Repeat violence in Scotland: a qualitative approach

This report presents findings from a qualitative research study which explored peoples’ experiences of repeat, interpersonal violence. The research involved in-depth interviews with people who have lived experience of repeat violence and community stakeholders who support them.

3. Community structure and culture

Key points

- Participants in all case study areas made a connection between poverty, violence and the drug economy within their communities, linked to generational deprivation, lack of local jobs, withdrawal of services, and housing inequalities.

- Communities were also characterised in terms of social norms sanctioning specific forms of violence, a defensive culture of non-cooperation with the police, and models of masculinity emphasising self-reliance.

- Within this context, violence was presented as an endemic, embedded, routinised and normalised feature of communities that people become accustomed to but do not necessarily accept.

- Positive features of communities included close family connections, loyalty and community spirit.


This chapter presents key features of our case study areas, as described by stakeholders and lived experience participants, to give broader context to the individual experiences of violence discussed in the chapters that follow. Significant structural features include generational deprivation and poverty, housing inequalities and concentrated disadvantage, close-knit community networks, and a local illicit drug economy. Important cultural features identified are social norms sanctioning specific forms of violence, a culture of non-cooperation with the police, and models of masculinity which emphasise invulnerability and self-reliance.

Community structure

The public health approach to violence prevention emphasises that interpersonal violent victimisation is not just an individual problem, but rather it is the outcome of a complex interplay between individual, relationship, community, and societal factors (Krug et al. 2002). The community factors highlighted in the WHO social-ecological model include poverty, high unemployment, high crime levels, local illicit drug trade and inadequate victim care services. This section explores the features identified by our stakeholders and participants with lived experience as being important for understanding and addressing repeat violence within their communities.

Across the case study areas, participants established a connection between poverty, violence and the drug economy. Of course, not all violence discussed in the study was related to the drug economy (see Chapter 5), but when asked whether violence was a problem in their community, participants often responded with an answer that explicitly linked these three factors. There was also a general view that whereas territorial violence involving young people had declined over the past decade, drug-related violence was on the increase – and this was often tied to increasing poverty and deprivation.

It's all fuelled by drugs, absolutely fuelled by drugs, and I do think poverty's got a huge part to play. It's like the poor have got much poorer and the drugs are getting harder and [there are] different types of drugs. Crack cocaine is very big now and in terms of psychosis, crack cocaine is very bad for that. So, I think that's got a lot to do with the violence as well. (45-year-old woman, West Rural)

Over the past 12, 14 years it's becoming worse. There are certain things that we believe are fuelling violence at the moment and the biggest driver we feel is poverty, closely followed by substance misuse. Anywhere that substances are involved seems to also involve violence. (Throughcare manager, National)

As discussed below, participants also highlighted the importance of housing inequalities as a factor contributing to high levels of violence within their communities, as well as the lack of youth and community services. These factors were linked to wider social and economic factors beyond the control of the community, notably long-term industrial decline, austerity measures and the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and housing policies resulting in concentrated disadvantage.

Generational deprivation and poverty

Both stakeholders and lived experience participants in each of the case study areas discussed the impact and effect of deprivation and poverty in the community and how this disadvantages people in various aspects of their lives:

The make-up of the area, like it's always historically in the top five, top 10% of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, which obviously flags up straight away it's somewhere where there's going to be issues with violence and poverty and all the sort of poverty associated things that come along with that like mental health issues, drug issues, alcohol issues, abuse, everything that happens and sort of parental abuse and like everything. (Youth service manager, East Urban)

There's a lot of poverty, so there is. Like people struggle with food and electricity and bills and all that. Like there was a woman that came in saying that she couldn't even get onto like a hardship payment or something from Universal Credit. […] And then there's lots of people asking, 'We don't have a bed' or 'We don't have nappies', all this. (18-year-old young woman, West Urban)

In describing the case study communities, participants often made comparisons with neighbouring areas marked by affluence and privilege, noting perceived differences in the presentation and maintenance of public spaces and leisure facilities as well as the absence of socio-economic inequality and violence:

