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Anti-Violence for Today

Kaitlin Dryburgh

The story of Glasgow reducing its violence by deploying a public health approach was a success. Once branded the murder capital of Europe, Glasgow turned it around with their violence reduction units going on to be replicated throughout other countries. But new research states the story isn’t over.

A study by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research alongside a handful of universities given the name “Safe Space” highlights the need for Scottish policymakers to continue with the public health approach. Yet, although it was successful it also needs to evolve with the times and changing trends. Its appropriate name also points to the lack of safe and free spaces for young people to access, and programmes that can run from them. Speaking to over 190 individuals, ranging from young people affected by violence to youth workers, the police and healthcare professionals the study provides an up to date landscape for policymakers.

Internationally recognised the public health approach to violence was successful in reducing violence by a third and murders by approximately 50% between the years of 2006-2015. The radical approach looked to treat violence like a disease, and approach individuals tangled up in violence at a pivotal point in their life when they would be more likely to make a change. Instead of throwing millions at the criminal justice system this approach looked at each individual as a case to cure. What could they do to help them? That could range from support with finding a job, counselling, or accessing addiction services. The number of violent crimes reduced, but so did the number of people carrying a knife, and those ending up in A&E due to violent act taking place. The health workers that approached those in hospital who were recovering from their recent brush with violence wore bubble-gum pink. Although a very calming colour, it cleverly signified they’re not the police or a doctor, but someone who stands out with these professions. They were often people with real life experience of what was happening to them. The benefits have been enormous and it threw the ‘why’ into the conversation. Why do people commit crime and get engulfed into a life of violence? Yet, it could very much be argued that not everyone got the memo, due to the fact Scotland and the rest of the UK has not attempted to try a new approach with their prisons. Scotland’s prison population still remains extremely high and it seems the party politics have out-weighed common sense when it comes to crime and punishment across the board. The ‘why’ should be considered much more often.

Although Scotland’s violence levels stayed relatively steady in comparison to England and Wales this study has found that after Covid, numbers in Scotland have been steadily creeping up. Gang culture is on the rise but the report urged quick attention to changing trends and said the current economic situation was also to blame. The past violence reduction unit was a success but it must evolve and continue to have strong and secure funding. When it first began nearly twenty years ago, social media was not the established fixture that it is in society today. For the majority of children, whether we like it or not, social media and the online world is part of young people’s development. As well as socialising with friends and peers in person, talking and interacting online is also important. This is something that the anti-violence policy needs to consider. Co-author of the report Professor Alastair Fraser from the University of Glasgow notes that on more than one occasion young people taking part stated the role that social media plays in helping to incite violence. One young person stated, “you start arguing over Snapchat, two full schemes going at it…telling them you’re going to kill them and aw that… it’s no good man, it’s frightening.” 

The report also makes the connection between social media and Covid-19. As lockdowns put a stop to traditional socialising digital communities among young people became even more important, and still remain to this day. The research suggests that youth practitioners need to know more about how to approach this and create safe online spaces. As well as social media sites. Although that would be an ideal situation, from other examples where action has been taken to force social media companies to take responsibility for damaging content on their sites, it is extremely hard.

Yet there is another reason why online communities are playing a pivotal part in this and it is due to a lack of an alternative. Budget cuts have forced local authorities to make some pretty hard decisions, we’ve seen leisure buildings shut down and youth initiatives had their funding cut, or disbanded all together. This has resulted in a lack of few safe and free spaces for young people in their community. Even for non-youths it is becoming increasingly difficult in Scotland to take advantage of free or inexpensive spaces. These spaces provided activities as well as support and engagement, they were integral to violence reduction policy. Young people are getting bored and turning to online alternatives. One youth worker who participated in the research told us of a well-attended youth project that became a Covid testing centre through-out the pandemic, but now lays empty. The funding no longer exists to sustain it. It’s a funding decision that could have some nasty effects later on.

Violence reduction in Scotland has shown to be successful when approached in a public health manner. Yet Common Weal argues that we shouldn’t just be trying to combat public violence (although very important) but should be aiming to prevent all violence and establish an anti-violence education and messaging. Implementing a National Anti Violence Strategy starting at school would teach pupils how to deal with anger and use self-management skills, as well as negotiation and making effective interventions. Promoting skills with very young people would help to combat violence when they’re older. Although this won’t be a silver bullet with all it would indeed help many and for those that have additional needs addressing this perhaps serves as a foundation on which to grow upon.  

If Scotland is to continue being an international example of combating violence we must continue our efforts and grow upon them, ensuring all young people have safe spaces within their own communities.

1 thought on “Anti-Violence for Today”

  1. Jennie Robertson

    Final recommendations here to engage with young people as early as possible is crucial – tho obviously developing the message & practices to be age appropriate & continuous. As a Youth Tenancies Support but previously mainstream Housing Officer, I did outreach to pupils in Primary 7 & throughout secondary school with particular reference to COST of vandalism weighed against housing & environments their parents wanted but that addressing vandalism & security issues prevented. I found young people of all ages very receptive to & participating in rational discussion so long as they could see point of it – not off at some abstracted level. NON-Public violence is under-reported – especially where that violence is by a minor toward parents or siblings. I grew up with a brother violent to my disabled mother + hospitalising me – that was in 1950s/60s ….. shocking that this us as unaddressed now as then, now in 3rd decade of 21st Century.

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