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.

4. Life histories of trauma and harm

Key points

- Consistent with the literature, the life histories of people who experience repeat violence tend to be characterised by childhood experiences of neglect and abuse, bereavement and loss, and psychological trauma.

- People who experience repeat violence also often experience a series of systemic exclusions throughout the life course, which has important implications for vulnerability to violence, sense of self-worth, faith in state systems, and help-seeking behaviours.

- Participants reporting a greater number of diverse experiences of trauma and harm in their background reported more persistent repeat violence as adults.

- We identified three groups of lived experience, distinguished by common characteristics relating to socioeconomic and housing status, childhood adversity, and drug and alcohol use:

Unsettled lives: Comprising men and women aged 25 to 59 years, many of these participants were currently homeless or living in supported accommodation and in recovery from addiction, experiencing deep poverty. They reported the most persistent patterns of repeat violence across the life course, often beginning with childhood experiences of abuse, with men reporting more physical violence and women reporting more sexual violence. Domestic abuse was another common experience in this group, reported by some men and almost all women. Recent experiences of repeat violence were usually related to the drug economy.

Mutual violence: Mostly men, aged 16 to 44 years, living in social housing, this cluster of participants was predominantly involved in violence between young people in the community, tit-for-tat neighbour disputes, or violence in or around the night-time economy. Often fuelled by excessive amounts of alcohol, such violence was normalised: described as 'recreational', or as an informal form of dispute resolution. This group were resistant to thinking of themselves as victims despite sometimes receiving very serious injuries.

Intermittent victimisation: Mostly women aged 25 to 44 years, this group of participants portrayed violence as being 'out of the ordinary', confined to particular contexts or periods. Most repeat violence experienced was either (a) domestic or sexual abuse confined to one relationship[4] or (b) multiple, unrelated incidents of sexual and/or physical violence usually starting in their teens and mostly perpetrated by peers or acquaintances, and sometimes strangers. Victims of intermittent violence reported alcohol and drug problems or recreational substance use, commonly presented as a way of coping with victimisation.


Following the original research specification, guided by the literature on RVV, our recruitment strategy targeted people living in deprived communities, people with convictions and people defined as having multiple complex needs. This chapter provides a deeper understanding of the backgrounds, life course trajectories and current circumstances of our lived experience participants from their perspective.

Themes of psychological trauma and social harm

The first section focuses on themes related to trauma and harm, covering childhood abuse, bereavement and loss, structural neglect and exclusion, and poverty.

Childhood experiences of abuse and violence

Trauma and loss were prominent themes in our interviews with people with lived experience of repeat violence, particularly those in West Town, West Urban and both Rural areas, who were accessed via support organisations. Indeed, when prompted to tell us a bit about themselves at the beginning of a conversation, many of these participants opened with a description of childhood neglect, physical and sexual abuse and witnessing or directly experiencing violence in the home and/or the community. A large number of excerpts are provided below to reflect the range and seriousness of these experiences.

My first real experience that I can remember of extreme violence is my father attacking my mother in the kitchen. I would have been about four years old. [...] He was a former military policeman and the way he seen things was discipline, regardless of who it was, was handed out with violence and I became very, very scared of that man from a very young age. (41-year-old man, East Urban)

My mother and father, they were quite violent towards us. They got divorced when I was about nine years old because my dad was cheating and stuff like that. He was awful violent to my mother; he was always coming in drunk. Then when they got divorced, he started going out with prostitutes and bringing them home to the house. (53-year-old man, West Town)

With violence happening in the household, then you're seeking different things outside, running away from home and all that. And then when you're a vulnerable boy at 12, 13-year-old and you've got your fucking friend's uncle who abuses you, it's all these different things you feel about all that. (45-year-old man, West Urban)

My mum had an addiction to gambling. My father was in the Navy. […] He wasn't there, and he didn't realise that my mum was abusing me, since a very young age. And I mean serious physical abuse. (45-year-old woman, West Town)

I started suffering bullying when I got to about 11 and that kind of- that changed my life. […] Ongoing violence and- I wouldn't even say it was just violence, it was humiliation. He'd like, debrief me, he stripped me naked of my clothes, hid my clothes, you know, he poured urine over my head. (39-year-old man, East Rural)

Participants commonly referred to chronic feelings of shame, humiliation and rage when recounting childhood experiences of abuse, bullying and violence and these feelings and experiences contributed to a desire to disidentify with vulnerability, as well as strong views about the need to stand up for yourself to prevent intimidation (themes which are picked up again in Chapter 5). Such experiences were deeply impactful, compromising participants' sense of safety, their sense of self, and their ability to develop trusting relationships with others (discussed in Chapter 8). Participants discussed persistent feelings of being 'unwanted', 'ignored', 'illegitimate', 'outcast', 'abandoned', and 'just not being able to relate to anyone'.

