Non-sexual violence in Scotland: report
Findings on the most up to date, complementary statistics on non-sexual violence in Scotland.
This document is part of a collection
3 Non-Sexual Violence in Scotland
3.1 What does non-sexual violence in Scotland look like today?
3.1.1 Victims of non-sexual violence
‘Non-sexual violence’, or ‘violent crime’ is a general term that encompasses a wide range of activity, from attempted assault and minor assault with or without injury, as well as Serious assault and Homicide.
Whilst it is much rarer for violent crime to result in more serious physical injury (that may for example require inpatient medical treatment), the consequences of such actions on the victim and those around them are likely to be far more severe and potentially life changing.
Despite the wide and varied nature of violent crime, most people in Scotland do not experience any form of it. For the relatively small proportion that do (2.3% of the adult population in 2017-18), some form of minor assault is most likely to have occurred.
However, violent crime is experienced disproportionately by those who have already been a victim of violence, and those living in deprived areas. Whilst only 0.7% of adults were victims of more than one violent crime in 2017-18 – their experiences accounted for almost three-fifths of all cases that year. At the same time, when looking at violence overall, victimisation rates are higher in deprived communities, with adults living in deprived areas almost twice as likely to experience violence than those living elsewhere.
In contrast to the position a decade ago there is now no difference in the proportion of males or females who experienced violence in 2017-18.
However, the picture is more complex when looking at different types of violence. For example, some sources show that males are more likely to experience the lower volume types of violence that include severe physical injuries. Also, figures on the overall prevalence of violence do not capture all experiences of Partner abuse, where evidence shows that females are more likely than males to have experienced this both in the past year and since age 16 (including psychological as well as physical abuse).
A person’s age is another factor related to their likelihood of experiencing violence, although violent crime as a whole is not concentrated within a specific age group. In contrast to a decade ago, there is now no difference in the likelihood of being a victim of violent crime between those aged 16 to 24 and those aged 25 to 44 years old. Older groups however, in particular those aged 60 and above, are less likely to experience violence.
Most violent crime in Scotland is not reported to the police. For cases that are recorded by the police, males are much more likely to be the victims of violence that resulted in severe physical injuries (Homicide, Attempted murder & Serious assault) - whilst males and females were equally likely to be victims of violence that led to less severe physical injury or no injury at all (like Common assault). Most police recorded violent crime and cases that proceed to court have male perpetrators.
For the most serious crimes of violence recorded by the police, almost half of victims were aged 25 to 44 years old (including 46% of both Homicide and Attempted murder & Serious assault cases). Therefore, most victims had an age that fell outside this range, demonstrating that violence is not concentrated within a specific age group.
Together, these sources all suggest that the profile of violent crime in Scotland has changed over the past decade, with violence now less patterned in terms of age and gender. However, it remains the case that most violence is experienced by repeat victims and victimisation rates are higher in deprived communities, so for a relatively small number of people within our communities, violence is common place, as a victim and/or as a perpetrator.
3.1.2 Perpetrators of non-sexual violence
Males are more likely than females to commit violent crime, however, the reduction in violence over the past decade has been driven by fewer incidents involving male perpetrators.
As with victims of violent crime, perpetrators are not concentrated within a specific age group and there is evidence to suggest that the average age of perpetrators has increased. In 2017-18, a violent crime was most likely to involve at least one perpetrator aged 25 to 39 years old, although this still only accounted for a third of incidents. Therefore, a majority of incidents involved perpetrators from other age groups. There has been a fall in the percentage of SCJS violent incidents which involved perpetrators aged 16 to 24 from 46% in 2008-09 to 23% in 2017-18.
Where information is available on police recorded violent crime, these are also most likely to involve at least one perpetrator aged 25-39 (including 43% and 42% of Attempted murder & Serious assaults and Robberies respectively). Again a majority of these cases are committed by those aged above and below this group. Over the past ten years, the average age of a perpetrator of police recorded violent crime has seen a small increase, due to reductions in perpetrators aged 16 to 24 years old.
Most sources suggest that, in general, perpetrators of violent crime are known to the victim. One exception is Robbery, which are most often committed by strangers. While the majority of Homicide victims are killed by someone known to them, males are more likely to be killed by an acquaintance whereas females are more likely to be killed by a partner or ex-partner.
3.2 Who has benefited most from the reduction of violent crime in Scotland?
As outlined in Section 2, there has been a marked reduction in non-sexual violence in the general adult population over the past decade.
Those who have benefited the most from this are males and people aged 16 to 24 years old. These groups were both less likely to experience violence in 2017-18 than 2008-09 – with the greatest reduction overall for those that have both of these characteristics (i.e. males aged 16 to 24, where the likelihood of experiencing violence fell from 17.6% in 2008-09 to 6.1% in 2017-18).
Over the same period no change was detected in the proportion of females or those aged 25 and over who experienced violence.
