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.

5. Understandings and experiences of repeat violence

Key points

- Participants discussed a range of different forms of violence, including violence between young people, violence in the night-time economy, community disputes, violence related to the drug economy, violence in institutions, sexual violence, and domestic violence.

- These were described as overlapping and co-constituted, emphasising an understanding of repeat violence as a dynamic process, wherein diverse forms of violence inform, transform and amplify one another.

- Pervasive violence across diverse settings informed participants' perceptions of what constituted violence, with 'real' violence restricted to serious violence involving physical injuries inflicted against 'innocent' victims. Physical fights to resolve disputes or as a form of recreation were deemed to involve willing participants – and therefore no 'victims'.


This chapter explores experiences of repeat violence, focusing on particular forms and settings of repeat violence, including violence between young people, violence in the night-time economy, neighbourhood disputes, violence related to the drug economy, sexual violence and domestic violence. It opens with a discussion of definitions and prevalence, emphasising the need to understand repeat violence as a dynamic phenomenon rather than a series of discrete events.

Definitions and prevalence

The study focused primarily on non-sexual physical violence against an individual person, and this focus was highlighted alongside an emphasis on repeated experiences in both our participant information sheet and interview schedule. However, in line with the qualitative design of the study, we allowed participants to define 'repeat violence' on their own terms. We were also sensitive to language preferences around victimisation since not everyone we spoke to identified with the term 'victim'.

Violence as unwanted and undeserved

When asked directly, participants' views on what counts as violence largely corresponded with legal definitions, i.e., intended physical acts that cause harm. There was also an emphasis on seriousness, insofar as 'real' violence tended to be described as resulting in physical injury. Particularly amongst the men in our sample, a distinction was sometimes made between a 'square go' and an unprovoked assault, with the former category referring to a one-on-one fight that was mutually agreed upon, often to resolve a dispute or respond to perceived disrespect:

I have always seen violence as unwanted or something physical. A square go between two guys didn't necessarily mean it was violence. It was wanted, it was agreed, it was tolerated. […] If you've attacked somebody, that's a violent act. I can understand that. Aye, unwanted, unprovoked, a crime that went on. A stabbing, fucking that's generally been quite violent because it's ended in hospitalisation. (40-year-old man, East Town)

A dynamic of mutual or reciprocal victimisation was also discussed in relation to ongoing conflicts, for example between rival territorial youth groups, neighbours, or organised crime groups, as well as within intimate and family relationships:

The time I nearly got the jail, I would have said I was the victim cos I was standing in the toilet, just standing doing a pee and somebody walked up and punched me in the back of the head. I just spun round and hit him with that bit of my hand and I shattered his eye and broke his nose and he just fell and his two pals ran away. So I would have said I was the victim there but then I was the one that nearly got the jail because of it. (32-year-old man, West Urban)

Such examples illustrate the difficulties, in certain circumstances, of pinpointing an identifiable perpetrator and victim, and the need to understand repeat violence as a process rather than a series of events.

Resistance to victimhood and vulnerability

Distinctions were made between deserving and undeserving victims, allied to descriptions of 'lifestyle' and cultural norms relating to 'civilians' and 'fair targets':

It's like I won't hurt innocent people, I won't victimise civilians. You play the game. That's the way I used to look at it. If you're in about it and you've done stuff, then you're a fair target […] What goes around comes around. It's as simple as that. (32-year-old man, West Urban)

'Innocent' or 'vulnerable' victims included women and children, and perpetrators of violence against these groups were vigorously condemned as 'beasts' and 'bullies' – as well as regarded as legitimate targets for righteous violence. As described in the previous chapter, a number of participants reported having been victimised as children and/or had been convicted for violent offences against people described as beasts or bullies. A defining characteristic of bullying, which was seen to include men's violence against women, was the existence of a mutually exclusive perpetrator and victim. 'Bullying' was usually unprovoked, repeated, and always involved a perceived power imbalance between perpetrator and victim.

These discussions help explain participants' reluctance to identify themselves as a 'victim'. In general, they disliked the word, which was associated with 'weakness' and 'vulnerability':

I don't like the word victim […] Being a victim, there's a sense of vulnerability about being a victim. And for me anyway, I don't like the vulnerability. (32-year-old woman, West Urban)

I'm classed as a vulnerable person, through my workers. And I'm like that, have I became vulnerable? […] You feel dead low. I don't know. It just makes me feel- (PAUSE) I don't see myself as vulnerable. (52-year-old man, West Town)

Where participants were able to distance themselves from vulnerability, for example, because they were now in a 'safe space' having 'moved on' from the circumstances being recounted, there was more willingness to frame their experiences in these terms, sometimes drawing on knowledge about 'adverse childhood experiences' and 'trauma' to make sense of difficult family backgrounds and experiences of growing up.

Not a victim, no. I suppose (PAUSE) early on, I would have been. (PAUSE) I don't know. […] Cos your perception- I mean, when you're in that life, you think 'I'm a big hard man here', do you know what I mean? 'I'm not a victim.' But really, when you strip that, you really are a victim. (50-year-old man, West Town)

However, for participants currently embroiled in a 'chaotic lifestyle' and/or living in a deprived community characterised by an ever-present threat of mutual violence, safety remained contingent on projecting an image of 'hardness' or invulnerability, often bound up with masculine notions of 'respect' and 'reputation':

If people see you a bit as a boy about the town, you've got to live up to that expectation all the time, so you have to be doing stuff (LAUGHS). You have to be doing stuff to show you're not regarded as weak. (50-year-old man, West Town)

Well, if you don't, you're just like a bam and that would be taken as a weakness. Like people will look at you and think, 'If I do this to him, nothing's going to happen, so why will I not do it?' (19-year-old man, East Urban)

Examples such as these indicate the fluidity of victim identification, which could change across the life course and was linked to concerns around vulnerability and safety, as well as perceived participant culpability due to involvement in offending and/or substance use. (It should be noted that many of the stakeholders participating in the study expressed similar reservations about the use of the word 'victim' to refer to the people they worked with, despite the harms they acknowledged many had experienced.)