Bereavement and loss

Loss of loved ones was another common experience. A high proportion of participants discussed losing close relatives (including caregivers) at an early age, and they had often lost friends or family members through homicide, suicide or accidental drug overdose (across the life course). It wasn't unusual for people to mention numerous people from their peer group having passed away, and sometimes witnessing the event or even finding the body:

I moved in with my gran from about nine and then I was 17 when she passed away. I found her. [Then] My cousin was actually murdered when I was with him. (24-year-old man, West Urban)

My friend passed away, he was missing for a couple of weeks and got found just down at the cemetery, the bottom of the cemetery. […] My pal hung himself in [West Town] as well, just two years ago; two days before that, my other pal hung himself. (30-year-old man, West Town)

Other experiences of loss included loss of contact with family and social connections through drug addiction, imprisonment, family breakdown, or social work intervention. This contributed to a sense of abandonment and social isolation.

I had a fairly good group in school and all that but then they all left me. It was cos of my drug use, they all kind of left. Now to this day, I don't really have any pals. I've had to get rid of them because of my drug use and stuff cos I've had lapses before and it's just the same people. (22-year-old woman, West Town)

My dad went to jail. I didn't really know anything because it was very much hidden. (36-year-old woman, West Urban)

I decided to leave my daughter with her father because I didn't want my daughter in my family in case anybody hurt her. […] I didn't think I could keep her safe. (45-year-old woman, West Town)

Loss of home was another recurrent theme, sometimes linked to escaping violence, or experience of imprisonment.

Psychological trauma

Childhood experiences of violence, abuse and loss were frequently framed in terms of psychological trauma. Half of all lived experience participants used the word 'trauma' to describe their past experiences. Two-thirds of our stakeholder interviewees also used the word 'trauma' to describe the characteristics of the people experiencing repeat violence. Examples are as follows:

When you meet a prisoner for the first time, you want to get their back story. Let's not inundate them with questions about where they're going, let's find out where they've been. So, it's quite crucial that you have an understanding of that. OK, there's a lot of guys that have had childhood trauma that they don't want to speak about, but generally they will. (Throughcare worker, West Urban)

I've been through a lot of trauma. […] It was a recurrent feature, like when I was getting a bath and stuff like that, my mother would hold my head under the water and pour Dettol in the bath and stuff like that. It was quite traumatic but- (PAUSE) it is what it is. (53-year-old man, West Town)

I done a lot of bad stuff. I look at it all and I go, 'Right, that happened, it's what I done. It's what I done and that is why I done it', through addiction and through trauma and through abuse, through bullying. […] It's a lot of experience, a lot of bad shit that's happened, a lot of fucking trauma I've experienced and a lot of trauma inflicted, a lot of hurt I've caused, a lot of pain. (32-year-old man, West Urban)

This framing reflects increasing recognition of the impact of trauma within and beyond therapeutic settings, particularly addiction recovery support. As the last excerpt shows, one of the advantages of such a framing is that it provides a way for participants to make sense of their life trajectories, including potentially shameful experiences of victimisation and offending, in a way which restores a positive view of self. A potential disadvantage, however, is that it doesn't connect experiences of victimisation and perpetration to the wider structural inequalities that were also a prominent feature of participants' lives.

Strategies for coping with childhood trauma included regular binge or heavy drinking, drug use, fighting, and self-harming:

I got into addiction with different drugs as a way of escaping myself. I had demons that I really didn't want to face. (45-year-old woman, Rural West)

The only thing that used to stop it was getting smashed out my nut, but I don't want to do that. I don't want to be that. I've spent the biggest part of my life, 30 years, doing that. (43-year-old man, West Urban)

Structural neglect and exclusion

Participants were often driven towards such behaviours because formal and social support systems were absent. For example, in the following excerpts, participants describe efforts to report abuse to schoolteachers and being dismissed or disbelieved:

I tried to speak to the teachers but because the trauma affected- (PAUSE) the way that I was behaving in school, the teachers just thought that I was just an unruly child but, really, what I was doing, I was crying out to try and get support. (53-year-old man, West Town)

School life became unbearable. Every class I went to, people were whispering or shouting things. I went to a guidance teacher, who told me that everything was my own fault, the names people were calling me was a result of my own behaviour, so to shut up and get on with it. (30-year-old woman, West Urban)

Such experiences were one of a series of state non-responses to victimisation experienced by participants across the life course, which further contributed to feelings of inferiority and insignificance, alongside mistrust in authorities: 'nobody wants to know'. They illustrate how institutional responses (or lack thereof) had the potential to devalue people in distress and thereby increase their vulnerability to victimisation.

