Mediating Factors

In addition, authors have begun to examine the indirect pathways through which community characteristics must exert their effects. Some research implies that victimization may mediate the link between community factors and later violent behavior. For example, community characteristics may raise the likelihood of personal victimization, which serves as the cause of violence. Scholars find that residential stability (Sampson et al., 1997) and collective efficacy (Sampson & Raudenbush, 1999) are inversely associated with violent victimization, and community-level ethnic heterogeneity and family disruption are positively associated with victimization (Sampson & Groves, 1989). The proposition that victimization is an important link in the chain is so far supported by theory (Ng-Mak et al., 2002) and empirical evidence in a number of other studies as well (De Coster et al., 2006; Stewart & Simons, 2006).

Violent values may be a key mediator between structural community characteristics and violence, as we discussed in Chapter 3. Low social control may interact with low levels of police enforcement and high levels of distrust of police (especially in minority communities) to promote the emergence of alternative norms about conflict resolution. Oberwittler (2004) finds that youths who approve of violence as a response to provocation are more likely to engage in serious offending, including violence and theft. However, the strength of the effect of violent values is dampened among youths who live in neighborhoods where residents endorse prosocial values. This finding suggests that individual values matter, but their impact on behavior is framed by the cultural context; what the rest of the community thinks about violence also matters.

Community context may also alter the ill effects of criminogenic family factors on crime. For example, Gorman-Smith et al. (2000) find that strict, cold parenting exerts a positive effect on adolescents’ likelihood of engaging in chronic offending, but this relationship is not significant in neighborhoods where youths report feeling connected to their communities. The finding suggests that a neighborhood context that fosters a sense of belonging among residents may attenuate the negative effects of bad parenting or stressed families.

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