'Lived experience' and 'lifestyle'

Listening to how participants tended to describe themselves, many preferred the terms 'lived experience' and 'lifestyle' to refer to their involvement in violence, especially where this included experiences of violent perpetration alongside other forms of criminalised activity. Not only do these terms emphasise experience over identity, but they are also broad enough to capture dynamic processes of victimisation and/or perpetration, as well as wider forms of suffering and social harm. Many of our lived experience participants had backgrounds characterised by poverty, complex trauma and state governance and were currently navigating precarious conditions, including transitions from addiction to recovery and from prison to community. Whilst repeat violence was recognised as an inherent and insidious feature of these conditions, it was not regarded as the defining feature:

You can only deal with so many things. (50-year-old man, West Town)

I think when you get caught in addiction, you don't have any other focus bar to feed that addiction, so a lot of the other things kind of get silenced out. (45-year-old woman, East Rural)

Participants also often vigorously denied that they were a violent person, even if they had been convicted of a catalogue of serious violent offences. Here again, a distinction was made between being a 'bully' and acting in self-defence, or in the defence of 'vulnerable' others:

That's one thing I can say, I've never bullied anybody. Never. (52-year-old man, West Town)

I think to this day, I've still got a very strong sense of injustice for certain situations. I hate seeing bullies. […] I used to hate it when I was labelled a bully myself just because I was maybe bigger than people and I would fight my case at that point but- Yes, I have had the ability to be quite domineering and everything like that but if somebody is willing to try and attack me or something like that, then I see that as mutual combat. (41-year-old man, East Urban)

In describing our participant group, we have opted for 'lived experience' over 'lifestyle', since the latter implies an individualised exercise of choice, which is often aligned with models of criminal victimisation that hold victims responsible for their own misfortune.

Repeat violence as a dynamic condition

Contrary to the common portrayal of violence as a relatively isolated and isolatable exception to 'normal life', most participants presented violence (or the fear of violence) as an intrinsic and enduring aspect of their everyday social relations and interactions. This meant that participants could not answer questions about the number of incidents they had experienced with any accuracy, and often reflected on how sometimes even extreme acts of violence 'blurred together':

It just became more and more regular and it's interesting when you think about repeated acts of violence cos you can't remember them, like they feel really blurry. (30-year-old woman, West Urban)

That acknowledged, all but one of our lived experience participants recounted two or more distinct incidents of being physically assaulted, including being punched, kicked, stabbed, strangled, slashed, shot, burned, kneecapped, kidnapped, held at gun or knife point. On average, men reported more incidents of physical assault than women and were more likely to have been wounded with a weapon. This is explained in part by men's greater involvement in youth group violence, violence in the night-time economy, and violence related to the drug economy. That said, many of the women in the sample had been on the receiving end of various serious forms of physical violence, most commonly in the context of domestic abuse, and were significantly more likely to talk about their experiences of sexual violence. Whilst older participants (aged 45 to 59 years) reported more lifetime incidents than participants in the younger age groups, rates for violent incidents experienced in the last year were highest amongst 16 to 24-year-olds. The following excerpts provide illustrations of these different ranges of experience:

So my two big events that I'll talk to you about, one of them was more like sexual violence and one of them was more like a random attack of physical, like a really violent, like a classic form of violence basically. But there's like the threat of violence a little bit as well, isn't there, when you're walking through the streets. (36-year-old woman, West Urban)

One-on-ones, probably about- (PAUSE) in between 12 and 15. And then as for the group scraps, I'd say I've probably had maybe seven group scraps. I've not had any proper real bad harm, like a wee black eye lasts a few days or swollen lip goes away after a day or two. So I've not really been a victim of real violence I would say in my life. (21-year-old man, East Town)

It went very, very quickly to a really, really bad relationship. He used to lock me in the house, he wouldn't let me out. He'd be screaming and bawling abuse at me and this would go on for days. […] He used to strangle me unconscious and all that, he'd be screaming, he'd be punching fuck out us. […] He chucked me down the stairs. […] He put his whole fist down my mouth. […] He was a sex addict, and it was just constant. I couldn't even sit down sometimes. […] It went on for a long time. It went on for a couple of years. (38-year-old woman, West Urban)

When I was 17, I got stabbed three times in the leg off by one of my so-called best pals for nothing. I couldn't walk for six months; I was in a wheelchair and all that. He just ran up behind me and stabbed me. […] I broke into a motor once and I turned round and these two big guys were standing at the side of the motor. I went to jump out the window and he jumped forward with a big knife, stuck it in right there. [Motions to face.] I drove down the street and I didn't realise the knife was still hanging out. […] I've been shot. I got shot in the leg for stealing the wrong person's motor, a gangster's. […] I'm waiting to go in for laser surgery on my left eye just now. That's how I'm homeless. Seven months ago, some guys came to my door to sell crack from my house. I said no and I went to turn away and they sprayed ammonia in my face. (45-year-old man, West Urban)

Most participants experienced violence across the life course, but the nature and intensity of this violence changed according to their circumstances, for example increasing in tandem with escalating substance use and diminishing during periods of recovery support. For others, notably those in the 'intermittent victimisation' group, experiences of violence were more time-limited – though the impact of such violence could be long-lasting.