Participants commonly discussed past experiences of school exclusion and special educational provision, and again these experiences were underpinned by a sense of being disregarded:

As soon as you join the school, if you've got like links to somebody who's been in school before like a big cousin or a big brother, you get treated differently straight away. Aye, you get branded. (19-year-old man, East Urban)

The school didn't want us there. […] For the whole of my third year, I was in one class a week on a Monday and Wednesday. They kind of seen it as in they were doing me a favour but that's not exactly going to get you fucking educated. […] If you've not got nothing to do, you've not got anywhere to go, you're gonna be on the streets and if you're on the streets, you're gonna cause bother. (20-year-old man, East Urban)

As described in Chapter 3, the accepted norms and values within our case study communities were often defiant towards state authority – but it is important to understand these attitudes as a product of longstanding structural and institutional factors, not merely culture or lifestyle. The most intensive policing efforts tend to be concentrated in the most deprived areas and this meant that participants had frequently experienced early contact with the police and this experience was often negative, often involving being 'harassed' or unfairly 'targeted' on the street as a young person (discussed further in Chapters 5 and 6):

They're wanting to get a response so they can jail us because we're near that age that we can get the jail. We'll be walking about and there's like a crowd of us and we're not doing anything, they'll heavy chase us and all that and then be cheeky to us so we can be cheeky back and then they'll go, 'What?' Then they'll take us. When you're in the back of the van, they sit and heavy be cheeky to you, call you all sorts. (18-year-old woman, West Urban)

It gives you hatred towards the police from a young age because they target you. […] There was one time I was in my car and I've stopped at the shops along there and jumped out and the police officer, the woman, she said, '[Name]. I need to take your details.' And I looked at her and went, 'You need to take my details? You've just said my name'. And she was like, 'So you're refusing to give me your details?' I went, 'No'. And she went, 'Give me your details then or I'm going to arrest you'. (20-year-old man, East Urban)

The cumulative effect of such encounters not only had significant consequences for participants' cooperation with police but also shaped their wider view of 'the system', as well as their sense of safety and belonging within their local community. As one participant reflected,

Home wasn't safe. School wasn't safe. Streets were never safe. I always had my back against the wall. Always. Just ready for it. Always ready. Just always ready. (38-year-old man, West Urban)

The closure of local youth provision is discussed in Chapters 3 and 5. These closures were raised as another important topic for discussion in our interviews with young people, who often relied on youth services as 'a safe space', where they could avoid the police and receive support to navigate an education system that they perceived valued them less. Withdrawal of funding for local leisure venues and community centres was therefore viewed as further evidence that 'no one cares' or 'we don't matter'.

Experiences of being 'looked after' and 'locked up' were another common feature of the backgrounds of our participants, contributing to a sense of a lost youth:

I've spent about half my life in the system. I was in children's units, List D, Young Offenders, prison. I just finished my last sentence in May. I was took from prison to rehab. Spent five and a half months in rehab. I've been out in the community round about two months. (32-year-old man, West Urban)

Basically 20s right through to 30s, I only had about two or three birthdays and Christmases out. I basically spent most of my 20s in the jail. (30-year-old man, West Urban)

As discussed in Chapter 5, experiences in the prison system were often brutalising, exposing them to a hyper-masculine culture of violence and victimisation which reinforced the need to 'stand up' for yourself to survive in a hostile environment.

Poverty and precarity

In terms of their current circumstances, most of our participants described conditions of poverty or precarity, linked to addiction, homelessness or housing insecurity, and low-wage contingent work. That said, there were variations in circumstances across the sample and these were significant in terms of experience of repeat violence.

Participants living in the most challenging economic circumstances included participants accessed via homelessness and prison throughcare services, including local recovery or community cafés, most of whom were currently unemployed. Participants in these settings described difficulties in meeting basic needs, including food, fuel and shelter. As discussed elsewhere in the report, we spoke to people living in social accommodation whose energy was currently disconnected due to lack of finance and people who had just been released from prison who had no accommodation arranged for that evening. It was this group of participants who most commonly explained repeat violence in terms of 'lifestyle', and who had the most persistent and profound experiences of violence across the life course, including violence related to the drug economy (see Group 1, below).

Participants accessed via snowball sampling tended to be living in more settled communities and more stable accommodation, but this accommodation was often unsuitable. This group were also more likely to be working, but their work was generally low-paid and precarious, linked to the decline of traditional labour markets and conditions. This meant that participants were still struggling financially, impacting their ability to move out and move on, which posed problems for those trying to escape violence in their homes or their local neighbourhood. Most of these participants were involved in what we have referred to as 'mutual' violence, associated with fights in the community and the night-time economy (see Group 2).

The final group of participants tended to have distinctive educational and employment experiences, usually college or university educated and living in privately rented accommodation or suitable social housing. They tended to experience 'intermittent' repeat victimisation (see Group 3).

Typology of lived experience of repeat violence

Three groups or clusters of lived experience were identified in the interview data, contributing to the development of a typology of repeat violence.

Group 1: Unsettled lives

Those participants with the longest histories in the system usually first came to the attention of the state due to offences committed against them, as described at the beginning of this chapter. These participants were more likely to experience residential and secure care as children and young people, often as a result of being 'outwith parental control' or involved in offending behaviour, usually violence and theft. Once in local authority care, convictions escalated and they became more involved in drug use, as well as criminal and sexual exploitation. Once a drug addiction took hold, much of their adult life was spent caught up in 'chaotic lifestyles', with periods in and out of prison. Comprising men and women aged 25 to 59 years, many of these participants were currently homeless or living in supported accommodation and in recovery from addiction, experiencing deep poverty. They reported the most persistent patterns of repeat violence across the life course, often beginning with childhood experiences of abuse, with men reporting more physical violence and women reporting more sexual violence. Domestic abuse was another common experience in this group, reported by some men and almost all women. Recent experiences of repeat violence were usually related to the drug economy. Group 1 participants are illustrated in the composite narratives of 'Davy' and 'Gillian', below.