Another group of individuals who have benefited from the reduction in violent crime are adults who live outwith Scotland’s 15% most deprived areas (falling from 3.8% experiencing at least one violent crime in 2008-09 to 2.1% by 2017-18). In contrast, those who live in the 15% most deprived areas have not seen any reduction in violent crime over the past decade.
Where violent crime comes to the attention of the police, and information is available on the characteristics of those involved - a similar picture is apparent. Reductions in Police Recorded violence that includes severe physical injuries have been driven almost exclusively by fewer crimes with a male victim, whilst those aged 16 to 24 years old (and to a lesser extent those aged 25 to 44 years old) have seen the largest fall in police recorded victimisation rates.
For violent offending, Criminal Proceedings data shows that there have also been changes in the ages of perpetrators, with a large reduction in convictions for those aged under 30.
3.3 What’s happening to violence now in Scotland, is it increasing?
There is little evidence to suggest that violent crime as a whole is increasing in Scotland, though earlier reductions appear to have stabilised in recent years.
For example in recent years there has been no change in the proportion of adults who experienced violent crime, whilst the number of emergency Hospital Admissions due to Assault in 2017-18 remained at a near-record low when compared with the previous ten years.
As highlighted above, most violent crime is not reported to the police. Where it is, the relatively narrower measure of police recorded violence (which excludes Common assault) showed a 10% increase in 2018-19. This growth was multifaceted, with a rise in Robbery, Attempted murder & Serious assault, Cruelty to & unnatural treatment of children and cases linked to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 all contributing.
A broader measure of police recorded violence is one that includes Common assault, bringing it closer to the measure of violence used by the SCJS. As with people’s experience of violent crime and hospital admissions, this has also shown broad stability, with increases of less than 1% in both 2017-18 and 2018-19.
One sub-group of recorded violent crime - Attempted murder & Serious assault - has shown an increase since 2014-15. However most of this growth is likely to reflect a change in recording practice following a recommendation by HMICS to review the guidance used by officers in this area. Police Scotland believe that refreshed guidance issued as a result of this exercise may have led to some crimes that would have been previously categorised as Common assault now being categorised as Serious assault.
This suggestion is re-enforced by the absence of any associated increase in emergency Hospital admissions for assault during the same period – noting that the definition of Police Recorded Serious assault is any injury that is likely to require inpatient hospital treatment. Likewise, as noted above the SCJS has also detected no increase in people’s experience of violence during this time.
3.4 Where does most violence occur, and has this changed?
Most violent crime in Scotland occurs in a public setting, with the remainder taking place in private spaces.
The sources used in this report have found no evidence that the proportion of violence occurring in a private space is more prevalent today than it was ten years ago, with most violent crime continuing to occur in a public setting. The SCJS estimates that over three-fifths (62%) of violent crimes took place in a public setting in 2017-18, with the victim’s place of work being the most commonly cited specific location.
A similar pattern is seen for some types of violent crime recorded by the police. Over two-thirds of Attempted murder & Serious assault, and three-quarters of Robbery in 2017-18 occured in a public setting. In contrast, most Homicides occur within a private setting, though this was already the case a decade ago.
The likelihood of being a victim of violent crime for adults living in each Police Division was no different to the national average over the period 2016-18, with the exception of Highlands & Islands where the prevalence rate was lower. The police continue to record higher rates of Homicide, Attempted murder & Serious assault in and around the city of Glasgow (i.e. the west of Scotland), however, this area also experienced the largest decrease in these specific types of recorded violent crime since 2008-09.
The incidence rate of violent crime in Scotland is higher during the weekend – though a majority of violent crime continues to occur during a weekday. This is consistent across all sources included here and has remained unchanged since 2008-09.
3.5 Are there now more alcohol and/or drug related violent incidents?
Alcohol has played a less prominent role in violent crime in recent years than a decade ago, but nonethless remains a factor in a substantial proportion of violent incidents.
The 2017-18 SCJS found that perpetrators were believed to be under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs in 62% of violent incidents where the victims were able to say something about the perpetrator.
Perpetrators were believed to be under the influence of alcohol in 46% of violent incidents (down from 63% in 2008-09), while reports of the perpetrator being under the influence of drugs remained unchanged (36% in 2017-18). These figues include incidents where a perpetrator was believed to be under the influence of both alcohol and drugs.
When looking at violent incidents that involved only drugs or only alcohol, there has been a change in the composition with a smaller proportion of incidents involving only alcohol (from 39% in 2008-09 to 26% in 2017-18) and more involving only drugs (from 5% in 2008-09 to 16% in 2017-18).
Within the analysis of Police Recorded Crime data, references to either perpetrator(s), victim(s) or both being under the influence of alcohol is higher than reference to drug use. This is particularly noticeable in Attempted murder & Serious assault crimes, where most (63%) made some form of reference to alcohol (either with regards to the perpetrators(s), victim(s), or both). Whereas, one in ten (10%) made reference to the consumption of drugs. Over the same period, almost a third (31%) of Police Recorded Crime Robbery records made a reference to the consumption of alcohol, while one in five records (21%) made reference to the consumption of drugs.
