‘If you take it personally you break’ Neglected voices on violence in secure units for adolescentssw

Peter Andersson, Carolina Överlien


To a large degree, the voices of staff running daily operations in secure units for adolescents, particularly on sensitive issues such as violence and abuse, have been missing. The aim of the present paper is to make these voices heard by investigating what forms of violence staff in secure units encounter in their day-to-day work and to deepen our understanding of how they handle it. The study uses two theoretical starting points. First, the secure unit is understood in terms of Berger and Luckmann’s concept of institutionalisation, emphasising how behaviour and practices develop through well-defined roles. Secondly, inspiration is drawn from Goffman’s notion of frontstage and backstage, highlighting how staff within an institution (i.e. secure unit) enter into different roles. Fifty-three semi-structured interviews were conducted with staff at three different secure units for adolescents in Sweden. The material was organised through a thematic analysis, yielding six themes placed under two headings; ‘A violent scene? A matter of definition’ and ‘Handling violence: strategies employed’. The results show how staff describe youth as the violent party and how they suppress their own emotions. Additionally, staff articulated their own use of violence toward youth and their emotional stance, describing an interpersonal shield that protected them from violence. The results underline the importance of raising questions about the nature of violence in secure units for adolescents and how staff handle such violence in their everyday work.

Keywords: Secure units, staff perspective, violence, front and backstage, institutionalisation

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1921/swssr.v19i3.1191


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