The Impact of Violence on Boys in Post-Conflict Colombia

Global; Public Health

Adolescent boys in war-torn Colombia reflected the aggressive behavior they saw in their streets and homes, but some are also rejecting the masculine norms and aggression of their parents, according to research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Researchers reviewed transcripts of interviews with boys age 13-17 in two communities that housed many families that had been displaced by the violence between rebels, the government and paramilitary organizations at the end of 50 years of armed conflict. Peace accords were reached in 2016.

Boys told the interviewers they had experienced regular corporal punishment and witnessed other violence in their homes, usually during arguments about money in which men sought to exert dominance over women. Some boys said they sought refuge in the streets, but there, too, violent gangs ruled with threats of physical force.

Some boys mimicked their parents’ disciplinary style and saw violence as normal and the only way to retain respect on the streets. Others, however, took what they had seen as lessons and resolved to be different.

“There seemed to be an open-mindedness among these young boys, providing a potential pathway to interrupt the toxic masculinity and cycles of violence they had witnessed and experienced,” wrote Lindsay Stark, lead author and associate professor at the Brown School.

The paper was published August 6 in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.