In addition to experiences of direct violence, participants in the Urban and Town case study areas had typically witnessed many incidents, including serious assaults, murders, and attempted murders, involving bricks, bottles, swords, machetes, hatchets, and firearms. As discussed in the previous chapter, they also experienced indirect victimisation through hearing about the victimisation of family members, friends, or neighbours. The examples given of such violence were often very extreme:

I've seen a boy got his head blown off with a shotgun […] I was just standing next to him and this gun went off and the boys head just splattered all over the wall. (43-year-old man, West Town)

My cousin, my closest cousin, he got murdered, he got stabbed, shot, put in a wheelie bin upside down rolled up in a carpet and petrol poured over him and set on fire. (45-year-old man, West Urban)

Violence in both Rural areas was less intense than in the Urban and Town areas in terms of use of frequency and use of weapons, and a small number of participants told us they had moved to Rural areas to escape violence and avoid repeat victimisation.

Types of repeat violence

Taken together, the preceding findings indicate the prevalence, variety and seriousness of violence experienced by our participants, but also the difficulties of neatly categorising or counting such violence, which should be understood as a dynamic condition. Developing this understanding, the remainder of the chapter presents an analysis of specific types of repeat violence that pays particular attention to the social contexts within which such violence develops, noting the linkages between different forms of violence.

Childhood victimisation

Childhood victimisation was considered in the previous chapter, and it is important to note that experiences of physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by adults against children were the most discussed forms of victimisation across our sample, often spoken about alongside exposure to parental or caregiver domestic abuse, even though participants were not asked about these experiences of violence directly. Participants who disclosed experiences of childhood victimisation often described such violence in depth – in a way they tended not to describe adult victimisation. There are a number of reasons why this may be the case: the devastating and long-lasting impact of childhood victimisation on one's sense of self and relationships with others; the emotional and narrative significance of childhood victimisation, e.g., in terms of making sense of one's own story and explaining involvement in discreditable behaviour; the impact of trauma and associated substance use on memory; and/or resistance to being labelled a victim as an adult, as a means of protecting oneself physically and emotionally. It is also important to note that whilst participants had often previously been given the opportunity to discuss their experiences of childhood victimisation and trauma, e.g., as part of recovery, during our conversations together many reflected that this was the first time that anyone had asked them about their adult experiences – of victimisation and perpetration. This nods to the lack of support to deal with violence, discussed in the following chapter.

Violence between young people

Another of the most common forms of repeat violence reported related to violence between young people in public contexts, e.g., fights in school and on the street, predominantly but not solely involving young men. Many of these experiences fell under the headings 'square go' or 'bullying', discussed previously, or group or 'gang' violence:

In the park one time where all the boys were chucking about and smashing each other. (LAUGHS) Aye, they were all hitting each other with bottles and poles and everything they could get their hands on. It was crazy. It was just funny, see, cos of the way they were all acting and then they'll cuddle each other after it, then start fighting again. And then run away from the police because they were drunk. (16-year-old young woman, West Urban)

I've been hit with bricks, all that kind of stuff, hit people with bricks and just used all different weapons that were lying about the streets. And mainly because growing up in a kind of housing scheme, there's not much to do. The majority of it is boredom. That's what it is, it's boredom and there was nothing – like there was football pitches but there were no goals. Or if there were goals, they would get stolen, people would come and cut them down and scrap them for metal. […] 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 and want to inflict some sort of assault on us. It's bizarre when you think about it, the kind of territorial thing, that you're willing to potentially die for this wee area you've been brought up in. I didn't think that growing up, I thought it was brilliant, the adrenalin side of it. (24-year-old man, West Urban)

Territorial clashes between groups of young people from different areas was differently conceived by young people in our East and West case study locations, with the former group referring to such violence in terms of 'groups' and not gangs:

I don't think of it as a gang. I just see it as like a group of pals, it could be a different group of pals you're with every weekend, it's still a group. I wouldn't say that's a gang. (21-year-old man, East Town)

Violence between groups of young people was much less of a problem in our Rural versus our Town and Urban case study areas and was generally thought to be declining across all areas. This was explained by changing patterns of youth leisure, in particular the impact of new technologies meaning that young people were spending more time indoors, but additionally, they were making new connections with young people across traditional territorial divides. That said, new technologies were also seen to be instrumental in the facilitation of repeat violence, allowing young people to track potential victims' locations but also to film and share videos of violence online. Such videos were shared by young people and adults alike, and identified as a significant concern by stakeholders and those in our lived experience sample who were parents. Participants also discussed online harassment and bullying amongst young people and provided examples where perceived disrespect online contributed to ongoing physical disputes between young people (as well as between some adults).

Youth involvement in Urban city centre violence and disorder

A novel form of violence involving young people and the use of social media was noted by stakeholders in Stage 1 of the study in West Urban, where large groups of 'loosely connected' young people were reported as roaming the city centre, damaging property and carrying out unprovoked attacks on members of the public. Police intelligence suggested these groups often included care-experienced young people, who made connections with one another at residential homes across but also outwith the region and who remained connected via online platforms:

It's completely different than the older pre-pandemic early 2000s, early 90s, where it was an identifiable group that call themselves the whatevers, you know, insert the gang name here and you have 10, 12 known nominals in that particular group. One Friday, you could have a group of individuals who are A, B, C, D and then the next, it will be E, F, G, H, I, J, K – it just shifts based on who they want to hang around with. […] and a lot of these attacks will be filmed on social media as well. Which almost shows the sort of pre-planned dynamic of, we want this to happen. (Police officer, West Urban)

