We have sought out contributors with something new to add to the debate

Violence in our society – the Introduction to Curing Violence

Posted on 31 Oct in

Phil Bowen

According to the 2018 Global Peace Index, the United Kingdom is the 28th safest society in the world (when compared to 163 other countries) and sits in the safest continent in the world.[1] And yet concerns about the levels of violence in our society continue to not only make headlines but, more importantly, blight the lives of our citizens and our communities.

Our ability to quantify how much violence there is in our society and the nature of that violence is probably better now than it has ever been. And while that data can tell us only so much, the trends are revealing. At its most abstract, we can look at overall levels of violence in society, through the use of large public surveys. These tell us that overall violence is down. In England and Wales, there has been a 46% decrease in the number of violent incidents over the past 15 years.[2] Latest data from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey reported a 41% decrease in violent incidents since 1998.[3] In Northern Ireland, there has been a 61% reduction in the number of households reporting being a victim of violent crime since 1998.[4]

However, focusing on positive overall trends can be a misplaced sedative. It is sobering that an estimated 1.9 million adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year[5] and that there are an estimated 3.4 million female victims and 631,000 male victims of sexual assault in England and Wales.[6] While only 2.6% of adult Scots were a victim of violent crime last year, far fewer than 20 years ago, that still represents nearly 14,000 individuals whose lives were affected by violence towards them.[7]

Moreover, data about recent changes in specific categories of violent behaviour offers real cause for concern. In England and Wales, there has been a 16% increase in police recorded offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in the last year.[8] In Scotland, police recorded crime data for 2016-17 suggests an increase in murder and robbery.[9] While we should be glad that there has been a 99% reduction in the number of deaths connected to the security situation in Northern Ireland since its peak in 1972, there were still 101 paramilitary style assaults in 2017, a rise of 19% on 2016.[10] When set in that context, it is perhaps not surprising that 64% of the public believe that violence has gone up over the past year.[11]

Data also tells us that violence is not one thing — it does not have a single cause, a single character, or a single impact, and the burden of violence falls particularly heavily on some groups in our society. Across the UK, as in the rest of the world, that, those individuals living in our more deprived communities suffer from violence more than the rest of us.[12]  Latest data from Scotland, which accords with data across the developed world, shows that 79% of all incidents of domestic abuse in 2016-17 had a female victim and a male accused, with 88% of the violence occurring in the victim’s own home.[13] Young people in England and Wales aged 16-24 are the most likely group in the population to be victims of violent crime and around three quarters of the perpetrators of violence are male.[14] Scottish data estimates that over half of violent crime (54%) was alcohol related in 2014-15.[15] There is a tragic diversity in the violence that harms our children, our livelihoods, our communities and our society.

The purpose of Curing Violence

Even though we are getting less violent overall, it is not good enough in a civilised society to accept the level of violence present in our society nor how unequally that violence impacts on our citizens. It is not helpful to be alarmist about violence but neither should we be complacent. Not one of us — no matter where we live or what we do — can be certain who will suffer from the next act of violence. The victims are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings love and need.

The essays in the book represent varied insights into violence and the many varied solutions to it. But the views contained herein are not arbitrarily selected. We have explicitly curated these voices because they exemplify four themes.

First, the voices in this book seek to solve problems. The essays and contributions start where too many books on crime and wider social policy end — at the point where they recognise the urgency of tackling a problem without being clear about what we can constructively do about it. The point of this book is not to describe the problem of violence in our society — the point is to help solve it. Therefore, the essays contained here represent prescriptions as well as diagnoses. We hope this book can contribute to nourishing and spreading effective approaches and building and sustaining communities of good practice that can contribute to the work of reducing violence in our society.

Second, the voices in this book do not shy away from the complexity of violence in our society nor the complexity of what we can do to prevent it. We believe people can choose to do right and they can choose to do wrong but that these choices are heavily shaped by and reflect wider social and political choices that we make as a society. As this book of essays shows, violence can occur among the unequal relationships we have with each other, in our homes, on our streets and in our communities. Violence can occur when the legitimacy of our political and social settlements break down. Any reader seeking a simple solution to all violence in our society will be disappointed and we make no apology for that.

Third, the voices in here are inherently optimistic. They believe in people’s capacity to accept responsibility and to change for the better. They believe in communities’ capacity to confront violence. They are all unified by what Dr Martin Luther King called the “fierce urgency of now”. They believe we can reconcile and rehabilitate those who have done wrong, that our communities can grow better at preventing violence and become better places for us all to live our lives peacefully.

Four, the voices are diverse. We didn’t want to simply provide a new platform for the usual talking heads. We have sought out contributors with something new to add to the debate, whether it comes from working on the frontline, the lived experience of being a victim or a perpetrator (or, as is often the case, both) or simply those with a radical new idea. In the end, violence touches and concerns everyone in society and we have aimed to find voices that can speak to the joyous diversity of our society.

We hope this book of essays convinces the reader that we can reduce violence in our society: that by developing a rich understanding of violence and how to tackle its many root causes, we can make a real difference. Reducing violence is a responsibility for everyone — for those in power, in both government and in the formal criminal justice system, but also for all of us — in our schools and our hospitals, in the arts and in our civic society, on our streets, and in our homes.

If this small book in some way can help lead to a change in how we consider violence and the ways we can tackle it, if it can help us all reduce the violence in our society, then it will have achieved much.

This article is included in the Centre for Justice Innovation’s Monument Fellowship book, Curing violence: How we can become a less violent society.

[1] Institute for Economics and Peace (2018) The Global Peace Index. Available at: http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2018/06/Global-Peace-Index-2018-2.pdf

[2] ONS (2018) Crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2018. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/crimeinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018

[3] Scottish Government (2018) 2016-17 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Crime-Justice/crime-and-justice-survey

[4] Department of Justice (2018) Experience of Crime: Findings from the 2016/17 Northern Ireland Crime Survey. Available at: https://www.justice-ni.gov.uk/publications/research-and-statistical-bulletin-92018-experience-crime-findings-201617-northern-ireland-crime

[5] ONS (2017) Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2017. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2017

[6] ONS (2018) Sexual offences in England and Wales: year ending March 2017. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/sexualoffencesinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2017

[7] Scottish Government (2018) 2016-17 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Crime-Justice/crime-and-justice-survey

[8] ONS (2018) Crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2018. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/crimeinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018

[9] Scottish Government (2018) 2016-17 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Crime-Justice/crime-and-justice-survey

[10] PSNI (2018) Security Situation Statistics. Available at: https://www.psni.police.uk/inside-psni/Statistics/security-situation-statistics/

[11] YouGov/Centre for Justice Innovation Survey Results, March 2018 n: 1658 adults

[12] See, for example, ONS (2018) The nature of violent crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2017. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/thenatureofviolentcrimeinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2017

[13] Scottish Government (2017) Domestic Abuse Recorded by the Police in Scotland, 2016-17. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/Publications/2017/10/3700/346362

[14] Ibid.

[15] Scottish Government (March 2016) Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2014/15: Main Findings. Available at http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/03/5269