[District 4], if we look at this area, in particular, is quite a rough, deprived area. There's sections that are probably more deprived than others but, in general, it can be seen as quite a deprived area. Again, looking at that, you're probably more likely to be a victim of that crime because you've got probably a higher increase of known criminals who stay in these deprived areas as opposed to if we compare and contrast it to a more affluent area. (Police officer, West Urban)

In our East Town sample, a more finely tuned distinction was made between 'really deprived' areas and more 'respectable' working-class communities:

[This] is a working-class area, absolutely. […] It's not like I'm saying this is the slums, it's not. It's a nice enough area, they're nice houses, like. No, it's a nice enough area and it's alright. It's nice. It's not like your fucking junkie flats fucking you're going to get in any fucking areas, not like the fucking high-rise flats in fucking wherever, [West Urban] or fucking [East Urban] or anything like that. It's not- It's not slums. (40-year-old man, East Town)

That's an important distinction to make cos in describing this town, particularly the bits that we've grew up in, it's working class and it's not posh but it's definitely not- It's not pure sort of ghetto or hood, it's not [District] in [West City], it's not [District] or [District] and stuff like that. (35-year-old man, East Town)

Comments such as these point to the impact of territorial stigmatisation on the most deprived neighbourhoods, which are both economically excluded and culturally devalued.

Stakeholders attributed social deprivation to longstanding patterns of economic decline, associated with deindustrialisation and the loss of jobs. In our West Urban and Town case study areas, the decline of heavy industry and rise of precarious work were highlighted as key drivers of deprivation, framed in terms of 'generational' disadvantage:

[West Urban] is a hugely deprived area where the industries, the main industries that supported the population round about here more or less closed in the mid to late 70s. And so, from then on, there's just this lack of hope, there's lack of opportunity. Poverty is rife and I think a lot of that is driving violence. (Throughcare manager, National)

What you sometimes find is that the areas belittled by other people are areas which have had in the past significant employment opportunities, particularly with [heavy industry] and then, when that ended, going into your services industry. […] Looking at depopulation, one of the reasons why people wanted to leave [West Town region] was because they felt there was a lack of job opportunities. (Local authority manager, West Town)

Participants also highlighted the lack of investment in their communities and the loss of funding for public services:

There's no doubt that the services are over-subscribed and underfunded. I don't think you can really ignore that. […] Services are really overstretched, and you don't really get the response that you need. (Recovery worker, West Town)

The drugs kind of goes hand in hand with poverty, with deprivation, the sort of generational trauma, the lack of investment into the area, the lack of employment opportunities. To probably see [West Town] in its lowest form, I would encourage you to walk through the old shopping centre and just see the lack of investment that's in there. And then flip it around and go and look at the [Transport hub] and it looks absolutely amazing for everybody that arrives there. So aye, for me, there's real issues there in terms of where funding's distributed and finances and what money's going where. (Local authority manager, West Town)

Particular concern was expressed around the closure of youth and leisure services:

A lot of the youth clubs have closed down. We ran a youth club in [District] which is a notorious gang violence place. We used to run a youth club in there every Friday evening in the [Leisure venue]. And we can't do it anymore because they're not opening it back up. (Youth service manager, West Urban)

There's nothing else on offer for them in the area. When we started doing this job, these 50-80 young people were barred from everything en masse in the area. These young people couldn't get in the shops, they weren't allowed in school, they weren't allowed in libraries, they weren't allowed in youth clubs. Anywhere at all, like anywhere at all where any normal young person would go, they weren't allowed. (Youth service manager, East Urban)

As will be picked up later in the chapter (and developed in the chapters that follow), these inequalities and exclusions impacted lived experience participants' sense of powerlessness and marginalisation, increasing distrust of and antipathy towards the state and its institutions.

