5.2. The 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
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
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 to youth.
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 for us.
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 same ideas.
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 other students.
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 friends.
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
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
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
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 story.
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 their
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 project
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 of Culture.
"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 cities.
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 the teenagers.
As a follow up to the discussion about
this initiative, you may like to look at the activity, "Domestic
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 education