Living in a deprived area increases the risk of violence more sharply for girls than boys. The new results suggest violence prevention strategies need to focus more on local inequalities, especially to protect vulnerable adolescent girls.
The survey was conducted by the Violence and Society Research Group at Cardiff University. The team studied nearly 700 young people, aged 11 to 17, who attended casualty departments in South Wales with injuries from violence. The researchers matched the patients against the levels of deprivation in their home neighbourhoods.
The team found that assault injury rates were uniformly higher in the most deprived areas. Overall, boys were more at risk of violence than girls. However, the team also found that the risk of injury increased more rapidly for girls than boys as material deprivation increased. In one deprived area, girls faced a risk of violence six times greater than in more affluent wards. Boys in the same area were twice as likely to be injured than in more affluent areas. This means that the risk to girls was three times more sensitive to deprivation.
Professor Jonathan Shepherd, Director of the Violence and Society Research Group, said: "The study clearly shows that poverty raises the risk of violence dramatically more for girls than boys. There's no reason to believe this will not apply to all former industrial areas in the UK.
"The facts linking deprived neighbourhoods to violence are complex and include social cohesion, substance abuse and family stress. It is not clear why the risk to girls should be so much more sensitive to deprivation but the reason may be linked to the different ways girls of different backgrounds resolve disputes.
"There is already concern about the violence risk to young women. Our findings show that adverse economic conditions could make the problem even worse. Injury prevention schemes need to be directed at children and adolescents in areas of highest deprivation to improve their life chances and well-being. Emergency department doctors responsible for treating the results of this violence have an important role to play in this, working with community safety partners and child protection agencies."
The study has just been published in Emergency Medical Journal. It is the latest work published by the Violence and Society Research Group, awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize earlier this year for its pioneering work in the understanding and prevention of community violence.