Philadelphia Profiles Risk Factors for Urban Violence

The Philadelphia Youth Violence Reduction Partnership has sponsored a great deal of research for our city. The partnership has examined risk factors of violence for individuals between the ages of 14 and 24. I believe these risk factors are characteristic of most of our nation’s urban communities. As we look through these risk factors, it seems predictable these issues contribute to violence.

Peer pressure
Philadelphia profiles risk factors for youth violence for 14-24 year-olds.

Awareness of risk factors is the first step to violence prevention

The list below is broken into five categories: individual, family, school, community and peers. Overlap and consequential relationships between categories is common, as one might anticipate.


  • Exposure to firearm violence
  • Few social ties (involved in social activities, popularity)
  • High alcohol/drug use
  • High drug dealing
  • Illegal gun ownership/carrying
  • Physical violence/aggression
  • Violent victimization


  • Delinquent/gang-involved siblings
  • Family history of problem behavior/criminal involvement
  • Family poverty/low family socioeconomic status
  • Family violence (child maltreatment, partner violence, conflict)
  • Living in a small house
  • Poor parental supervision (control, monitoring, and child management)



  •  Availability and use of drugs in the neighborhood
  • Availability of firearms
  • Community disorganization
  • Economic deprivation/poverty/residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood
  • Exposure to violence and racial prejudice
  • Feeling unsafe in the neighborhood
  • High-crime neighborhood
  • Neighborhood physical disorder
  • Neighborhood youth in trouble


  • Association with antisocial/aggressive/delinquent peers; high peer delinquency
  • Association with gang-involved peers/relatives
  • Gang membership
  • Peer alcohol/drug use

Preventing violence has a great deal to do with knowing the risk factors and attempting to diminish those risk factors.

In a day where our schools are struggling with funding, intervention programs are quite limited in ability to meet ever-increasing needs. Many of the organizations that provide family counseling and support are going out of business. So, reducing violence will be a challenging imperative.

There is not one answer, but providing ways to address each risk factor is a good beginning point.

I know our resources are limited and the problems are overwhelming, but investing in one student who lives in poverty, or struggles with gang members or failing in school may be the most effective way to prevent violence, one situation at a time.

When we see a teenager or young person in these situations, we should be working to provide new options for him or her. It is a way to decrease violence, save lives and create stronger and safer communities.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network


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