Stakeholder concerns about youth involvement in city centre violence in West Urban also focused on exploitation, with reports that young people were being used as runners by local drug dealers and targeted for sexual exploitation. This was in turn linked to (the unintended consequences of) the concentration of services for vulnerable adults in the city centre during the COVID-19 pandemic, the closure of local community youth provision, the introduction of free bus passes for under 22s, and changes to police powers:

The city centre became a centre-point of all the hotels [providing temporary accommodation]. So that drew in all the drug dealers who had a brilliant customer base, and, over the past 2 years, that's now become pretty much a permanent issue. […] I think maybe because that was an empty place and there wasn't a lot of people around, it was like a playground for [young people] to go. And also, all the distractions were shut down: after school clubs, all of these things have disappeared and not come back. (Police officer, West Urban)

Kids have free travel now, so they can hop on and off the buses whenever they want, which then opens up this – they don't have to worry about money, they can get a bus from [one area] to [another] and go and beat the shit out of somebody and jump on another bus. (Throughcare worker, West Urban)

And coupling that with we don't really have any powers to deal with this. [University] did a report on the state of stop and search within policing […] and there was a real pulling back in terms of the way we interacted with that age dynamic. There was a reporting in the news and criticism from the government about the amount of people who were being brought into police custody that were under the age of 18. So that became a huge taboo. […] And that is recognised by the youth that are committing these crimes. Worst case scenario, we can arrest them and take them home, but they can be out five minutes later. And that includes people who are carrying knives. (Police officer, West Urban)

Limited police powers to deal with young people were said to be exploited by organised crime networks, which again highlights the importance of viewing different forms of repeat violence as interconnected rather than as discrete, bounded issues (as well as recognising the links between violence and the systems and conditions that make violence more likely).

Violence in the night-time economy

Violence in Town and Urban centres was also linked to the night-time economy (NTE), fuelled by excessive alcohol consumption, occurring in and around pubs and clubs, and sometimes on public transport. Despite their different locations, there was remarkable consistency in how participants described violence amongst young people and violence in the NTE in terms of mutual or reciprocal victimisation, problem-solving, deservingness, and lack of choice (linked to notions of 'respect'):

I don't think that violence happens during the week necessarily in [East Town]. It's more so at the weekends. […] Friday, Saturday, it's a normal thing. I don't go out thinking I'm going to get in a fight, but I do go there ready for one. […] I'd say there's always at least one or two fully-fledged fights that both people are going full throttle at. But then a lot of the times, it's just someone's maybe spilled someone's drink or something and it results in someone just getting punched once and that be that. And I don't see that as real violence. […] Where we're from, that's just normal if you spill someone's drink down them, you expect to be punched, you expect to have to punch them back. (21-year-old man, East Town)

I used to try and avoid the pubs because there would often be trouble. I found pubs quite bad because there would always be someone, you'd have to- I was the type of person that couldn't walk away from things, so often I'd kick off in the pubs. (39-year-old man, East Rural)

Violence amongst young people and violence in the NTE were also both described in terms of recreational release, sometimes in response to generalised feelings of anxiety and fear, themselves a response to experiences of repeat violence. Young men reported that this meant they were often on high alert when going on a night out outwith their local area, e.g., up the Town or Urban city centre:

You're walking into a pub thinking something could happen. It might be an assessment when you're looking at how many young guys are in here. Him, a guy here that I know that's a problem. I'll get one drink, so I don't look like a shitebag, and then I'm going up to the next boozer cos I'm not wanting any carry-on. (35-year-old man, East Town)

You go somewhere else, you know you've got to be sounder than you normally are because folk from towns stick together. So if somebody's in bother from an outsider, then they'll all be in bother with them. […] So you do have to be a bit more cautious when you're not in your home turf. (21-year-old man, East Town)

Physical violence was also often described as having a cathartic and self-actualising effect, regardless of the outcome:

I remember being on top of him and like the blood pouring down his face and stuff like that on the ground and I can remember the fear in his eyes and, for me, it gave me a thrill, it gave me like this powerful feeling, like 'This bully is now scared of me'. (39-year-old man, East Rural)

I didn't mind getting battered cos I would rather physical pain than mental pain. Violence was like- I would say violence was my first addiction. […] It was like better than any drug I've ever took and that's the only way I can explain it. When you're going through all that pain of what's happened in the past and all that, it's a release. […] Even still today, I still- (PAUSE) It gets me excited. It's just kind of that euphoric rush that you get. (33-year-old-man, West Urban)

Of course, not all violence experienced as part of the NTE was described positively. Exceptions included reports of random or unprovoked assaults outside licensed premises, examples of LGBTQI+ hate crime, and group attacks where one party was outnumbered:

The gay community in [Town] at that time was very small. We all sort of knew each other. So, it was a case of we all knew not to hang about outside the nightclub once it had shut, like don't go to the chippy or whatever, just get your taxi or just walk home. […] I've been punched quite a few times in the bar and that's both because of my sexuality and just folk, you know, a lot of drug takers back then and they lose all inhibitions. So, between 18 and 23, yeah, I've been punched quite a few times actually. (38-year-old man, East Rural)

Right before Christmas last year, I got slashed. I went outside a pub for a cigarette, and somebody came from behind me and I didn't see it coming, all I felt was something brushing past my ear and looked down at the fag I was smoking and there was just blood pouring out the side of my face and I touched it and it just all went down my sleeve. My pal, he came out and he seen it and he didn't know what to do, so he's kind of got in a scuffle with a boy and then he ended up falling and got slashed as well. […] The guy slashed a few people, including me. It was all unprovoked. (24-year-old man, West Urban)