Group 2: Mutual violence

A second, smaller group of participants, with less pronounced family problems, were involved in less prolific offending, usually violence between young people in the community, tit-for-tat neighbour disputes, or violence in or around the night-time economy. Some of this violence was described as 'recreational', some as an informal form of dispute resolution. Participants in this group often engaged in drug use, but this was not commonly linked to their experience of repeat violence, which tended to be fuelled by excessive amounts of alcohol. Despite sometimes receiving very serious injuries as a result of 'mutual' violence, this group were resistant to thinking of themselves as victims. Most were men, aged 16 to 44 years, living in social housing with or near their family. Often employed in precarious jobs, they had few experiences of incarceration. 'Jamie' is an exemplar for this group.

Group 3: Intermittent victimisation

Mostly women aged 25 to 44 years, the third group was the smallest and comprised people with less profound experiences of childhood adversity and no offending history. Most of the repeat violence experienced by this group was either (a) domestic or sexual abuse confined to one relationship[5] or (b) multiple, unrelated incidents of sexual and/or physical violence, usually starting in their teens and most commonly perpetrated by peers or acquaintances, and sometimes strangers. Alcohol and drug problems or recreational drug use, but not addiction, were reported amongst this group – commonly as a means of coping with victimisation. Often working in professional roles, but with careers impacted by poor mental health, this group were disproportionately women and their experiences are represented in the narrative, 'Laura'.

Composite narratives

The following section introduces four composite narratives of participants with lived experience of repeat violence, representing archetypal life history narratives found in our data. These case studies have been written in the first person but we created them by paraphrasing excerpts from different people's interviews, blended together to convey four narratives which together provide a picture of the range of experiences and perspectives of our participants.

Davy: 'I'm not a bad person, I just done what I had to do to survive'

We met 47-year-old 'Davy' in a homeless service, shortly after he had been released from prison. 'Davy' had a history of childhood neglect and physical abuse, which he highlighted at the outset of the interview, alongside childhood sexual abuse, which he mentioned towards the end. Like many of our participants' accounts, Davy's story was sometimes halting and disjointed, affected by his longstanding drug addiction and various head injuries. Following youthful involvement in 'gang' violence and subsequent incarceration, Davy became involved in violence related to the buying and selling of drugs. Currently in recovery, Davy has undergone training on how to administer Naloxone and previously prevented a number of drug-related deaths. He is hoping to go to college to train to be a support worker in his local homeless service.

I got brought up, in my younger years, by my mum and dad. There was a lot of violence with my dad. He drank a lot and we moved about a lot after he came back from the Falklands. When he came back, he was really violent with me and my brother and my mum. But he left when me and my brother were in early primary school.

My dad used to get me and my brother to fight with each other when my mum was out. Him and his pals would get me and my brother in the living room and say, if you don't batter each other until blood comes, we're going to batter you until blood comes. So I would tell my brother to punch me in the face and burst my mouth until blood came, so he wouldn't have to go through it. I've always wanted to just make sure my brother was safe.

It was a really rough area I got brought up in. There was always stolen motors, bonfires, drugs everywhere, murders every weekend in my scheme. It was a wee tiny scheme and there was only two ways in and out. We used to fight with people from other schemes. My scheme was notorious, really notorious.

At nine years of age, me and my friend, we seen this guy shouting at someone, walking along with a kitchen knife on him. Ma pal says to me, 'What do you think's going to happen here?' I said, 'You know what's gonna happen' and BOOF! in the guy's chest. He just left it and walked by us again as if nothing had happened. 'Alright boys?' It was just the environment.

By the time I was 15 I was sofa surfing, staying in dossers' houses, crack dens - well, junkies' houses - shop doorways, sleeping up closes using doormats for pillows, coats for quilts or covers. Just focusing on survival. I was in survival mode every day. Where am I getting my next bite to eat? Where am I going to get clean socks? Aye, clean clothes, clean body, food in the belly. That was just my priority, somewhere to sleep. Then when I was 16, I managed to get into a homeless unit and that was a bit better, life started to improve a wee bit. Eventually, I was able to get benefits.

One day I was out drinking with some of the older guys from the hotel and we got an awful beating, like five guys jumped all over us and it was a mess. I never cried, I had no fear and it didn't matter how many were standing against us, I would not back down. I stood my ground. Because from a young age, I'd always had to defend myself as being the new guy on the block. I soon changed that, I didn't wait for it, I started dishing it out. So if I would walk into a street or walk into a room or would walk into a group of new friends or whatever, I'd be like, right who's the one that's going to give me trouble? And I would go and give them trouble first. So I'd put myself out there as 'You don't fucking mess with me'. Through fear. Running on fear my entire life.

