in an ideal community. If this regulatory filter detects a deviation from the standards accepted on the level of consciousness, this elicits fear that is manifested as an accusing reaction in the form of self-criticism and punishment.

Consciousness stems from the understanding that an individual has a responsibility and liability to other people, which constitutes the individual's responsibility and liability to himself or herself. Unlike shame, consciousness does not depend on the opinion of others and in this sense serves as an internal moral judge. An advanced consciousness signals a morally mature personality. People who act in a manner that is acceptable to society can be divided into (1) people who are mostly guided by consciousness in their behaviour (shame plays an insignificant part), and (2) people who are guided by shame (consciousness remains secondary). The former are undoubtedly morally more mature9.

Figuratively, consciousness has been compared to a sharp rock that is located in the soul of an individual. If the individual does not behave as required, the rock starts to roll and hurts the soul. But rolling wears down the edges of the rock and the more the rock rolls, the less it hurts the soul. This means that consciousness no longer responds10. In cases like that, the individual no longer pays critical attention to any behaviour that is contrary to the standards, including offences.

In this way, we can view crime control policy in a wider social context because the core values of society are protected through that. Aimed directly at criminal behaviour, by controlling crime, a certain social and cultural environment is reproduced and social capital (condemnation, punishment as a response to the violation of generally accepted standards, remedy of damage caused by crime) is created11.

3. Crime and violence in society

The practice of crime and violence control is inseparably related to the development level and cultural space of a particular society. This necessitates...

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