28th June 2023
4th September 2023
Repeat victims of violence do not report to the police, even in cases involving serious injury and hospitalisation, a new study has found.
Researchers based at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research discovered that those experiencing repeat violence do not seek support due to a mistrust of authorities, social rules around ‘no grassing’ and the risks associated with identifying as a victim.
Official crime statistics have shown more than half the victims of violence* in Scotland do not report it to the police, which means little is known about this group’s experiences.
The study, which is the first of its kind in Scotland, featured 95 in-depth interviews with people who have experienced repeat violence and community workers who support them. Participants were mainly recruited from anonymised urban, town and rural locations with high levels of deprivation and violence.
Dr Susan A. Batchelor, a senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow, and co-author of the study, said: “It is well established that violence is underreported to the police, especially in under-resourced communities and amongst marginalised groups, who experience higher levels of victimisation.”
“Our research provides insight from people who are not counted in official statistics, giving us a unique insight into the meaning and impact of repeat violence. Many of those we spoke to described having become accustomed to the continuous threat of violence and of having to cope on their own because they could not access formal support.”
“I’ve grew up with it for so long that it’s so natural for me to see violence and be part of violence, that when it does happen to me, it’s just like another day. […] It’s stuff that I grew up with, it’s like washing dishes. And I know how bad that sounds, but I’ve seen it so many times that it just is normal.” (32-year-old man)
“I didn’t want to admit I was a victim cos when you say you’re a victim, it makes you feel like you’re quite weak […] You’re like, ‘No one picks on me, I’m a man, I’ll stop it myself’.” (27-year-old man)
Most of the people who participated in the research had multiple experiences of violent victimisation across the life course. As well as experiencing violence as children within the family home and as young people within the community, many had been on the receiving end of violence within institutional settings, including children’s homes, schools, prisons, and homeless hostels and hotels. These experiences contributed to a sense that the world was a dangerous place, where you could not rely on others, including the authorities.
As Dr Batchelor explained: “There was a deep sense of resignation about the inevitability of violence amongst the people we interviewed because their repeated experiences of trauma and harm had left them feeling like nobody cares, and no one is coming to help. The very small number of participants who had an experience of reporting victimisation to the police or another authority felt disbelieved or discredited – and this was often linked to their status as ‘homeless’, ‘a drug user’, or ‘an ex-offender’.”
The research found that people belonging to marginalised groups can get caught up in a vicious circle of victimisation, disadvantage, and further victimisation:
“Participants told us about leaving home to escape domestic violence or drug-related exploitation. Finding themselves homeless, they were then placed in emergency accommodation in areas characterised by concentrated disadvantage, increasing their exposure to violence. Yet they often felt unable to report victimisation in this context, due to social rules around ‘no grassing’ and/or fear of retaliation. Some were even excluded from victim support services because of their accommodation or substance use status. Isolation meant that drug and alcohol use was a common coping mechanism,” said Dr Batchelor.
“Culturally, it’s just a sort of- It’s an acceptance of violence here. Like it just is- It’s just what is known. Everyone knows, certainly most of the family members I work with, they all know who the local hard men are, who the local gangs are, the local families are to avoid. They know the repercussions of being a grass, they know what it all means.” (Recovery worker)
For some participants, identifying as a victim carried a degree of stigma, alongside the risk of further harm, by marking the individual out as a potential target.
“I don’t like the word victim […] Being a victim, there’s a sense of vulnerability about being a victim. And for me anyway, I don’t like the vulnerability. (32-year-old woman)
Co-author Dr Caitlin Gormley, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, said the social pressures on men to be tough meant violence was almost expected of them. She said: “Young men, especially in deprived communities, are often under chronic pressure to live up to hyper-masculine ideas of ‘the hardman’ and ‘protector’ which means they can find themselves in dangerous situations, increasing their likelihood of becoming victims of violence. Yet men receive less recognition as victims and there is a lack of services targeted to their needs.”
“If someone starts an argument with you, you’re just expecting to fight. Like, it’s not resolved through words, it’s just not. You can’t just resolve things with words here, it’s got to be dealt with there and then or it’ll drag on.” (21-year-old man)
In the report’s recommendations, the researchers suggest communities could play a critical future role in preventing violence. Dr Gormley said: “We have seen the benefits of taking a public health approach to violence prevention in Scotland and need to continue to develop community resources. Our findings also point to the value of community policing presence.
“Histories of marginalisation are associated with a lack of trust in state institutions which contributes to a culture of self-reliance, reluctance to engage with justice services, and further social isolation. The people we spoke to had a strong preference for informal resolutions and for local, peer-led, support. More sustainable funding for grassroots community projects that promote strong participation, led by people with lived experience, could be the key to ensuring these hidden groups are not only seen but are engaged in getting the support that they want.”
Notes to Editors:
- The final report, ‘Repeat Violence in Scotland: A qualitative approach’ by Dr Susan A. Batchelor and Dr Caitlin Gormley, University of Glasgow, is available on the Scottish Government website along with three briefing papers on Community, Drugs and Gender. https://www.gov.scot/isbn/9781835212127
- The Scottish Government commissioned this qualitative research to better understand repeat violent victimisation (RVV), by exploring the views and experiences of those who are victims.
- *The 2019/20 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey estimates that almost half of violent incidents (48%) were brought to the attention of the police, whilst 52% were not. (p.57)
- The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research is a collaboration between the Universities of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier, Glasgow Stirling and Strathclyde. SCCJR aims to produce research that informs policy and practice and advances our understanding of justice.
Crime, Violence and Inequality