Not all arms possessors are the same: reduce armed violence among youth in Rotterdam by addressing underlying problems

The media has often drawn attention to increasing armed violence amongst youth. Since 2019, an increase in violence amongst youth has become apparent. Rotterdam and its surroundings have been the scene of this violence more than once. Although national and local campaigns have been launched and research has been done in Rotterdam and the Netherlands, much information on the scope, cause, and background of this issue among the youth in Rotterdam remained inconclusive. That is why the municipality of Rotterdam commissioned researchers from the Department of Law, Society & Crime of Erasmus School of Law to research arms and armed violence in Rotterdam. In the report, published on 21 September 2022, called ’Het is een problem, maar niet voor mij’ (It is a problem, but not for me), the research team pleads for campaigns focused on the most high-risk group: "Focus on the underlying problems". 

The research team consists of Frank Weerman, Professor of Youth Criminology, Robby Roks, Associate Professor of Criminology, Jeroen van den Broek, and Jip Willink, all associated with the Department of Law, Society & Crime. The team used mixed methods in the research, which included gathering widescale quantitative data using questionnaires, conversations with the youth, and studying police reports. 

Arms possessors are not all the same 

Young people who engage with weapons (mainly knives) can be divided into three categories. A group owns weapons but never uses them or carries them. They seem to have them out of an interest in weaponry. In addition, the researchers discern a larger group that sometimes carries a knife but does not use it. The report shows that this group feels unsafe more often or has experience with threats or violence. This group carries a weapon for self-defence. 

The third group differs from the first two groups in many ways. These weapon possessors concern a smaller and more specific group that carries weapons and injures or threatens others with weapons. "Youth in this category often has a problematic lifestyle and a more hostile and aggressive attitude towards others, but often they are also in a problematic situation themselves", says Weerman. 

Feelings of unsafety 

Young people who own knives declare that they want to be able to defend themselves, feel unsafe or feel threatened. In light of these declarations, there seem to be two categories: youth with general feelings of unsafety in certain areas of town or their environment and those who are threatened explicitly by others or find themselves in a conflict. Young people that carry or use weapons are relatively often recent victims of violence. 

One crucial comment must be made about concerns about weapons; Weerman emphasises: "The majority of the youth in Rotterdam is not involved with weapons. Approximately one in five teens has had, carried, or used a weapon within the research period of eight months. Most young people do not consider weapons to be normal or acceptable. They experience weapons as a wider social problem, but are capable of avoiding violent issues by themselves." 

Underlying problems 

The research team came up with several recommendations to reduce armed violence. The team pleads for campaigns focused on the most high-risk group that uses weapons, for a place for youth to address their safety concerns, and the team also recommends focusing on underlying problems and disadvantages. The team also states that not too much can be expected from measures solely focused on reducing the availability of weapons. 

Frank Weerman, Professor of Youth Criminology

  • Erasmus School of Law

Robby Roks, Associate Professor of Criminology

  • Erasmus School of Law

Jeroen van den Broek, criminologist and researcher

  • Erasmus School of Law

Jip Willink, junior researcher

  • Erasmus School of Law

Read the full report here (in Dutch)

For more information, you can contact Ronald de Groot of Erasmus School of Law, , +31 6 53 641 846.