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Study: Self-reported delinquency among young people in Toronto

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The Daily

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A new survey examining delinquent behaviour among middle-school students in Toronto found that 1 out of every 5 reported committing at least one delinquent act in the 12 months before the survey.

However, the results also suggest that a relatively small proportion of the young people were responsible for a high number of repeated delinquent acts.

The survey, which was based on answers provided by the students themselves, found that the vast majority (91%) of self-reported delinquent behaviours were committed by just under half of delinquent youth. In fact, 80% of all acts were committed by the 25% of young people who reported committing 10 or more delinquent acts.

The most frequently reported delinquent violent act involved carrying a weapon, such as a stick, chain or knife, followed by group fights. Among property-related delinquent acts, the most frequent types were theft of merchandise from a store, and vandalism.

The survey found that delinquent behaviour was more prevalent among youth who reported having consumed alcohol and drugs, and among those who indicated having little parental supervision.

In many cases, parents, teachers, police and other individuals were unaware of the delinquent behaviour. Just over 40% of the Toronto students who had reported committing at least one delinquent act in their lifetime said that their most recent act had been discovered by another person.

Nearly two-thirds of all youth who reported that their last delinquent behaviour was discovered said they were punished by their parents, a teacher, the police or another person.

Note to readers

This release summarizes a new report containing the first findings from the International Youth Survey. It is the Canadian version of the International Self-Reported Delinquency Study that was conducted in over 30 countries in 2006. These international findings will be released at a later date.

In Canada, the survey was funded by the National Crime Prevention Centre at Public Safety Canada, and was conducted with the Toronto District School Board and certain private schools. More than 3,200 youth in grades 7 to 9, representing 60,900 students, participated during the spring of 2006.

The report examines the prevalence of various delinquent behaviours, and analyzes acts of violence and acts against property separately. It also examines factors associated with youth delinquency, such as alcohol and drug use, the quality of parent-youth relationships, parental supervision and delinquent friends.

The survey addresses several questions and issues that are closely linked to youth delinquency, and will allow for international comparisons on such issues.

Delinquency, as defined in this report, refers to all behaviours explicitly set out in the Criminal Code of Canada, whether engaged in by individuals aged 12 to 17 or by those 18 years of age and older. This definition does not cover statutory delinquency, such as truancy, nor does it include alcohol or drug use.

The survey also found that delinquency was higher among young people who were gang members. The prevalence of delinquent behaviours among youth who reported belonging to a gang was more than double (45%) what it was among youth who said that their circle of friends was not a gang (20%).

Over 40% of youth indicated that they had been victimized at least once during the 12 months prior to the survey. Delinquent youth were more prone to being victimized.

Property-related and violent delinquent behaviours equally prevalent

The survey questioned the Toronto students on two aspects of delinquent behaviour: violent behaviours, such as threatening someone with a weapon, and delinquent behaviour involving property. There was no difference in the prevalence of these two types of delinquency in the year before the survey.

About 13% of students reported participating in violent delinquent behaviour during the 12 months prior to the survey. Those in grades 8 and 9 were slightly more likely to have reported being involved in a violent delinquent behaviour than grade 7 students.

Boys were twice as likely to report engaging in violent behaviours than girls, 18% compared with 8%. These boys were responsible for about 72% of all reported violent acts in the year prior to the survey.

The survey estimated that students had committed just over 62,000 violent acts in the year prior to the survey. Two types of acts, carrying a weapon and participating in group fights, accounted for 88% of all violent acts.

In total, an estimated 3,800 students reported carrying a weapon, far fewer than the 5,700 who reported participating in a group fight.

However, there were more than 37,000 reported incidents of carrying a weapon, compared with an estimated 18,000 reports of group fights, indicating that those students who carried a weapon did so repeatedly.

In fact, three-quarters of those who had carried a weapon reported that they had done so more than once.

Shoplifting the most common property-related delinquent behaviour

About 13% of the Toronto students reported participating in property-related delinquent behaviour during the 12 months prior to the survey, as was the case for violent behaviours. Again, those in grades 8 and 9 were more likely to have done so than those in grade 7.

The survey estimated that overall, about 47,000 delinquent acts involving property were committed during the 12 months prior to the survey. This is much lower than the number of violent acts reported over the same period.

Of these, 25,000 involved shoplifting, more than 12,000 involved vandalism and over 5,400 involved arson. Auto theft and break-ins were reported less frequently.

Among the students who had committed delinquent acts, the majority (70%) reported committing only one type of delinquent act involving property.

Certain factors are associated with delinquency

The survey examined factors that may be associated with a greater likelihood of delinquency.

Delinquent behaviour was significantly more prevalent among students who reported consuming alcohol and drugs, those who indicated having little parental supervision, and those who were living in a step-family, or a blended family, at the time of the survey.

Higher rates of delinquent behaviour were also found for youth who had older friends, friends who tolerated illegal activities or friends who were delinquent themselves.

Delinquent behaviour was more prevalent among youth who said they spent a lot of time with their friends in public places, such as a park, the street, a mall or their neighbourhood.

The small minority of students who reported that they did not get along well with their parents had higher rates of delinquent behaviour.

Overall, 2 out of every 5 students victimized

The survey asked students whether they had been victimized during the year prior to the survey, such as being bullied at school.

Overall, 2 out of every 5 students (40%) reported having been victimized. About 28% said they had been victims of a theft, and 21% were victims of bullying at school. Over 5% reported having received threats of extortion and 3% reported having been hit so violently that medical attention was required.

Two-thirds of all students who were bullied were victims of such incidents more than once. About 16% of young people said they had been bullied on more than 12 occasions during the year prior to the survey.

The survey also found that students who reported that they had engaged in traditional types of delinquency at least once were more likely to report having been victimized. About 56% of delinquent youth had been victimized, compared with 36% of non-delinquent youth.

Internet: About one-quarter of students said they had been delinquent online

The survey asked students about inappropriate uses of the Internet. The results showed that just over one-quarter indicated they had engaged in Internet-related delinquent behaviour at some point in their life.

About 14% reported that they had illegally downloaded music or movies, while 13% indicated that they had hacked into a computer by breaking through security into a website or a computer account. About 7% reported they had sent harassing e-mails.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 5117.

Juristat: "Youth Self-Reported Delinquency, Toronto", 2006, Vol. 27, no. 6, (85-002-XIE, free) is now available online from our website. From the Publications module, under Free Internet publications, choose Crime and justice, then Juristat. A paper version (85-002-XPE, $11/$100) is also available.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Information and Client Services (toll-free 1-800-387-2231; 613-951-9023), Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

The public use microdata file for the International Youth Survey (89M0024XCB, $1,500) is now available. For information on the public use microdata file, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-800-461-9050; 613-951-3321; fax: 613-951-4527;, Special Surveys Division.