Pauline Mawson, Clinical Psychologist

Tel: 011 894 8216/011 898 6540
Fax: 086 573 3370
Pr: 0341304

Medicross Clinic
Cnr Trichardt & Northrand Road

The lived experience of violence by male juvenile offenders convicted of assault


Orientation and Motivation

"He beat my head against the boathouse…. He said if I hollered he would kill me. He stabbed me and scratched my hand with a horseshoe. Then he took me out onto the railroad. He had a big knife."
(Paul, 2005, p. 37)

By a 7 year old boy who was attacked by a 13 year old adolescent in North America.

Violent behaviour by youths in our society has clearly been prevalent for many years. However, in more recent years it is on the increase. Hardy and Laszloffy (2005) support this statement by reporting that the rate of aggravated assaults committed by adolescents has increased by a staggering 64% in the past decade. The increase in violent assaults by youths in South Africa is unknown.

Orientation and Motivation Cont.

The phenomenon of violence is multi-faceted and its effects are far reaching having an impact on the juvenile, his family as well as the society in which he resides

clinical psychologist

Juvenile crime is a major problem with professionals and members from the public express concern over the increase in scope and violence of individual juvenile crimes (Evans, 2007).

Headline in The Times: “ Killer children are normal”
(Ferreira, 2007).

Aims and objectives

This research explores the phenomenon of violence as the male juvenile offender experiences it from a qualitative research approach, namely a phenomenological perspective. This approach allows the researcher to capture the diversity and entirety of the experience.

This research hopes to bring about more of an awareness of this phenomenon especially from the perspective of how the male juvenile offender experiences it, as the actual experience of violence by the offender has been neglected and there have been few recent studies in this regard (Canter & Ioannou, 2004).

In addition, past research has been quantitative in nature with very little focus paid to the juveniles’ in-depth subjective experiences of their acts of violence.

The research methodology used in this research will now be explained in greater depth.


A phenomenological framework was utilized in order to elicit a comprehensive understanding of the lived experience of violence by male juvenile offenders convicted of assault.


Three male juvenile offenders who have experienced violence whilst assaulting an individual were purposefully selected.

The participants should have been between 13 and 19 at the time of the assault to qualify as juveniles

These three participants were sourced from the Leeuwkop’s Juvenile Correctional Facility

The participants needed to also be able to verbally express themselves well enough in English due to the nature of the research methodology.

Furthermore, the participants must have committed assault (either common, with intent to do grievous bodily harm or indecent assault).

Participation was voluntary.

Participant A: 22-year old African male who committed indecent assault at age 17

Participant B: 19-year old Coloured male who committed assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm at age 18

Participant C: 19-year old African male who committed assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm at age 18

Data collection

The raw data of the study was collected through face-to-face phenomenological interviews (open ended)

These interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim with non-verbal cues noted in the appropriate places


The transcriptions were analysed using a five step phenomenological process as proposed by Giorgi (1997).

The individual interviews were analysed using an intra-individual approach in order to identify the natural meaning units

Following this an inter-individual approach was utilised to elicit the common themes of the experiences


Inter-Individual Analysis : Central and Peripheral Themes

Central Themes

  • 1. The participants’ experience of external events prior to the assault and the relationship with violence from a phenomenological perspective:
    • Participant A: Pressure from work and the possible breakup of his relationship.
    • Participant B: Provocation by his sister’s boyfriend.
    • Participant C: Financial pressure, caring for an incapacitated relative, theft and damage at the workplace.
  • 2. The participants’ emotional reactions prior to and leading up to the violent act (from a phenomenological perspective):
    • Participant A: Anger, intense rage and fury as well as fear.
    • Participant B:Anger, intense rage and fury.
    • Participant C: Anger and confusion.
  • 3. The participants’ experience of the consequences of violence (from a phenomenological perspective):
    • Participant A:Arrest and conviction and being on the receiving end of violence.
    • Participant B:Arrest and conviction and nearly becoming a victim himself.
    • Participant C:Request for financial assistance by victim’s parents, arrest and conviction, personal loss.

Peripheral Themes

These included:

  • The use of substances and the associated link to violent behaviour
  • This only included the abuse of alcohol
  • The emotional reactions after the violent act
  • This included uncertainty and anger, distress, fear and guilt as well as denial
  • Learning to control violent thoughts, feelings and violent behaviour.
  • Impulse control, productive peer relations


With regards to the results obtained from the research, the following recommendations are offered:

Interventions:These need to be targeted at the participants and can be generalized, at both a primary and secondary level:

  • Primary: Preventative level aimed at children of a school going age that display symptoms of ODD and CD. In the form of therapy, social work intervention and psycho-educational programmes.
  • Secondary: More needs to be done at Correctional Facilities. Compulsory programmes to address violent behaviour and prevent recidivism.

Alexander (2000) suggests that violent juvenile offenders benefit from family therapy, education and career training.

All 3 participants displayed low levels of education and thus programmes to further their education can be offered at Correctional facilities.

Further research can focus on the long-term effects of the experience of violence for the male juvenile offender as this would provide a deeper understanding of the phenomenon.


It is evident from the research, which was conducted from a phenomenological perspective, that the theexperience of violence has an immediate, short and long-term effect on the male juvenile offender.

The phenomenon infiltrates and encompasses many aspects of his life and the community in which he lives.

"We are neither moralists nor criminologists. We know that crime, like all criminal behaviour, is a vast and complex phenomenon springing from many different sources, all of which interact with each other." Moir& Jessel, 1997, p. ix


  • Alexander, R. (2000). Counselling, treatment, and intervention methods with juvenile and adult offenders. Belmont: Brooks/Cole.
  • Canter, D.V. & Ioannou, M (2004). Criminals’ emotional experiences during crimes. International Journal of Forensic Psychology, 1 (2), 71-81.
  • Ferreira, A. (2007, June 11). Killer children are normal. The Times, p. 5.
  • Giorgi, A. (1997). The theory, practice and evaluation of the phenomenological method as a qualitative research procedure. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 28 (2), 235 –261.
  • Moir, A. & Jessel, D. (1997). A mind to crime: The controversial link between the mind and criminal behaviour. London: Penguin Books.
  • Paul, J. (2005). When kids kill. London: Virgin Books.