I've been stabbed eight times and hit with a machete. I was 17, I think, or 18. Aye, it was a big gang fight and I thought the guy was knocked out and I was walking away and all I felt was bang, bang at the back of my head. I couldn't move and the pain was unbelievable, I've not felt so much pain in my life. So Iended up in hospital in a coma. In the jail, I got slashed from there round to there. A guy tried to slash my face with a garden knife and he pulled it down toward me and I ended up with lock jaw and all that with it. That was over- I can't remember- It was over nothing; it was over a stupid argument or something.

So, it was all like uppers, downers, party drugs until I got the jail and I was introduced to heroin and that was it. Through jail I got involved in trafficking and then, before I knew it, I was addicted.

Violence is a big thing in the drug economy. Money. It's always about money. Maybe that one is owing that one money and it just escalates from there. Turf wars, aye, or maybe drug debts. Or maybe somebody's done a premises and one never got his share. It could be anything. Sometimes it's as ruthless as it gets out in the street amongst addicts. They're just involved in that life of crime. They'd kill you for a couple of quid.

Firearms was the last thing I was in for but it wasn't a case of using it or anything like that. It was more protection for myself cos I wasn't from the area and my mental health was really bad and I was terrified. See that looking over my shoulder all the time, any time I would come into the town, I'd be wracked with fear. And I'd end up using.

I got sexually abused as well, when I was eight. So from that age, I was really violent because if I was hurting someone else it made me feel better, it took the pain away. Got wrecked through alcohol and drugs, just to get myself out of my own head. Never emotionally grew cos of the drugs and prison. Reprogrammed into violence and survival. I've seen other boys daein' life sentences, they come in 17, 18 and that's the way they stay.

I've just came out of prison today. I had to come straight here to try and get myself a roof over my head tonight. I'll have to just wait till something comes up. I hope they get me something though cos I'll have to do a night on the street and then I'll have to walk back here tomorrow. It's just part and parcel of being homeless. It's not nice. I don't sleep in the street, I just walk. I've done that and it's exhausting but I've no option but hopefully they'll come up with something.

Gillian: 'That's just the way life went until I went to rehab'

Originally from West Rural, 'Gillian' is now living in supported accommodation in West Urban, where she is part of a well-established recovery community. Gillian has experience of childhood sexual abuse within the family, sexual exploitation as a looked after young person, domestic and sexual violence from multiple partners, and has had her home taken over by local drug dealers. She has also been physically attacked in the street by family members after reporting childhood sexual abuse. She is 38 years old and has one child.

It wasn't a good household to get brought up in. My mum worked a lot of different jobs. My dad was an alcoholic and he didn't treat my mum good. He used to hit her and he broke her nose and he used to do horrible things to her. In the end he got the jail. I think it was eight years for sexual abuse of two of my sisters. I don't quite know the full charges. You weren't allowed to ask anything. It was an unwritten rule, you weren't allowed to ask anything, you weren't allowed to say anything. Social work kept an eye, but my mum was very antagonistic, very suspicious of them. It was like, 'Go and speak to them, do what they want, and keep your mouth shut'.

When I was 12, I ended up going into a children's home. Because I was quite sexualised from a young age, I kept putting myself in dangerous situations. There was all these older guys picking us up at the children's homes and stuff and we were taking drugs with them, we were sleeping with them. We were just young lassies but see when you look back on it now, it's like- I'd say it was a wee bit sort of grooming us, to be honest.

See for years, I felt ashamed for myself. It was like for years I sort of felt ashamed for myself. It's like – but you can't just keep living feeling ashamed for yourself forever cos you're never going to get anywhere. But I did, for years.

I met a guy called 'Darren' and then I started taking heroin after that. I just started drinking a lot and started taking drugs. I did. Every day, it just went on. This guy, he'd done a long time in prison, he was an older guy, he was about 10 years older than me and he'd just got out a few months before. I think I thought it was somebody that could protect me. And at first it was good, it was a good relationship at first. But see when the sort of drugs, the heroin started to take control. Like I wouldn't go and see my family, I'd wear what he wanted me to wear. I would do things sexually that I didn't really want to do but I'd do it just to please him. I think it was cos I never had anybody else either. It's like he was all I had. But then he got put back in prison again, he ended up doing quite a big sentence again. So that's how I got rid of him.

The next guy, he was really, really violent. I remember one day a guy came to my door and he had a Stanley blade at my face. 'Martin' stabbed him right in the neck and, honestly, the blood was going everywhere. He just- he'd hit, he'd batter people, he'd have people in the house. He terrorised people. People were scared of him. At first, I sort of like enjoyed the chaos, but then it just went to the opposite where I couldn't get out of it anymore. He'd been keeping in contact with these people from prison who sold a large amount of drugs and these guys were from English City. They came to my house with suitcases with a lot of drugs, like suitcases of crack, suitcases with heroin. And when these two guys were in my house, 'Martin' got put in prison, so I was left in the house with these two guys. And they were asking me to take drugs up to West Urban and stuff like that. I was taking drugs in my handbag up to West Urban and the guy was sitting at the back of the bus and I was sitting at the front of the bus. He'd sit and watch me. I couldn't say no cos they was filling me full of crack and giving me drugs all the time.