The lack of safe spaces for young people growing up in deprived areas was a theme that emerged throughout our data, as both a longstanding issue and an acute contemporary problem linked to austerity cuts, the ongoing economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the current cost of living crisis. Stakeholders commonly expressed concerns that this withdrawal of provision was resulting in increases in violence between young people in West Urban and one warned of a 'coming crisis':

Covid, the decimation in funding for particularly youth programmes within areas of deprivation, has had a significant impact on people's wellbeing. […] The structure of their life has been turned upside down, schools have closed, [Youth organisation] was closed, can't get access to doctors or just all of that kind of stuff, they had much more sometimes a chaotic home environment where it's not always the best place. (Youth service manager, West Urban)

Overall, we're nowhere near where we were in 2005. I just don't want us going there. But I think we need resource to stop that. We don't have gang violence in [West Urban] as it was in the 2000s but it's raising its ugly head. And my concern is that we may well get to a tipping point where we are back there and then it takes a huge amount of resource, manpower resource, monetary resource, research, everything, to get us back to where we were in 2018/19. […] It may take five years or 10 years to see it raise its ugly head again, to get to its peak, if we don't resource provision in the poorest communities correctly. And that's buildings, workers, etc. (Youth service manager, West Urban)

These various crises were seen as worsening existing inequalities, removing access to important community-based resources, and increasing pressure on already stretched third-sector services. In a number of our case study locations local police officers reported that the withdrawal of statutory services during the pandemic had increased the vulnerability of the community, which had in turn been taken advantage of by local organised crime groups. The ongoing impacts of these developments were seen as a key driver of rising levels of violence (most of which goes unreported, see Chapter 6).

Housing inequalities and concentrated disadvantage

Participants also discussed the effects of local authorities centralising homeless accommodation within defined areas in Town and Urban city centres, concentrating people with complex needs in one place and thereby increasing the vulnerability of people experiencing homelessness. This was exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic as local authorities took control of empty hotels in urban areas to provide further emergency accommodation:

Pre-Covid, vulnerable people, homeless people, people with drug addiction issues, etc, were a lot of the time concentrated within premises that were open plan where there was no easy way to isolate. So, because the whole of the city centre was shut down, the government took the opportunity to utilise a lot of the empty hotels at that point to house a high concentration of vulnerable people with drug addiction problems, behavioural problems and the storm of all problems, in one particular area, into the city centre. That in itself had the unintended consequence of drawing in all of the associated problems and it brought in a drugs economy, an open-air drugs economy within a couple of square miles of [the City centre] itself. It almost became a law unto itself. (Police officer, West Urban)

[District] is the worst in Scotland but that's where a big part of our pubs are. […] We've got the homeless centre in that area as well, we've got the police station, and what we find is actually a lot of people who are single get rehoused in that area because it's all single accommodation. […] If somebody's been involved in drugs and stuff like that, there's a pattern there that violence is going to go with that. (Local authority community worker, West Town)

I would say your guys who've got maybe habitual drug use issues are generally victims, people may tax them, you know, take their stuff off them. If they're in a hostel, that environment is- I mean, it's a horrible place to be, secure doors, people with serious drug issues all in the one area, in the one place. There's a lot of inter-violence between them. It's just a hotbed of- just not a nice place to be. (Throughcare officer, West Urban)

Some stakeholders reflected a similar pattern of concentrating migrant communities within specific districts, such that the area and, in turn, those living there become stigmatised. This made them vulnerable to exploitation, harm and violence:

There's multiple layers of exploitation [for Roma people], some of which is sexual, some of which is labour for rent. So rather than paying your 600 quid a month, you're actually working effectively 90 hours a week for the landlord cleaning properties or doing stuff like working in a shop or whatever. So lots of exploitative stuff going on and through contact with our clients, we know that private landlords have been extremely violent during eviction, also intimidation, physical assault. It's all economic though, it's around just trying to make as much money out of people that are easy to exploit. (Housing worker, West Urban)

No asylum seeker gets work permission. So, because of that, people have been exploited, maybe trafficked within Scotland, in different businesses daily, weekly. […] They have trauma. So, trauma from their journey, being trafficked, then this trauma of being separated from their families and living in a hotel six months, nine months some of them, with [only a] sandwich per day or £5 per day and then no working, no connection. Then lead them to exploitation to survive. So, that's the cycle. (Mental health worker, West Urban)

The concentration of homeless accommodation in specific neighbourhoods was also discussed by stakeholders in some Rural areas:

