Stop the Violence movement in Denmark An example for
a peer led youth initiative
The name of the project is Stop
Volden (in English "Stop The Violence").
The choice of the name was inspired by the American
Stop The Violence movement and by our desire to stop
the increasing violence in our country with the help
of the Danish youth.
In the autumn of 1993 five young
people in Copenhagen got together to make an effort
to change people's carelessness towards the growing
incidents of brutal violence especially among the
teenagers. We had all noticed how increasingly violent
the city of Copenhagen had become. Therefore we decided
to make a common effort to convince our youth that
violence was not the answer.
After a common friend was
stabbed 6 times and almost lost his life we decided
to start preparing a concert against violence. Soon
after that there was another stabbing again amongst
vary young teenagers, and this time the victim died.
After that we released a notice in the press and soon
became popular all over the country as the "teenagers"
called "Stop The Violence".
Target group and place
The target group of the project
was youth in Denmark, i.e. people aged 12-25. Young
people living in major cities and urban areas where
chances for success in life are usually lower than
in the countryside. After a while we discovered that
it was not enough just to address the youth. We had
to work with those who surrounded young people: parents,
school teachers, youth club workers, police, friends,
etc. Only after raising the awareness of that "package"
of people we could really get the results.
The project covers the whole territory
of Denmark - at youth clubs, primary schools, high
schools, etc., at music festivals and concerts.
We have access to young people in
various ways. After our first concert, 1500 people
had the opportunity to join our movement by sending
out a special postcards with their name, address,
age, etc. We found out that cultural events such as
concerts were an effective means to show our concern
and to indicate our common problems as young people
be it Pakistani, Moroccan or Danish and whatever our
favourite type of music was. Another way of getting
access to the youth was through institutions. We started
receiving invitations from schools to attend meetings
and soon afterwards we discovered that we would be
much more successful if we spoke directly to the people.
So we started to give lectures around the country.
After the press released information about our lectures,
the demand for them rapidly increased.
Main content of the project
Our project is basically
about the fight against violence as a process of understanding
of its nature and of the social conditions which induce
it. We had learned that violence, racism, anti-Semitism
and drug abuse among the youth are often cry to the
surrounding world: a call for recognition or a way
to find/establish an identity, or an attempt to demonstrate
a position. We did not believe that anyone can become
violent simply because he/she likes it. There is much
more to it, a logic which may not make sense to the
established society but is of a very central importance
Outline of the methodology and description
of one particular session
We never prepared ourselves before
a session we followed the natural course of the discussions.
Sometimes there was a particular subject everybody
wanted to talk about, the subject depended on the
place. We did not have all the answers to people's
queries but we had the trust in youth and the will
to talk about everything that worried them. We mainly
talked about things we had experienced and which they
were very likely to come across in the future.
We did not tell young people how
to live their lives. We did not claim that we
knew better what was good for them. That would remind
them too much of our parents' generations' way of
thinking and would make us seem part of the "establishment"
which could result in the loss of young people's credit
We ask the young people to learn
from our experiences without having to live through
them and learn the hard way we did. Since we're a
couple of years older and normally more experienced
than our audience we try to explain them that they
were probably going to end up with more or less the
Nevertheless, we had three principles
that we asked the youth to respect:
• We are against all
kinds of violence (physical as well as psychological)
• We deny all forms
of racism (there has to be room for all of us)
• We say no to drugs
Here is one particular session. which
takes approximately half an hour, or sometimes more.
We were asked if we could visit that school because
it had a problem with a group of boys harassing the
Everybody in our original group had
a different background. Dany and Ronni are brothers,
half Danish and half Israeli. They lived with their
mother who was working most of the time. They were
living in an area of Copenhagen which was loaded with
crime, alcohol & drug abusers and a very high
unemployment rate. Dany and Ronni didn't have anyone
to keep an eye on them, so they ended up trying to
do a lot of things that made them what they are today.
Both of them, however, got out of
the criminal environment before it was too late. They
had already learned the hard way that they were heading
down the wrong path of life. That awareness came mainly
as they witnessed the fate of some of their closest
I am 20 years old, my parents are
from Morocco. I have five sisters and three brothers
and it was hard to live altogether and to establish
a personal identity. We were living at the heart of
Copenhagen, at a place called Vesterbro. It was much
like the place where Dany and Ronni grew up, just
add prostitution and drug problems. This place had
everything for the adults but nothing for the kids
apart from the school. My brother had problems as
many sons of foreign workers do he had been involved
with crime which brought much pain to our parents.
The girls were struggling for something forbidden
to them either by their sex or by the religion (Muslim).
All my sisters have one way or another
fought for the right to choose in their own lives
which is not easy to do when your parents have already
decided your future. The only reason being that you
are a female and have to be protected.