When drug supply was gone, I started having to shoplift and start doing- And that's when I got put in prison, when I was 21. When I left prison, I was tooscared to go back to West Rural because I had nothing there and it was just all drugs. I never had any family support or nothing like that. My family kind of walked away from me, my pals all left me cos of my drug use. So I moved down to English City and into supported housing and that's where I met 'Michael'. And if I thought bloody 'Darren' and 'Martin' were bad, he was- He'd been in a firm. He was quite a rough guy; he was selling crack down there and if I thought I'd met bloody bad, this was a million times worse. Some of the things just makes us cringe.

When we moved in together it was like he thought I belonged to him. I couldn't go out, couldn't go anywhere unless I was with him. He would take me to the doctor's and he'd be telling the doctor all this stuff I had wrong with me and I was on all these different anti-psychotics, all these different really sedative medications. And the minute I got home he locked the doors on me and I wasn't allowed any friends, I wasn't allowed any anything. He had control over me because there was no one. He used to batter me. Bang, bang, like pure boxing me, like upper cutting, backhanding me. I've got pictures and that, it's horrible. Black eyes and all that. He threw me down the stairs, choked me, he actually choked me unconscious. And when I tried to get away from him, I remember him getting a hatchet and hatchetting up all my stuff and I thought, 'That could be me next'.

It went on for a long time though. It went on for a long time. It went on for years. I just let it go on and on and on. And then I fell pregnant. That's when the police put me in a women's hostel and then the social workers all got involved and stuff like that and then they moved me up to West Urban and I started working with [Support organisation].

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this organisation probably did save my life. They helped us get a place in supported accommodation and access to trauma counselling. And then when I was ready to report the abuse, they supported me through the process. But it took years. It wasn't overnight. I think I was there for three years, which sounds like a long time, but it was needed.

After the court case, there's still stuff that happens. I've been called all sorts of names in the street by my family. When you see one of them singly, they don't say nothing. When you see two of them, that's when the shouting starts. One of the times my sister attacked me in the town. She was trying to take photos of my child, which I've never anybody really allowed to do, so I went out and grabbed her, I ripped her shirt, and she broke my nose. It was bleeding. Another time she waited outside the supermarket for me and punched me. It's just an ongoing thing because of the whole thing with my brother.

I've thought about moving, but West Urban's recovery community network is second to none compared to anywhere in Britain. I never had this growing up, the care, the love that I'm shown from the people in here, the support that I've got on any given day, no matter whether I'm feeling good or feeling bad, I can turn to any one of my peers or staff and volunteers in here and they'll help us, they'll pull us out the darkness. I absolutely love what happens here. I've never experienced it before. I feel accepted, I feel like I can be me here and I've got loads of folk who actually do care about us and want nothing from me but to see me do well. I've never ever had that my entire life.

Jamie: 'Most things occurred when I've been drunk and not giving a fuck'

'Jamie' is a young man in his early 20s from East Town, whose main experiences of violence relate to alcohol-fuelled territorial violence between groups of young men from neighbouring areas (in his teens) and one-on-one fights with men in and around pubs in his local town centre (late teens until present day). In the main, these fights are seen as 'mutual combat', between willing participants, a means of resolving disputes, maintaining family honour, and 'standing up' for yourself. Jamie is employed in construction and lives with his mum in social housing.

I suppose it could be if somebody doesn't hit back, I'd say they're a victim. If somebody does hit back, then they're fair game. I guess whoever gets hit first is the victim of violence. I don't feel like a victim cos most of it's been when I'm drunk. You try and blame the other person as if you were in the right, they were in the wrong, but it's hard to say. Sometimes you think, I'll get them back some way or you just accept it. I'd put a victim as somebody that's like a law-abiding citizen that's going to go and do things the right way, go to the police, get somebody charged. That's kind of what you'd expect a victim to do.

'No grassing,' 'Sort things out yourself,' that's how I've been brought up. You don't go and phone the police, that's one thing you don't do. I've got family members that have been in trouble. My uncle and cousins. My dad's never been sentenced but he had a big reputation for just being a bit of a madman. I heard stories about him when I was growing up, about him carrying weapons, swords, stabbing people. When I was younger, I was kind of thinking, 'Should I be like that?' I thought there was a lot of expectation on me to keep up this reputation.

Being around it, you kind of get used to it, and you don't think of it as violent as some other people think. I remember getting chased up town as kids for no reason, getting bottles of Buckie chucked at us just for being in the wrong place. But it was not until I got to a drinking age of 15, 16, that I participated in it myself. You go on nights out when there's alcohol involved, it's a factor that's going to play up usually at the end of the night.

When I was younger at 16-year-old, a boy from up [District] came up and took a swing for me for no reason and grabbed me and said, 'What team do you support?' I went, '[Team]'. He said, 'Walk on that side of the road'. I'm like, 'What the fuck?!' A couple of my mates said, 'Don't mess with that guy, cos he's radge'. But he hit me. He was in his early 20s and I was 16. Six months later he got a serious doing and he got us charged for it. Maybe he didn't deserve that, but he picked on me as I was like a 16-year-old walking along the street with my mates. He was drunk, came out a pub and took a swing for me.