I'm thinking of a couple of places in [Town] and it's like one, two, three, four bedsits that are all homeless accommodation and violence, drug dealing, everything goes on there. [...] Temporary homeless accommodation, it's pretty unstable and the turnaround can be pretty quick as well. So you think, 'Right, that's good, that person's now away' and then somebody even more chaotic will come in. It's really difficult. It's difficult for people to believe that they can recover in that environment or even to want to recover in that kind of environment where it's just madness. (Recovery service manager, West Rural)

Serious safety concerns were raised for those living in emergency homeless accommodation, such as hostels and commercial hotels, with reports of violence, witnessing violence, drug dealing and drug use. Staff in these spaces were sometimes said to be facilitating, enacting, or overlooking violence or drug dealing, making these spaces feel unsafe. Participants living in such settings described high levels of insecurity, often being evicted or moved to another hotel or hostel at short notice sometimes as a means of protection from further harm (discussed further in Chapter 5).

Emergency accommodation offered by local authorities was also described as unsanitary, unsuitable, and poorly managed:

When are people going to take responsibility for that? [Local authority], when are you going to take responsibility for the fact that some of the homeless accommodations in this city have got rats and blood up the walls and all that and you're expecting people to live there? (30-year-old woman, West Urban)

The truth is, everything about the homeless accommodation that they're provided is wrong. Every single thing about it. Even the ones that are fucking council ran, they've not got the ability to care for the people the way they need cared for. The majority of staff are quite closed-minded, they're judgemental, so they're not good for the person that's coming through the door that needs support that's experienced so much trauma and fucking violence throughout their life. But they're put up against somebody that doesn't understand how they feel, so how can they possibly receive the right care? (Homeless support worker, West Urban)

People leaving prison were identified as being particularly impacted by structural housing inequalities since they often lost their tenancies whilst in custody:

The biggest issue is the housing issue. […] There's a piece of legislation that states that individuals should be suitably accommodated on release [from prison] and we ask for suitable accommodation and we will feedback they can't go to this area, there is an enemy, or they can't go up to a flat 14 [flights] up because they're at risk of suicide and we'll send risk assessments. And it's like maybe the day before release they'll find out where they're going; 90% of times, it's a hostel. (Throughcare manager, West Urban)

Lack of appropriate and safe accommodation exposed participants to dangerous situations, putting their recovery at risk and increasing their chances of re-offending. Without access to stable accommodation, they found it harder to access support services or engage in employment or training.

The relationship between housing inequalities and repeat violence was also discussed in relation to 'hidden homelessness', identified as a particular issue faced by women trying to avoid the risks associated with being on the street or in homeless accommodation by 'sofa surfing' or living with friends or family. This reliance on others made participants vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Some reported that they had been waiting on housing lists for many years or that they chose to remain in unsuitable private tenancies because they knew they would be placed in an area with high levels of violence and drug use. One woman, for example, discussed sharing a room with her 10-year-old son in a private let to avoid presenting to the local authority as homeless. Another of our participants discussed sharing a room in his mother's house with his pregnant partner and teenage son. Such cramped conditions were identified by stakeholders as another possible link between housing inequality and repeat violence:

When you're staying eight families in one close, there's no back garden really, you've got the back green which you would maybe hang your clothes and stuff out but they've got no community space for themselves. So therefore violence erupts easily when people are getting annoyed with having to put up with people leaving shit in the close. (Youth service manager, West Urban)

Close-knit community networks

Each of the case study areas we conducted research in was home to established and often close-knit communities with well-developed social networks. Many participants still lived in the area where they grew up, including some of our stakeholders, and discussed this in largely positive terms, emphasising family connections and community spirit:

My mum's lived here all her life. It's nice. Like, families live close fucking by all the time. There's like my whole family used to live within three streets. It is, it's an alright area. (40-year-old man, East Town)

My granny's lived in our street 65 years. […] Like everybody's pals with everybody in [Community]. Like we all know each other, like they know the whole of [Community]. Like our family are pals with people and we know people. (18-year-old woman, West Urban)

There's a lot more good in here than people see from the outside. There's a lot of positives in [West Town]. I think we've got a good strong sense of community. I think we saw that in the pandemic. I think so many people pulled together in terms of their individual time, resources. […] There was a lot of food banks, a lot of pop-up pantries, there's a lot of people in [West Town] who are really trying their best in really difficult conditions to support people when they need it. So yeah, there's good. (Mental health organisation manager, West Town)

Generational roots with long-standing family settlement within communities led to participants establishing strong place-based identities, with some participants even answering demographic questions about nationality with the name of their local area rather than country of birth. A consequence of strong place-based attachments was the formation of a 'us and them' mentality, linked to inter-area conflict and the exclusion of outsiders.