My parents used to say "The
shame a girl can bring to a family is ten times worse
than a boy is capable of".
Back to the session now.
The main problem was getting through
the five "rotten apples" in the school.
They were bringing weapons in school. The teachers
talked first to the youngsters, then to the parents
(which actually made things worse).
We didn't know how to handle the
situation because we didn't have an idea why they
were behaving this way. That day we were three of
us (two boys and a girl). We entered the room where
the session was going to take place and found all
7th, 8th and 9th grade students from the school in
the same room. We first looked at the faces in front
of us and tried to evaluate the young people from
their appearances and mainly from their facial expressions
The first thing we noticed was the
silence during our speeches. Not that they didn't
have things to say but they were somehow absorbing
what we were saying before starting their own "session".
Everybody had the opportunity to speak. After a while
we started talking about the situation in their school
and we noticed that only a few mentioned the five
trouble-makers of the school.
It's easy to point out at somebody
and accuse them and punish them. But then for sure
the problem would come back again. So we tried to
find solution which was fair for all.
We asked the trouble-makers to explain
their reasons for doing these things which they chose
to do after the session finished, when we were alone.
It turned out that they wanted something
else to do besides the school, because that was not
enough to fill their lives. They wanted something
exciting and kept mentioning the word RESPECT. They
didn't have positive means to assert themselves and
resorted to the easy way of "revolt". For
them it was a sign of respect when people moved aside
after seeing them coming down the street. We did our
best to convince them that what they were taking for
respect was fear and that it was very easy to scare
people. At the end we invited them to visit our offices
and see if they could help in our work.
One of the things that made them
listen carefully was our approach to sometimes present
in a funny way serious things. The effect of exaggerating
certain serious things and making people laugh is
often stronger and the message more easily accepted
than after a somber and gloomy speech in front of
a young audience.
The best and the worst moments of
The main successes and failures
Several times we felt we were
almost incapable of handling the situation because
we were entering new fields. Office work and administration
of Stop the Violence gave us a hard time - economic
issues, the legal rules around our initiatives, mailing
to 7000 people every month, arranging concerts, etc.
Everything is still completely new
for us and we try to get as much help as possible
but sometimes we feel like before a nervous breakdown.
Though it usually only lasts a while we feel a collective
mental strain particularly out of lack of support.
But then we look back and realise that no matter how
hard it was and how long it took as long as the result
is worth the effort, and the people it was made for
are satisfied, we are satisfied too.
We felt happy after a session when
we could feel and see that we made a difference by
listening or talking to the youth who were at the
session. Sometimes girls would come up to me after
a session and compliment my work. They would say that
it has been great because it is so unusual to have
people of almost the same age talking to students.
I know one thing for sure from my time in the public
school - I have never experienced young-to-young dialogue.
Instead we had police, dentists, etc. to tell us what
not to do. There was only one time when someone with
AIDS came to speak to us and we learned something
that the person had lived through, their true personal
We also remember with joy the moments
when we were given either an award or another sign
of appreciation of our work.
Training for the peer-teams and/or
When the project got more
acknowledgement from outside we decided to let schools
who had pupils interested in helping other young people
give an extra hand. After a while we discovered that
it was not easy to integrate newcomers every week
or month. We had the peers accompany us at our sessions
and meetings so they could get an idea about our work.
Most of them learned a couple of things, others got
a little taste of it. At the end we decided to have
one responsible person for every five peers at the
office which helped us to relieve the stress.
The results and the impact of the
The project is still going
on so I can only describe the results we have so far.
A folder entitled "Life is too short for violence"
was distributed to 40 000 pupils all over Denmark.
The folder was produced with the financial assistance
of the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Stop The Violence has more than 7000
members, most of them young people between 12 and
18. We have produced a 12" inch record of talented
young musicians who had never had the chance to be
recorded. The youngest of them was 13 and the oldest
25. The record was released with the help of the Ministry
"Stop The Violence" has
held five concerts with musicians from France, U.S.,
Denmark. All of them have been successful.
We invited the famous photographer
Jacob Holdt to show his pictures from America - a
dream land for many young people. The pictures revealed
the poverty, racism, drugs and violence in American
We have been out to 250 schools and
clubs to talk about racism, violence, hope and all
sorts of other subjects. We have participated in three
different books about the young and the problems of
As a follow up to the discussion
about this initiative, you may like to look at the
affairs" in Compass. It starts by asking
participants to reflect on the most common forms of
violence that exist in their own neighbourhood, and
then goes on to use critical incidents to look at
violence towards girls and women. Alternatively, if
you want something more energetic then you could use
the circle" in the all different all equal