I was coming home from a night out and I got attacked off seven guys in [West Town] outside [Nightclub]. I was absolutely wrecked, I was steaming, like it was my night out with the boys like once a year. […] I can't really remember much about what happened. I just remember walking home for a taxi and getting attacked. But apparently, they were jumping over my head and stuff. […] We know three of the boys that did it. My mates were like, 'We'll take them in the car, we'll take them up the back roads for you and we'll do what we need to do, if you want'. And I'm like, 'No. I can't be bothered'. (32-year-old man, West Town)

The latter excerpt above hints at the connections between (historical) violence between young people, violence in the NTE, and (ongoing) community disputes. One of the consequences of having a reputation for violence, or a prior history of violence, was that it could make people a target, even when they were trying to 'move on' from a violent lifestyle:

It actually made me a target. I was no longer fighting one-offs with people, it'd be like people would jump me in groups for safety and they'd make sure I was knocked out, you know, because sometimes they'd maybe think, 'Well don't let him get back up cos he'll do something'. (39-year-old man, East Rural)

Community disputes

Escalating patterns of violent interactions were also reported between neighbours, related to complaints around anti-social behaviour, but also longstanding feuds between families. Close living conditions and inadequate soundproofing of social housing contributed to conflicts over noise, sometimes caused by everyday living (children running across the floor, use of washing machines), as well as pets (dogs left barking) and parties (loud music, late night visitors banging the door):

It turned out an absolute tit-for-tat fucking situation. […] And this is all because they want moved. They want moved house, they don't like us above them. I'm like, well I'm really sorry but see if you don't like noise, I wouldn't have took a downstairs fucking flat. None of you are disabled, you don't need it. Take the fucking upstairs flat and then you can make as much noise as you want and I'll not complain about it and you also won't be able to complain about my footsteps. But because they want moved, they've been told that the more incident report numbers they get, the quicker they'll get moved. (40-year-old man, East Town)

The impact of housing shortages, and participants' lack of resources to move away from a violent situation, were discussed in Chapter 3, alongside community characteristics and culture. Longstanding familial connections meant that community members often stored grudges for lengthy periods of time, sometimes generations. That said, normative rules about 'no grassing' and the need to 'stand up for yourself' meant that neighbour disputes could also escalate quickly:

My door got kicked in and some boys came in with weights in pillowcases and kicked my head in and I had to go to hospital and all that. It ended up I got put into the (homeless) centre cos I wasn't fit enough to look after myself cos they fractured my skull. […] I had went up and complained about the music, it had been blasting for about four or five days solid, so I went up and asked them to turn it down and that's how it all came round about. Just cos I said, 'Go and turn the music down guys, I'm trying to get a sleep'. (43-year-old man, West Town)

My bairn went out, him and his pal got jumped. […] So, I've went out to try and pull [Son] back in and they tried to storm me. If I had been able to chin the biggest [guy] there, there and then, bam, I'd put him to sleep. Then the rest of them would have backed off. […] If I was permitted to be me, that would have been dealt with. My car wouldn't have got smashed, my mum's two cars wouldn't have got smashed up, because I wouldn't have been having to restricted to standing in my garden and watching it happen. And yet because I was standing watching it happen, it empowered them. […] Because there was no retaliation to that, then three weeks later, they came back and petrol bombed my mum's cars. (40-year-old man, East Town)

Participants also reported apparently unprovoked assaults involving neighbours, sometimes related to their stigmatised status, e.g., as a known drug addict:

I was attacked by a guy with a hammer and pretty horrendous stuff. He broke my kneecap, ended up with a fracture to my right patella. I had to have a wire inserted in my knee. […] It was a bit of a- Phew. A bit of a- How can I put it? Like I just didnae expect it. I was just standing in the middle of the street and it was that quick, it just happened so quick I remember just hearing the car door shutting and I just turned to the side of me and when I turned, I just seen like the swing. I just seen him swinging something and that hit me bang on the knee. […] I don't know. We'd exchanged words a few times. He said I was looking at his car, I was eye-ing up his car. And I said to him, 'Me? I can't even drive'. And we just exchanged words, there was never any violence. But he attacked me before that when I was standing at my mother's close. He just- He came out his car and he said to me, who are you looking at? I just went like that to him, 'I'm not looking at anybody'. He went in the back of his boot and he came out with a can of WD40 and started smashing my head with it. (48-year-old man, West Urban)

I've been pulled out my house and done in and all with a mob. There was about 15 of them pulled me out the house and done us in, in the front yard. I ended up in hospital for a few days. […] All the windows got smashed in the house, the door got kicked in. I got done in the house, then pulled outside and down the front garden and then the police arrived and they thought we were all fighting together but I was lying like half unconscious and we all got pepper sprayed. […] That happened because there was boys living in the street that was younger and they knew I would take like Valium and different things like that or heroin, I was in about heroin. I've been called a junkie and that. (46-year-old man, East Rural)

Violent disputes with neighbours and other forms of violence targeting participants in or outside their homes caused high levels of fear, not just for themselves but their families. This sometimes led to a sense of despondency and social isolation, which had a profound impact on their mental and physical health.

Violence related to the drug economy

Ongoing feuds were also a feature of violence related to the drug economy, commonly characterised as 'turf wars' between organised crime group 'factions' or families. Lived experience participants were often reticent to discuss such violence, as were some stakeholders, which points to the powerful influence such groups hold over members of the local community, supported by a code of 'no grassing'. Those participants who were willing to discuss the ongoing 'drug war' affecting their local community, emphasised the extreme nature of the violence involved, but stressed that this 'high end' violence tended to be directed at 'fair targets' and not 'civilians'. This was backed up by our stakeholder interviews, who emphasised that whilst such violence was rare, the fact that it was widely reported meant that it had a detrimental impact on the wider community, contributing to a sense of fear.