Just opposite gangs growing up. So if they walked past our scheme, then we would chase them and it was vice versa, if we walked through their scheme, they would chase us. (24-year-old man, West Urban)

Polish people hated us, we had a lot of fights with them just cos they stayed at the shops and the shops is where we used to muck about. They'd think they could come down and tell us to fuck off and expect us to fuck off but the way we see it, this is our area, we stand where we want and that caused a lot of bother for us when we were growing up. (19-year-old man, East Urban)

These close networks and place-based identities have important ramifications for understanding and responding to repeat violence since they mean that victims and perpetrators are often well-known to each other, and are known to wider community members, who often have detailed knowledge about what is going on in their area. At the same time, such communities have a strong culture of self-reliance and non-co-operation with the police, linked to the presence of organised crime networks.

The drug economy

Drug markets often develop within deprived communities with well-developed social networks, providing young people (especially young men) with opportunities lacking in the legitimate labour market. As explained by one of our participants,

You can make a lot more [selling drugs] than you can in a 9 'til 5 and you don't need qualifications to do that. If you're making double or triple what you would make at a 9 'til 5, you're not wanting to stop doing that to go and stack shelves for a quarter of what you were making. […] It's called trapping because you're trapped once you do it cos if you're making easy money, you're not wanting to go and work all day for shite money. (20-year-old man, East Urban)

As an illegal activity, drug dealing relies on the development of trust and the threat of violence or actual violence. As discussed in Chapter 5, much of the violence reported relating to the drug economy resulted from drug-related debt enforcement, turf wars, or the punishment of police informants. Because people buying and selling drugs are extremely unlikely to use formal recourse through the criminal justice system they are also vulnerable to predatory behaviour including threats and intimidation, criminal and sexual exploitation, as well as robbery:

People tried to threaten us basically, like if we don't sell for them. […] I was getting drugs to sell and then because I wasn't used to money, I was spending it and then people were ticking me [i.e., buying drugs in credit] and then not paying me cos I was a wee boy. […] It was kind of getting groomed basically, getting gave dodgy drugs that nobody's going to get an effect off, but you owe that debt. So you can't go back and say, 'They're rubbish, take them back'. People will just laugh at you. It's taking advantage. (24-year-old man, West Urban)

It felt like it shifted quite quickly from opiate and benzos to crack cocaine being the main drug of choice. I was hearing stories of lots more prostitution and things like that where the girls [...] were paying their dealers with sexual favours and stuff. Girls would never have done that previously. (Recovery worker, East Rural)

Within our Urban and Town case study areas, participants talked about organised crime becoming more visible within the community, following a number of highly publicised incidents involving shootings, machete attacks and firebombings linked to the local drug economy. These incidents were linked to long-running feuds between rival crime groups, as well as perceived instances of 'disrespect' relating to the sharing of video material on social media. Stakeholders emphasised the detrimental impact of these incidents on the local community in terms of fear and resignation, linked to a strong culture of 'no grassing' which means that prosecutions were not always able to proceed due to a lack of evidence.

Violence associated with the drug economy was considered less of a problem in our Rural case study areas.

In comparison to [West Urban], there is violence connected with the drug issues here but probably I wouldn't say to the same extent. A lot of people who use drugs in this area also hold down jobs, so if there's debts and things, they seem to be able to pay their debts. Whereas I would have said my experience previously was more so that there was a lot of unemployment and so you could see how people would get into debt more quickly. (Police officer, West Rural)

Cultural norms

The preceding discussion illustrates the embedded nature of repeat violence within our case study communities, as well as the complex relationship between poverty, violence and the drug economy. The next section focuses on key cultural features of communities, including: a culture of violence, the 'no grassing' rule, and norms around masculinity.

