University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Teens Silent on Crime

Young people won't talk about being victims of crime for fear of being labeled a "snitch," study finds

One of the most comprehensive surveys on youth crime to date has found that more than half of Canada’s teenagers refuse to break their “code of silence” to report negative incidents to parents, teachers or police. Sociology professor Julian Tanner and criminology professor Scot Wortley surveyed 3,400 high school students and 400 street youth in Toronto on subjects such as gang participation, perceptions of Toronto’s youth crime problem, and experiences of victimization (stemming from everything from minor property crimes and threats to serious assaults, robbery and rape).

Young people remain silent about their victimization experiences for a variety of reasons – fear of upsetting parents and getting grounded, a belief that they can take care of themselves, fear of retaliation from the offender, or simply believing that no one can do anything about the incident. They do not want to earn a reputation as a snitch or a rat, the research revealed. “Clearly, ‘telling on’ peers amounts to a cardinal sin among many young people in Canadian society,” says Wortley. Youth who do report being victimized tend to tell friends first, then parents, and the police last.

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