I mean, there's probably been a lot of fights over the years. I've got five charges, and I'd say maybe out of five charges, maybe three of them is me retaliating.Most things have occurred when I've been drunk and not giving a fuck, fights in pubs, older guys trying to push us about a bit and sometimes that would end up in a scrap. Just to try and save a bit face.

There's one incident I got community service for. I must have been 19, 20. That was no fault of my own. Literally, I was in bed sober and somebody tried to boot my brother's car and he got a doing for it. He claimed he never kicked the car at all, but we had videos of him doing it. What my family said is, 'Delete the video right away' cos I was seen going out and chasing him, so we didn't even have the evidence!

Cut to when I was 22 when my assault happened when I was steaming drunk. From what I believe, I was walking home and there was a lot of folk making noise outside my parents' house, which I took offence to. From what the police statement said – I can't remember much of it – one of them came over and tried to have a fight with me and in my head I think I've thought, 'Bingo'. I've ran, chased him down to the park and assaulted him. Took a bit of a beating myself that night, I had a swollen head, two black eyes.

The last one was several weeks ago in a bit of a heated debate in the pub and I received a head butt. But I was really drunk and did I deserve it?! Probably. Probably not. Who knows? But yeah, I got in a bit of a scuffle then. Maybe being drunk, maybe I said something wrong but, in my head, I feel like I've got a head butt for no reason. I can't remember. Alcohol! Yeah, I think there was a bit of a debate and I can remember saying, 'I think you're out of order'. I can't remember much after that. I can remember getting a head butt and then getting into a scuffle and I've grabbed somebody in a headlock and had a roll about with them for a while. And that's kind of what I remember. I had a black eye.

Other instances, maybe people starting outside the pub, nothing specific but it probably happened several times over the years. But when you retaliate, you don't feel like you're a victim at all.

I feel kind of there was a lot of expectation or I had a reputation to keep. I just felt like I had to fit in, and I think that was maybe I kind of was trying to prove myself. But yeah, I think I thought there was a lot of expectation on me to keep up this reputation. It gives you an image, people probably respect you a bit more. I think when people fear you, you feel like you've got a kind of power over them. You kind of feel safe. I didn't ever want to be violent, like just for the sake of being violent, but I was always concerned that if that ever turned on me, I would like to be able to defend myself or do something about it or try and warn people away from doing that to me.

Laura: 'I didn't ever fit in anywhere'

'Laura' is 33 years old, non-binary, with no criminal convictions. Originally from a village in central Scotland, they moved to East Urban to study at university, and now work in local government. As a young person, 'Laura' was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and – more recently – autism, which has helped them to make sense of some of the difficulties they have experienced socially. They have been the victim of three incidents, the latter two of which were related: they were raped by a young man from their peer group when they were 15, involved in a domestic violence incident when they were in their late 20s, and then attacked in a pub by their ex-partner's new girlfriend aged 30. These incidents were accompanied by a series of examples of bullying, sexual assault and references to their ex-partner's volatile and controlling behaviour.

My mum and dad broke up when I was about 12. Looking back, I think I massively struggled with my mum's new partner. My dad had also moved abroad, so it was a kind of difficult period in my life. When my mum went to the school to ask for support, the school said, 'Laura's really intelligent but she's disruptive in class or she doesn't engage with other children or she's hanging about with the wrong crowd'. I rebelled against everything. But then, equally, I was doing really well academically, so people kept saying, 'It doesn't make sense, you've got a really nice family life and you're doing well at school but you're just a horrible person outside of that'.

Throughout primary, I never ever fitted in. I have no childhood friends. I've got no friendships from school because I just felt like I didn't fit in. It was when I went to high school that I tried to fit in, I was copying the behaviour of others that then got me into trouble. Or going from group to group but didn't maintain any friendships. I think when I was at high school, because we'd moved from- because we didn't stay in the catchment area, I didn't have friends in the immediate vicinity. So, it was kind of up to me to make those friendships when I got to school and I felt like that ship had sailed when you go to high school because everyone's already got their friendship groups. I just didn't know how to- how people done that. So, I would often tag along with groups and I was quite frequently called a weirdo and I just tried so hard to go to any group that would accept me and see where it would take me. Quite often, it would result in being picked on. I was bullied really badly at school to the point where I avoided going. I did manage to go for about a year of not actually showing up at school but family not being made aware, I don't know how I managed that.

I was drinking at the weekend, staying out, running away. I think I was just doing it to fit in, like everyone was doing it and that was the only way that I could be a part of a group and I didn't have all the worries about who I was or what I was or what I was going home to. It was actually just like a sense of belonging, like it was great at the time. Being a part of that group, you were untouchable because people knew you were hanging about with the guy that was just out of jail for stabbing someone. It was almost like a protection, it felt like I had people watching out for me. But then one night he asked me to come out and meet him myself, so I did. I was left with him and he forced himself on me. I was injured as a result, yeah, quite a lot of injuries, a lot of bleeding. I was 15. So basically he raped me.