Culture of violence

Among our participants, there was an overwhelming sense that violence was a normative feature of their community. Participants referred to violence as 'a day-to-day thing' or a 'daily thing' in their local area. In addition to having experienced violence themselves directly, lived experience participants (including peer mentors) had also witnessed a range of incidents of violence in the community and often had detailed knowledge of a range of conflicts involving local community members:

Violence is constant. It's a constant. There's always somebody coming in telling us, 'Such and such has done this' or 'This has happened'. (45-year-old woman, West Rural)

More violent than what it gets made out to be. There's a lot more going on than the papers let on. […] It's not even just drug debts. There could be a square go and whoever's lost the fight, they might not like it and they'll come back with their big cousin or a pal and do something worse to whoever battered them. That's what it's like. (19-year-old man, East Urban)

This sense of violence as an everyday, inescapable occurrence was reinforced by the circulation of sensationalist videos depicting violence among friend groups on social media platforms. Participants were often sent or exposed to video recordings of violence in their local area, creating new proximity to violence:

I've had to delete all my social media. Like Snapchat for example, I've seen a video of a girl and she's fighting with somebody, she's fighting with somebody and she's getting hit with stuff. Honestly. And see this girl, she just jumped in front of a train a couple of weeks ago. (22-year-old woman, West Town)

Frequent exposure to violence both in the community and online created a normalising effect, with many people saying that it was such a regular occurrence that they were concerned that they had become desensitised to it. For some, violence was something to be expected, as normal as 'washing the dishes':

I've grew up with it for so long that it's so- 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. […] I've seen this so many times that it doesn't even- You don't even flinch. […] It's stuff that I grew up with, it's like washing dishes. And I know how bad that sounds but it's like that's the way my mind works with that kind of stuff. I've seen it so many times that it just is normal. (32-year-old man, West Town)

You get used to it. Even now, I could be watching like a violent film, people are like, 'I can't watch that'. It's like it doesn't even bother me now. It's quite worrying. (39-year-old man, East Rural)

Stakeholders in the Urban and Town case study areas also referred to the normalisation of violence within their communities, pointing to the reinforcing effects of violence experienced across different settings on both individual and community dispositions:

We're seeing a lot of the people that we work with becoming more inured to violence and we think we have to do something about that. […] A lot of the violence, it's how they've been conditioned, they've seen it in the home, they've seen it in their local communities, they've seen it among their peer groups and so that creates a normality. (Throughcare manager, West Urban)

There's just that culture, like you know who the hard men are, you see videos of them doing the things that they do, it's never far from some people's minds. […] You see in the papers, severe acts of violence, bus depots being burned to the ground because rival gangs have taken them out. But nothing ever seems to get done about it and that's the pervading belief. You see the violence happening, ask most people in [West Town], who's done it, and they all know who's done it, but nothing ever seems- justice never seems to be served in any meaningful way to the bigger organised violence. (Recovery worker, West Town)

These comments indicate that whilst people may become accustomed to violence, it is not something that they necessarily accept. As discussed in Chapter 5, different forms of violence were tolerated differently.

Violence as a means to resolve disputes, to stand up for yourself, your family, your group, and your community was generally presented as acceptable. Such violence was iterated as a marker of respect in some communities, families, and peer groups, a means of maintaining social solidarity through not involving authorities:

Everyone sort of sticks together, if that makes sense? If somebody's got a problem, you just sort it normally, you don't go to the police. […] I'd say it was drilled in from our parents, like people older than us. Like your dad and that teaches you if you get hit, you don't run to the police or run to their mum or dad, you defend yourself, hit them back. […] Not encouraged us to but drilled it into us, like 'Don't be a victim. If somebody hits you or is picking on you, don't sit and take it, defend yourself'. (24-year-old man, East Urban)