The drug war started in [City] about two years ago and that was about money. And then [Name] was seriously hurt, he'd been stabbed like numerous times and hit with a machete over the head. […] Him and his brother's a part of like- They have been for like decades and their dad and that before them, they're obviously like a family with like generations of criminals, drug dealers and whatever else. [Name] is also one of the people who thinks he can take stuff and not pay for it. Other people think that that's not how this works, so [Name] done that, didn't pay for them, they sent people to come and get him. (Peer mentor, East Urban)

Your high-end organised crime groups […] there was extreme acts of violence based on one opposition to the other, tit for tat. And that was things like fire-bombing cars, it was attempted murders, it was slashings, people being shot, murder. […] It's about the family name, it's about territory, it's about if somebody's personally pissed somebody off. […] It's rare, but there might be elements of our community who might get drawn into that. It'll have an impact on the local community because there would be a perception of fear because your general member of the public might not know who they are and they've just heard somebody being shot in the street. (Police officer, West Urban)

There was a lot of stuff going on about fire bombings and houses and stuff being targeted and I think that really scared the community because I think it was like, 'What's happening here?' Like we hadn't saw anything like that before. I think it was drug related but I don't know too much about it. Well, I do but I don't want to talk too much about it. (Mental health organisation manager, West Town)

Very few of our lived experience participants were victims of 'high end' drug-related violence linked to organised crime groups, however a majority were involved at lower levels of the drug economy and amongst the 'unsettled lives' group there were many experiences of drug-related robbery, exploitation and debt-related enforcement. Such violence was distinguished from much of the other repeat violence covered in this chapter in that it was, in the main, motivated by instrumental purposes. That said, as the following excerpts indicate, drug-related violence was rationalised using many of the same justifications around problem-solving, necessity and deservingness:

I got stabbed in the neck. Through drugs. […] I was selling drugs. This was a friend, this was a person I hung about with for a lot of years. But he was gone. I didn't know he was doing heroin and Temazepam and we'd fell oot and like drugs went missing and I knew he took them and he knew but I never said anything to him. And he stabbed me in the neck. […] I know he was forced into doing it, I know he was forced. Other wans involved. But and if I end up in the nick wi' him he's in trouble. And he is in trouble even if I'm not in the nick. You have to let him know, him or the ones round him, they cannot be doing that to you. (52-year-old man, West Town)

I've been grabbed, punched and slapped about by a couple of guys because I owed a few bob of money. […] I've been battered myself for getting drugs, selling them on and not paying the person in time, the odd punch about and that. But that's acceptable if you're in that kind of lifestyle I would say. I would say all the people that's involved in that kind of lifestyle accept it as what's going to happen if you don't pay for a drug debt. […] Oh aye, you're frightened, aye, definitely frightened. Cos you're scared of what's going to happen, if you're going to get murdered if you owe a lot of money. Even a few hundred quid, somebody would do you for it. (46-year-old man, East Rural)

Being provided drugs 'on tick' (i.e., on credit) often made participants vulnerable to exploitation, e.g., coercion to use their homes to sell or store drugs and/or carry out an assault on another drug dealer:

There was a couple who are known for preying on people. […] They were going into the homes of vulnerable drug users, drug sellers, tying them up, threatening them, putting petrol on them to then access the money or the drugs. […] There is a lot of people being terrorised, vulnerable people in addiction, they get targeted all the time. We see it all the time. (Peer mentor, East Rural)

Across both the stakeholder and the lived experience samples in all case study areas, there was a general consensus that violence related to the drug economy was increasing, and this was often related to the impact of crack cocaine:

Where we stay in the town centre, there's a whole lot of crack dealers. The boys that use the crack and all that and they're getting into debt. If you're not paying him, he's going to come and do what he's going to do to get his money back. That's the main problem. That's where all the violence all stems from in this town. (43-year-old man, West Town)

With crack, it's the mental health, their mental health is shot, the paranoia. It's just all tied in. But I would say definitely- I've lost count of the amount of people that I've went to see in prison or who I've supported in prison, and they've woke up in the cells with no recollection of somebody that they've just murdered, no recollection at all. (Drugs worker, West Rural)

Non-payment of drug debts also resulted in physical intimidation and threats towards loved ones and family members.

Violence in institutional settings

The violence that took place in institutions was discussed mainly in relation to prison, though examples were provided of violence experienced in mainstream schools and special educational provision, children's homes and residential schools, secure units, hospitals, homeless accommodation, and the army. The following series of excerpts from the same interview gives a sense of the cumulative impact of such experiences:

I got put out of school at 13 and I went to a List D school and I screwed the nut. And then when I went to [Young Offenders' Institution]. You weren't allowed to talk and all that that. They'd beat the life out of you. […] The way they treated ye, you just carried that hatred with you. And when you've got that hatred in you, your head's all over the place and the only answer to it is violence because that's what they're going to commit on you.

The violence. It was just like everybody was- (PAUSE) A 20 pence packet of custard creams, I seen a guy get stabbed 17 times over it. It was nothing. You just didn't speak about it. You just kept your mouth shut. You just accepted it. You just had to move on.

