Crime & Justice Policy

“Nerve” and violent encounters: An assessment of fearlessness in the face of danger

Melde, C.; Berg, M.T.; Esbensen, F.‐A.
Mar-12-2019

Abstract

The findings from a large body of research on the ecology of violence indicate that individuals demonstrate a willingness to engage in violence to reduce their risk for violent victimization. Scholars have suggested that a reputation for toughness and aggression acts as an informal signal that deters mistreatment. Anderson (1999), in his street code thesis, in particular, argued that adherence to the street code functions as a signal that reduces violent victimization risk. Other research findings, however, reveal that the street code leads to an increase in victimization risk; moreover, violent offenders are routinely victimized at high rates given their lifestyle and routine activities. The evidence, therefore, does not show support for the position that a reputation for toughness or aggression effectively reduces violent victimization. In the current study, we operationalize the concept of nerve, which findings from criminological studies indicate is an important mechanism for protecting adolescents from victimization. Using data from the second national evaluation of the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program, we test this operationalization of nerve to determine whether the concept is associated with later violent offending and violent victimization in ways consistent with theory and research on the ecology of youth violence. Our results demonstrate support for the notion that nerve is positively associated with violent offending, whereas those at the highest levels of this construct experience fewer violent victimizations.