Academic to visit Samoa to collect data on youth trauma

A New Zealand-based Samoan academic, whose research interest covers youth gangs and criminology, hopes to visit Samoa next year to collect data on young people with unresolved trauma as part of a study.

Gisa Dr. Moses Faleolo, of Massey University, told the Samoa Observer that young people with unresolved trauma like grief and loss would turn to groups like gangs in order to seek refuge, counsel, an outlet, and control over developmental life course issues.

“Gangs provide protection where despite being subjected to many instances of victimisation, members feel safe, older members mentor and provide emotional uplift, activities offer a way to release tension and suppress built up trauma so members struggling with unresolved grief can climb over this and push through toward rehabilitation, acceptance and stability,” he said.

It is not uncommon for gangs to be perceived as having a positive effect on its members, according to Dr. Faleolo, rather than just having a bad influence on its members.

“It is those that are biographies or personal life histories within the gang research literature that offer the most insightful and explicit aspects of the positive impact of gangs on its members,” he added.

“The minorities experience is a precursor to formation of groups like gangs where gays or females gravitate to each other, and form a support group to build off each other’s energies and experiences to cope with being discriminated, stereotyped and ostracized by society.”

And while some authorities and social service providers conclude it is better to work groups of juveniles rather than against them when developing programs, policies and interventions, Dr. Faleolo highlighted that it was a worldwide phenomenon and he is keen to collect data on this in Samoa.

“I think gang-involved young people with unresolved trauma like grief and loss is a world-wide phenomenon. To what extent will it be in Samoa, that remains to be seen,” said the New Zealand-based academic. 

“I am leading a theory-building research project called Pacific Criminology and hopefully if all goes well and COVID 19 subsides, I will be undertaking life history interviewing with young men and women in Samoa between February-May 2022 and I’m expecting this phenomenon to be among the findings when the analysis concludes.”

Dr. Faleolo’s work already includes interviews with Samoan youth living in New Zealand, which he said revealed how some of the parents or guardians of the young people didn’t find time to explain traumatic events within the family.

“So far, I know that the dozens of Samoan young men I spoke to in NZ, which just over half where born in Samoa, highlighted that their parents or guardians never explained to them what all the crying was about, where was their mother or significant other (who had died), and why were a lot of family members visiting and meeting. 

“Because they were five or six years old there’s an assumption by their parents or guardians that they are too young to know but then just leaves them to work it out among themselves, a stressful experience.

“So during their life course they confront further trauma like witnessing violence or family harm, being bullied in the school grounds or their father leaves the family by not asking questions and bottle it up until one day they explode or gravitate to other like-minded boys.”

Dr. Faleolo further explained that gangs will always be a part of society and they are a symptom of society’s imperfections.

“Authorities may try to eliminate them by targeting and locking up the leadership but new gangs spawn soon after. This means it is better to work with them rather than against them,” he added.

“Families who are living with a son or daughter that are members of a gang must try to live with it rather than fight it. Fortunately, most gang-involved young men and women spend a short time as a member and desist because they have matured or found another interest.”

There are schools that see pro-social modelling as an important component of programs that work to address gang formations, which Dr. Faleolo said can be done by inviting reformed former gang-members to address their students.

“Law and order authorities utilise this strategy as well. There is a need to substitute or eliminate the attraction to gang lifestyle and replace it with more appealing options,” he said.

“There’s money to be made in gangs so there’s a need to change this mindset and put in place employment options that are more appealing.

“At the end of the day, a lot of money, resources, patience and buy-in from government, business, parents, and other communities will be required. 

“A multi-faceted network of multiple agencies with far reaching and wide ranging abilities is the approach that is needed in order to stop the intergenerational cycle and ongoing loop that vulnerable young men and women unfortunately get caught up in.”

A study by Dr Faleolo in 2016 found that sending Samoan youth gangs in South Auckland back to Samoa was detrimental to their wellbeing and the village that they were sent back to. 

His study, From the Street to the Village: The Transfer of NZ Youth Gang Culture to Sāmoa, reveal insights into the lives of five members of Sāmoan youth gangs living in South Auckland, aged between 16 and 24 at that time, according to a Massey University statement.

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