They'd lock you up for seven months at a time in the digger [solitary confinement], in a cell on your own. I didn't know that was affecting me, being on my own. Then see when you back to your hall after that, the paranoia's ripping at you and you know everybody in this hall's got a knife or some sort of razor or something or something to protect themselves. Because it wasnae really like square goes, it's like it was all blood, slashings and stabbings constant and you just became immune to it. You don't care as long as it was nothing tae dae wi' me. […] I was 21 when I left that sentence. (52-year-old man, West Town)

When asked to describe his last experience of repeat violence, one participant gave an example of violence perpetrated by prison officers. He was careful to clarify that this did not fit with his experience at other prisons:

Just fighting the screws in [Prison], that was it. They battered fuck out me, but they get away with it. They take you in a cell so there's no cameras and batter you. It's not right. I had a big shoe mark on my face. I kept telling them, 'I want to see my lawyer and that, phone my lawyer' and they would cancel my lawyer's visits so my lawyer wouldn't see my face and that. They're corrupt. Aye, I've seen grown men being booted right in the balls, with trackies off and legs held open and booted right in. And they're wearing steel toe caps, know what I mean? It's a bad jail that. The screws are bad in that one. Any other jail I've been in, they've been brand new, but I hate that place. They're all just pure wicked and they like it. Aye. It's bad. I think if I went back to jail, I'd hang myself. I've told them all that, I can't be arsed with it again. I'd rather just not be here. There's no point in going in there and rotting away. (30-year-old man, West Town)

It was often in these settings that beliefs around the 'need' to stand up for yourself, and to respond to perceived 'disrespect' and 'injustice' through the use of physical force, became entrenched. Violence was often portrayed as a constant, yet unpredictable threat within institutional settings, with both the prison and homeless accommodation being described as places where few could be trusted. These were also often the places where participants were introduced to drugs, or their drug use escalated, partly as a means to cope with a constant state of anxiety and tension:

There's a kind of pecking order [in the homeless unit] similar to prison where somebody is 'top dog' all the time and that's through drugs, that's through violence, that's through fear tactics. […] The threat of violence is more scarier than the actual violence and the threat of violence is always apparent in these spaces. […] It just feels like it's just a state of fear all the time. […] If somebody comes in new, the first thing I'm telling them is, 'You can't trust anyone, nobody's your friend in here, don't give money to anyone, don't give anything to this because you'll just be exploited'. And I think some people are more vulnerable than others. […] You can sense when something's kicking off, you can feel when something's going on, you see this kind of performance of violence, you know, this is behaviours that people have learnt from being maybe involved in gangs or stuff when they were younger. (30-year-old woman, West Urban)

When comparing prisons to hostels and hotels, participants often said that prisons felt safer, because of the cameras. In both settings, most violence occurred behind closed doors, in participants' rooms, though homeless participants also discussed violence as occurring in the area around accommodation (e.g., participants being followed to the cash point and robbed on the day they receive their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) money or at the pharmacy after collecting their prescription medication). To avoid violence, homeless participants often described locking themselves in their rooms and avoiding social contact. Participants who disclosed a disability appeared to be particularly vulnerable to exploitation and extortion in this setting, but many referred to their status as addicts (or 'junkies') marking them out as targets. Sexual violence and exploitation were also discussed in the context of homeless accommodation, explored further below.

Sexual violence and exploitation

Whilst sexual violence was not the main focus of the study, in line with the original research specification, it was a common experience amongst our women participants, who recounted experiences of rape, abduction, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation (alongside childhood sexual abuse, discussed previously). The excerpts below give an indication of the range of experiences discussed:

I was raped twice [by the same person, a stranger]. Once when I was 16 and then again when I was 21. It was a sort of wrong place, wrong time thing initially – I was walking home – but then it turned into- I shy away from the word 'stalking' but that is what it was really. […] When I was about 18, 19, I seen the guy again and he just seemed to get like- (PAUSE) I don't know, a kind of fixation or he was enjoying winding me up, I think. He knew I recognised him; I knew he recognised me and it just- nothing that I could do anything about. It would be like just coming into where I worked at the time and buying a chewing gum or a chocolate bar. Nothing that's like- nothing that I could even say to my boss, he's harassing me or anything. He knew what he was doing. […] That went on for years. […] But it escalated, and it got worse and then he did attack me again when I was 21. (32-year-old woman, West Urban)

I was going home from a New Year's Eve party and I had been taking drugs so I wasn't a great witness, let's just say, but I didn't end up reporting this one to the police for a range of reasons. But I was in an Uber, and it was like 6 am and the driver- Ugh. The driver locked the doors and started masturbating basically. […] He'd kind of pulled into a little nook or whatever. So, I just basically started hammering at the doors and eventually, he just let me out. But it was scary and then I ran away. (36-year-old woman, West Urban)

A security guard in the hotel twice used me. […] It's went from bad to worse and nobody wants to talk about it and he's still in there with vulnerable homeless people. I told the manager. He turned round and said: 'We need him.' I said, 'What? You need a guy that takes advantage of a woman?' A vulnerable woman into the bargain. I'm not safe in there at all. (54-year-old woman, West Urban)

I can remember being attacked by a group of boys at one point, trying to take my trousers off and stuff. As well as there was a lot of older people, older men taking advantage. I thought my body was there to be used cos that's kind of where I was. So, drugs was the way I switched off to the physical and the head stuff. […] Sometimes there was violence, and it wasn't consensual, but a lot of the times I thought that was expected of me. It didn't matter that they were older men taking advantage of a young girl, I didn't see that. […] It was just, 'This is what I deserve, I deserve the mess'. (45-year-old woman, East Rural)

As these excerpts illustrate, sexual violence and exploitation were experienced by women across the life course and often went unreported because of fears that they wouldn't be believed related to perceived culpability, linked to involvement in drugs, and/or previous negative experiences of reporting (discussed further in Chapter 6). Women also reflected how, when they were younger, they didn't understand that what was happening to them was wrong, linking this to grooming by older men within their families and their communities. Despite the acknowledgement of victim blaming, women often referred to putting themselves in vulnerable situations, and this was linked to previous discussions of 'lifestyle'.

