'Youths may be violent after rocket attack exposure'

Ben-Gurion University study suggests chronic exposure to rocket attacks increases severe violence among adolescents.

May 30, 2013 00:49
1 minute read.
Children take shelter from rockets in sewage pipe

Children take shelter from rockets in a sewage pipe 390 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

While previous studies have documented higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Israelis who were exposed to rocket attacks from Gaza, research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has gone even further, suggesting that chronic exposure to such attacks increases severe violence among adolescents.

The new study was conducted by BGU Prof. Golan Shahar and Prof. Christopher Henrich from Georgia State University. Their study has been published in the online edition of the prestigious Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Henrich and Shahar and their respective teams followed 362 adolescents from the western Negev for four years (from 2008 to 2011), with annual assessments of exposure to rocket attacks, symptoms of depression, anxiety and severe violence. The finding that featured prominently in this study was that exposure to rocket attacks, including one experienced just prior to the launch of the study, predicted a steep increase in the severe violent incidents reported by the adolescent participants.

Such incidents included hurting someone so badly in a fight that they 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 (is most cases, a knife).

Levels of severe violence that 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 beginning of the study has predicted a 2.5% increase in the likelihood of involvement in severe violence. Their findings are the first to attest to the longitudinal effect of terrorism on adolescent violence, according to the authors.

“I applaud the effort made by medical, welfare, and psychological agencies in the northern Negev to prevent the deleterious effect of exposure to terrorism on youth development and health,” said Shahar, who is familiar with psychological interventions in the Negev.

“It is in light of these efforts that our findings regarding the effect of exposure to rockets on adolescent violence are so alarming.”

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