3.6 Are there now more violent incidents involving weapons?
Violent incidents where a weapon was used are less common now than they were in the last decade. Crimes of possessing, but not using, an offensive weapon in public are down over the longer term but have increased in the most recent years.
The SCJS found that, where someone saw or heard what was happening, 12% of violent incidents included the presence of a weapon in 2017-18, down from 25% in 2010-2011. The number of Hospital Admissions due to Assault with a sharp object have fallen by over three-fifths (61%) between 2008-09 and 2017-18.
Over the past decade, there has been a large reduction in the volume of violent crimes reported to the police that involved the use of a weapon. For example, there was an estimated fewer 1,120 crimes of Attempted murder & Serious assault involving a weapon and 720 Robberies involving a knife in 2017-18 compared with 2008-09.
The most commonly used method as part of a Homicide in Scotland was with a sharp instrument, with around half (51%) of all victims killed in this way since 2008-09. Over the past ten years the number of victims of Homicide fell by over two-fifths (45% or 50 victims) from 111 for the three years ending 2008-09 to 61 for the three years ending 2017-18. This reduction has been driven by Homicides that involved the use of a weapon (down 31 victims or 44%) compared to when a weapon was not involved (down 19 victims or 47%).
Police recorded crimes of possessing, but not using, an offensive weapon in a public setting have shown large reductions since 2008-09 - falling by over half (53%, or 4,764 crimes) from 8,980 in 2008-09 to 4,216 in 2018-19 (Table 30), but increasing by around a third (36%, or 1,105 crimes) since 2015-16, when 3,111 crimes were recorded. A subset of this information, crimes of having in a public place an article with a blade or point, fell by a third (34%) since 2008-09. These crimes have also seen a rise in recent years, increasing by around two-fifths (43%) since 2014-15.
3.7 How does non-sexual violence in Scotland compare to England and Wales?
Statistics on crime in both Scotland and in England & Wales are derived from two main sources: Police Recorded Crime and national surveys; the Crime Survey for England & Wales (CSEW) and the SCJS.
However due to differing definitions and collection methods, it is not advisable to make direct comparisons of volumes and prevalence of most types of violent crime between Scotland and England and Wales using Police Recorded Crime or survey data.
For example, police in Scotland use a different set of rules to count recorded crime than those in England & Wales. For many incidents, multiple crimes will be counted in Scotland but only the most serious one will be counted south of the border.
There are also differences in the methodological approaches taken in crime surveys in Scotland and England & Wales, reflecting the different criminal justice systems in which they operate and the associated coding of crimes in the respective surveys.
However while direct comparisons are challenging, analysis of the 2017-18 CSEW suggests that trends in overall violent crime are similar to those seen in Scotland in the SCJS, with a relatively small proportion of adults experiencing violent crime in England and Wales and the number of incidents falling over the longer term but being more stable in recent years (as shown in Section 2.1).
As in Scotland, the longer term reduction in violence in England and Wales, as shown by the CSEW is also reflected in their respective Police Recorded Crime statistics. NHS hospital data from England and Wales found that admissions due to assault for the year ending 2018 were 33% lower than ten years previously.
Crimes involving knives or sharp instruments increased over the year ending December 2018 by 6% in England & Wales, to the highest figure since 2011. It is thought that some of this rise may reflect improvements in recording, however the main driver may be a ‘real rise’ as 31 out of 43 police forces recorded an increase, which is reflected by other data sources. It is also possible that more targeted police action may have led to more offences coming to the attention of the police. The rise in these crimes is supported by hospital data in England and Wales, with a 15% increase in admissions for assault by a sharp object during the year to March 2018.
An equivalent measure of knife crime is not available in Scotland, though statistics are produced on recorded crimes of handling offensive weapons or bladed / pointed articles (the latter of which mostly consists of knives). This includes both where the weapon was not used to commit a further crime / offence against a person and where it was used. Long term statistics are available on the former, but were only collected from 2017-18 for the latter. There were 2,709 crimes of handling an article with a blade or point (not used) in 2018-19, up 16% on 2017-18. These crimes have been increasing since 2014-15, across the majority of local authorities, though remain lower nationally than all years between 1999-2000 and 2011-12.
There has been a similar long term decrease in both Hospital Admissions due to assaults involving knives or other sharp objects and in convictions for knife crimes, such as for handling offensive weapons. In more recent years, these measures have remained broadly stable, despite the 43% rise in the number of Police Recorded Crimes of handling an article with a blade or point (not used) since 2014-15. However, it should be noted that statistics for 2018-19 are not yet available for both hospital admissions and criminal convictions, and will need reviewed in due course to determine whether any increase in Police Recorded Crime has started to have an impact in other areas.
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