I didn't share that with anyone until I think it was about five days later. I was sitting in the bedroom and my mum came in and I said, 'I've been raped'. Andshe immediately- She made the decision to phone the police, which I didn't want to happen because, if the police knew, then everyone would know. So yeah, the police then got involved. It was horrific. Horrific. The tests that took place, the examinations that took place afterwards, were almost as bad as the actual event themselves. The [Sexual health clinic] were lovely but it was just a horrible process that I would never, ever, ever go through again given the choice. They noticed the bruising that I had, they discussed it with me, and they said that they would share that with the police. What happened after that was multiple interviews with the police. And I remember one instance in I was being interviewed in the bedroom, I started crying for the first time and the female CID officer said to me, 'Don't start your waterworks'. And it horrified me because I didn't know how to stop crying. She made it very clear that she didn't believe me.

The case didn't go to court. It did go to the Prosecutor Fiscal or- I don't know how far in the process it went, but while it was all ongoing I did return to school and everyone knew. Everyone knew because there were rumours being spread about what had happened and, yeah, things got out. There was a mixture of- You know, there was almost like a generated interest from other males at school, people who all of a sudden thought it was acceptable to put their hand up my skirt and, you know, do things like that. It baffles me that people done some of the things that they did. But it also makes me think, what was it about me that made that so acceptable?

The next incident was a good few years later, after I'd moved to East Urban. I'm very sensitive to sound and one day me and my girlfriend had an argument and I remember she started shouting and screaming, smashing all my photo frames, and I just flipped, completely flipped. I asked her to get out the house and she said no. And I said, 'Well, I'm asking you to leave', like 'If you don't leave, I'll phone the police'. And then she ran at me with, you know, the glass inside a photo frame, she had a shard and her hand was bleeding cos she was grabbing it and she ran at me. Well, I pushed her back and she fell over the coffee table. Then she phoned the police. So the police had to attend. I got arrested for domestic violence. And again, I'd two police officers questioning me about what had happened. I tried to explain the truth and they were like that, 'We've had a report of domestic violence, we have to arrest one of you'. I don't know. They mentioned some law, I can't remember: 'Just to separate you, so it doesn't happen again imminently'. Three months later, the court case happened. The fear of the court case coming up and how that could damage my career was horrific. Went to court, basically they unpicked all her statement, unpicked everything, and the judge actually threw it out. But taking the stand as the presumed perpetrator with my girlfriend being behind a screen on the monitor, like she could see me but I wasn't allowed to see her, I thought it was all wrong. Anyway, luckily, it got thrown out, not guilty.

Then my girlfriend, she got a new partner, and this girl made up rumours about me. I was always trying to not be a victim, like the way people see me. I hated being picked on. I liked it when I used to drink and I felt like I had a little bit of courage and a little bit of bravery. And so I was in the pub with this girl that maderumours up about me and we ended up fighting. She was like pointing in my face and stuff and then she dragged me to the ground with my hair, put my head on the table, tried to bite my ear off. I had to kind of get under the table to protect myself. I was so scared after it. I would have chairs up against my door cos I was terrified. I was terrified in case someone came to my house and attacked me because I just wasn't used to it. I'm not that kind of person, I'm not violent.

The police came and they were like- They basically said that me and her were the same and I was as bad. And, so, the police just came and said, 'You need to stay away from her, I think it's best that you stay away from one another' and no charges would be made because there was not enough evidence. But then the Prosecutor Fiscal decided to go ahead with the charges. I had to go to court once, twice and it was the third time that I went, it finally went ahead but I wasn't treated as a victim, I was treated as a witness. I went in and she was there and I could only go myself, no one could even come with me to court cos it was Covid. So three times I had to go myself. I didn't have anyone and I came out the court and [Ex-girlfriend]'s standing there in the room. There was only like two or three people in. It was just a horrible experience. You don't know what's going to happen, you don't know what they're going to say. When I went there, I felt like I was under interrogation. I felt like I was bad because nobody was kind, nobody was supportive. They were telling me things and I was getting all mixed-up cos I was so nervous and she was right there. I just seen her face and I just thought, 'Oh God'. I was scared of her. And then they brought out the photos and stuff of the night and I just broke down. My whole body- I just couldn't stop shaking, I couldn't stop crying. It just wasn't nice. It wasn't nice. I just felt they just ripped me apart and I hated every minute. That experience- Even though she got convicted- If I ever seen a fight I would just run away cos I couldn't go through that again. And even if something did happen, I don't know if I would phone the police cos I couldn't do that again. It was too much.


The life histories of people who experience repeat violence were characterised by childhood experiences of neglect and abuse, bereavement and loss, and psychological trauma. They also experienced a series of structural exclusions across their life course, which had important implications for their vulnerability to violence, their sense of self-worth, their faith in state systems, and their help-seeking behaviours. Participants reporting a greater number of diverse experiences of trauma and harm reported more persistent repeat violence. These findings were explored in a series of composite narratives which illustrate how the various themes play out within individual biographies. This is important because it demonstrates the links between different forms of repeat violence, which vary across the life course, as well as highlighting their various connections with poverty, childhood adversity, vulnerability, substance use and addiction, and masculinity.



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