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The etiology of violence and the voice of the perpetrator

JoAnna Schoen, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The epidemic of violence now occurring in the United States constitutes one of the nation's most important social problems. Each year the boundaries of violence extend. Because its effects now touch all areas and populations, violence has been officially declared a major pubic health issue. The intent of this study was to explore the root causes of violence as reported by the violent offender. The study contains a review of the literature which looks at violence from a historical, biological, psychological, sociological, and psycho-social point of view. However, because the majority of research does not include direct interview or the perspective of the perpetrator, this study was designed to gather this absent information present it in their own voice. Twelve men from three different correctional facilities were interviewed. Each interview was conducted face-to-face in a private setting within the prison. Each participant was asked to talk about their life experience, history of violence, understanding of their violent activities, and finally based on their insight, offer recommendations for intervention. Additionally, they were asked to complete a powerlessness survey that queried their sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy at the time of their violent offense. In order to give the reader an opportunity to hear the voice of the participants, their stories are crafted in their own words and presented in narrative form. A number of interconnected thematic characteristics emerged from the interviews and survey. In addition to illuminating and verifying many of the speculations presented in the literature review, the findings suggest the presence of deficient, inadequate, or damaging conditions which occurred during critical developmental periods in the lives of the participants. Commonality of experience was noted within the following areas: lack of safety, lack of stable relationships, lack of education, lack of power and resources, lack of respect, lack of self-esteem, lack of self-worth, lack of self-efficacy, lack of coping skills, and lack of meaning. In this study, these deficits appear as significant predictors of eventual violent behavior. Based on the above findings, implications for clinical practice, programmatic development, and future research is suggested.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Behavioral psychology|Criminology|Personality psychology|Psychobiology|Cognitive psychology

Recommended Citation

Schoen, JoAnna, "The etiology of violence and the voice of the perpetrator" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9920649.