I don't feel like from where I'm from, people can resolve it with a 'Sorry'. […] If someone starts an argument with you, you're just expecting to fight. Like, it's not resolved through words in [East Town], 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. Everyone's under the same impression, so it makes it easier. It's very rare that somebody starts on you and they're not wanting to fight. Every time somebody starts on you, they know they're getting in a fight. (21-year-old man, East Town)

As these excerpts indicate, there was a general sense that violence was a culturally sanctioned practice, justifiable in certain situations, and even necessary. Lived experience participants often made reference to notions of respect, reputation and in/justice, the need to stand up for yourself and protect vulnerable others – and having been taught this explicitly by their parents as they were growing up. An example of 'chivalrous violence' (our term) which illustrates some of these normative features is provided below:

I was at my girlfriend's and somebody was in the street and he hit his girlfriend and my girlfriend went to the window to ask if she was alright and he started shouting up at my girlfriend and I just went downstairs and that was it and that's just simply cos he called my girlfriend a name and I didn't like it. But the way I see it again, if somebody calls my girlfriend a name and I don't deal with it and people find out, they'll start treating my girlfriend like shite, so I had to go down and deal with it. He went home with a sore face. (20-year-old man, East Urban)

'No grassing' rule

This culture of self-reliance, of 'sorting things out yourself', can be linked to a lack of faith or mistrust in state institutions, in turn, an effect of perceived mistreatment or actually being failed by 'the authorities'. One of the most oft-repeated phrases within our dataset related to the rule of 'no grassing', where people considered to be 'part of the lifestyle' were expected to adhere to rules around staying silent and not informing police, authorities, or outsiders about illegal activity or behaviour. Adherence to this rule was underpinned by a mixture of loyalty and fear:

Culturally, within [West Town], 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, West Town)

Young people don't go to the police because they're a grass. Yeah, they'll not go. Like we get called grasses even if we've just got to call in the wardens. And it's not just you'll be a grass with the people that know. News like that spreads like wildfire, so families will find out, the school will find out, it'll be all over social media, the youth workers will find out, the teachers will find out. And that name of being a grass will stick with you, so young people are not going to go to the police about anything like that. (Youth worker, West Town)

Police officers referred to this as the 'wall of silence', where it becomes 'hard to get witnesses to speak up to stuff, even victims to speak up to stuff'.

Some participants referred to the 'no grassing' rule as an example of the prison code spilling over into the community, reflecting disproportionately high levels of imprisonment in communities impacted by social deprivation, particularly in the Urban and Town case study areas. The porous nature of prison creates a conduit for cultural norms and values, with identity labels following an individual as they move between the two seemingly distinct spaces:

The same rules apply in a prison: 'Don't grass'. You could be walking down the landing with half your eye hanging out and a broken jaw. 'What happened here?' 'I fell in the shower'. (Throughcare manager, National)

I mean, the fundamental basis of being in prison is you do not speak to the police. You would be a grass forever. That mentality, again, is mental. They will never go to the police. Once you're labelled a grass, that's it, you are a grass. It doesn't matter where you go, what prison you go to, that will follow you: 'Not to be trusted'. (Throughcare worker, West Urban)

The 'no grassing' rule was enforced through fear and intimidation, with stories being told about people driven from the area for grassing, as well as direct violence or threats of violence against family members:

One of my pals told the police about a boy that battered him and then ever since that- Like, this is still an ongoing thing now and this happened six, seven years ago. This guy still goes past him in his work van and gives him bad looks. Every now and again he'll have a wee puncture on his tyre or a wing mirror [damaged] or something like that and it's to this same guy who he grassed on, like, seven years ago. So, it's such a cultural thing where if you do tell on somebody, it just grows arms and legs. It's not worth it. It's like there's people who've been moved out the town because they've been branded a grass, like you've probably heard stories because something happened and they told the police and then that's it, they're getting death threats every day, they've got wives and children and all that that are getting threatened and stuff as well. (32-year-old man, West Town)

There was also a culturally communicative aspect of being labelled a grass, which was a permanent label that led to distrust and social ostracism, issued by anyone who was suspected or found out about informing the police or other authorities:

