Novel research findings suggest that chronic exposure to rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip towards the Israeli Negev increases severe adolescent violence.
The study was conducted by Professor Golan Shahar from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, and by Professor Christopher Henrich from Georgia State University in the United States. The online version of the article in which the study is reported has recently been published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Funds for this study were obtained from the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation and from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Henrich and Shahar and their respective teams followed 362 Israeli adolescents from the Western Negev for four years (from 2008 to 2011), with annual assessments of exposure to rocket attacks, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and severe violence.
"Those who are exposed more to missiles, turn more violent subsequently. Methodologically, these effects are as robust as can be. There actually are cultural activities and potent interventions in the Western Negev. But despite these, exposure to the missiles turns adolescents into violent ones," Shahar told Israel Hayom in an email Wednesday.
The report is the first longitudinal study attesting to the prospective longitudinal effect of exposure to terrorism on adolescent violence. Its findings should serve as a red ﬂag for health care practitioners working in civil areas affected by terrorism and political violence, the report's authors wrote.
The finding featured prominently in this study was that exposure to rocket attacks, including one experienced prior to the commencement of this study, predicted a steep increase in severe violent incidents reported by the adolescent participants. Such incidents included: hurting someone so badly in a physical fight that he had to seek medical treatment; being involved in a gang fight; being arrested by the police for a violent crime; and having carried a weapon (most likely, a knife). Levels of severe violence, which were relatively low at the beginning of the study (less than 18 percent) have risen as a function of exposure to rocket attacks, such that each exposure to rocket attacks prior to the commencement of the study has predicted a 2.5% increase in the likelihood of involvement in severe violence. Prior exposure to terror attacks was significantly associated with higher levels of depression and aggression.
Their findings are the first to attest to the longitudinal effect of terrorism on adolescent violence, according to Henrich and Shahar.
The Development Under Duress study was conducted in southern Israel in the towns of Sderot and Shaar Hanegev, two communities near the Gaza Strip experiencing thousands of rocket attacks over the past decade. Four annual assessment waves were used: May to June 2008, February 2009, March 2010, and February to March 2011. Participants were 362 Israeli adolescents ages 12 to 16 from the seventh through tenth grades at the start of study.
A letter explaining the study was sent by homeroom teachers to all parents with a consent form. Students whose parents signed consent forms were briefed on the study and were asked if they wanted to take part in it. Those who agreed signed consent forms before filling out the surveys. The sample was 54% female, and 93% were Israeli-born. The demographics of the sample mirrored those of the overall student bodies of the two schools.