They just wouldn't feel safe around you cos say you're doing something in a street and you walked past it or you drive past it, they'll think, he's a grass, he seen me doing it, we're going to need to do something to shut him up. And it would be like that for the rest of your life. […] If you're a grass, that's you [ruined] for life. If you deal with it yourself, that might be it for a couple of years. You might have a problem with somebody, you might get in a few fights but once you're a grass, that's you for life: 'Grass'. (20-year-old man, East Urban)

That all said, there was an understanding that 'civilians', 'innocent people' or people 'not involved' in violence were likely to report violence and other crimes to the police out of fear or to protect themselves or others from harm. This was seen as permissible, even expected, reflecting the social distance between 'us' and 'them', and reinforcing the social othering participants had come to expect through social divisions in class status and lifestyle:

Well, there's a divide. You'll have people who are like- I'd call them civilians, normal people like 'Tom' and 'Pam' down the street, they'll be never involved in any trouble, they won't smoke cannabis, they'll have a bottle of wine once a week and that's it, they'll socialise and stuff and they're completely normal. They would never think twice if someone done something to go to the police. But then you'll have someone that's been in a bit of bother and maybe engaged in light drug use. […] That's when the grassing aspect comes into it, when you're dealing with low-level criminality. If you've got some of that aspect in your life, then that kind of instils the not grassing mentality. (39-year-old man, East Rural)

Models of masculinity

The third and final set of cultural norms commonly discussed by participants related to gender-based inequalities and identities, specifically models of masculinity. The prevailing social norms and constructions of masculinity associated with the community in which participants grew up included the expectation to be 'tough' and 'strong', appear in control, take risks and not seek help:

It's still very much that sort of bravado. […] A real man will take no shit, like don't cry, don't show your emotions. (Mental health organisation manager, West Town)

From a young age, men are taught real men don't cry, real men stand by, real men provide for their family. (40-year-old man, East Town)

These stereotypical or traditional models of masculinity were communicated via the family as well as the local neighbourhood, with many participants describing experiences where parents placed expectations on them to use or participate in violence when they were children. This was usually described through fathers encouraging and even rewarding boys and young men for using violence to stand up for themselves, resolve an issue, or dominate others:

In primary school, if I walked in with a good grade, say 'I got a gold star', nah, he'd fling it to the side, but if I walked in and said I'd battered somebody, he'd give me a big cuddle and gave us a tenner. How's that fucking parenting? (43-year-old man, West Urban)

When discussing the men in their families, participants discussed the prevalence of traditional gender roles and expectations, aligned with traditional forms of industrial work (and military masculinity):

My dad is very toxically masculine. Like, he doesn't cry in front of family, would never tell anybody he loves them, like all that kind of stuff. So [when he was stabbed], his pride took an absolute doing and he wasn't as confident anymore and all that kind of stuff. (31-year-old man, West Urban)

My granda used to work in [heavy industry] and obviously he goes by this building on the bus on a regular basis and he still asks me what I do for work though (LAUGHS). 'Where are you working?' And I'm like, 'I work in there'. 'What do you do?' I'm like that, 'Talking to people. And he's like, 'Aye, but what are you doing for money and that?' (LAUGHS) It's just this sort of thing where you should be picking up tools or you should be doing something, heavy lifting or whatever. (Mental health organisation manager, West Town)

These prevailing models of masculinity are instructive both in terms of violence perpetration and violent victimisation. As the chapters which follow will demonstrate, many men struggle to perceive themselves as victims, because to do so would signal a potential failure of masculinity. Indeed, many of those who perpetrate violence attribute their own violent behaviour to experiences of childhood physical and sexual abuse and the need to project an image of 'hardness' or invulnerability to protect themselves from further victimisation. Masculine gender norms also act as barriers to accessing support.


This chapter presented key structural and cultural features of our case study areas. Across both of our samples in all three case study areas, participants made a connection between poverty, violence and the drug economy within their communities – and this was linked to generational deprivation and poverty, housing inequalities and concentrated disadvantage, close-knit community networks, social norms sanctioning specific forms of violence, a defensive culture of non-cooperation with the police, and models of masculinity emphasising self-reliance. Within this context, violence was expected and somewhat tolerated. The impact of these factors on individual participants' vulnerability to violence is explored in the next chapter.



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