None of the men in our sample disclosed experiences of sexual violence or sexual exploitation as adults – though they did discuss experiences of domestic violence, which included references to being 'pressured' into sex.

Domestic abuse and intimate partner violence

Domestic violence as an adult was another common experience across our sample – and was easily identified as a form of 'repeat violence' or 'bullying' by participants. Most commonly domestic violence was perpetrated by men against women, but there were also many examples involving women as perpetrators and men as victims, especially in the context of 'chaotic' drug use and addiction, and also among participants reporting violence in same-sex relationships:

The first two [girlfriends], aye, I was scared, terrified they were going to kill me. They were violent, you know, they could use knives or hammers, hit you over the head with a hammer when you're lying on the couch kind of thing. They were quite bad. They scared me. [...] But we were all taking a lot of drugs. I kind of blamed myself as well for the violence cos I was buying the drugs, I was giving them the drugs to party, so I feel like it was kind of my fault cos I was drinking with them and I was buying the drugs but they weren't handling it and they would freak out and become violent. (50-year-old man, West Rural)

But it started with basically very, very controlling- […] I was allocated days to come down and visit my family and given time slots, you know. It started with things like that and then derogatory comments and then things being thrown, then him- whenever he had red wine, I just got the fear of death cos red wine turned him just into an obnoxious horrible individual. I was never beaten black and blue, but it was like knocks that nobody else would see, you know. [Motions to indicate torso] But the mental abuse was just as bad as the physical violence, to be honest. (38-year-old man, East Rural)

I was in a relationship with a girl and we lasted almost a year and this was when my drug use was bad, like I was working but then we had to work from home and then I started just taking all the Vallies, like taking Valium, it was mostly Valium. […] I can just remember like her flinging punches at me and me doing the exact same thing, hitting her back, self-defence. (22-year-old woman, West Town)

Violence reported in the context of same-sex relationships and/or involving a woman perpetrator was often, but not always, described as reciprocal and this sometimes led to difficulties around reporting, with the 'wrong' party being arrested by the police, for example (see 'Laura' case study, Chapter 3). Violence perpetrated by men reported to us by women appeared to be more persistent, more serious and to have more of an impact on victims. For example, women were more likely to report having been hospitalised as a result of such violence, though serious incidents were often preceded by years of lower-level violence and controlling behaviour that resulted in a lack of agency or freedom. Women were also more likely to report domestic violence occurring in more than one relationship (i.e. different perpetrators):

I was with him for six years. It was good at the start and then it just got worse and worse. By like the fifth year, I ended up falling out with him and he locked me in his house and wasn't letting me leave, broke my phone so I couldn't phone anybody to get a hold of anybody. And then he was just messaging me constant, phone, messaged all my family and was just- He would show up to where I was, like he would ask me for money. I would go to his work to give him money and it wouldn't be enough, so he would throw it on the floor and then shout at me in front of everybody and just call me stuff that you wouldn't call a lassie. (20-year-old woman, West Urban)

He held a hot iron up to my face, I can hear my scream, that's what I hear. Or I remember when I was in the bath and he was punching me and then he put my head in the bath. Then it's interesting because it used to happen quite often in small ways, like being shoved around and hit, but, like, you know, there's those big ones that feel like they stick in your head. (30-year-old woman, West Urban)

I got married to somebody who was very violent, very abusive, so I ran away from there. I ran- I don't know how many times I ran. So that was very much my life, running from one into another, into another, into another. […] I got into a relationship, had two children, but that relationship was chaotic. He was still on and off the addiction. To be honest, he's the only person that never physically attacked me. The only one that didn't. All the other relationships before did. (45-year-old woman, East Rural)

I moved out after my partner hit me, well, he slashed me across the eye with a knife and the next morning I got me and the baby's clothes together and I got up to my mum's. […] The guy I was with just before that choked me out twice, one after the other. I was only with him a year and then he choked me and I walked out. Any guy that's lifted their hand to me, I only gave them that one chance and that's it. They've hurt me and I've walked out, I've never gave them another chance. I don't believe in giving them another chance. Once a man lifts their hand, you know they're going to lift it again. That's the way I've always been cos I watched my mum going through abusive relationships and I always swore I'd never do it myself. (44-year-old woman, West Town)

Across the sample, participants made connections between childhood experiences of violence, including parental domestic violence, and relationship problems as an adult (see Chapter 7).


This chapter has outlined participants' experiences and understandings of repeat violence, opening with a consideration of prevalence which points to some of the difficulties involved in identifying and isolating experiences of repeat violence, which is conceptualised as a dynamic process or condition. Whilst a minority of participants focused on two or three discrete incidents of repeat violence (the 'intermittent victimisation' group), the majority discussed more regular, routinised forms of violence – which, despite being sometimes very serious, tended not to be presented as a problem but rather were accepted as part and parcel of everyday life (the 'mutual violence' and 'unsettled lives' groups). These latter groups of participants tended not to see themselves as 'victims' due to the distinction made between the 'square go', an accepted and acceptable means of problem-solving, involving some form of mutual consent, and 'bullying', a highly discredited and despised form of violence, targeting 'vulnerable' victims, including women and children.

Different forms of repeat violence were discussed, including violence between young people, violence in the night-time economy, community disputes, violence related to the drug economy, violence in institutions, sexual violence and domestic violence. These were described as overlapping and co-constituted (as well as existing within a larger context of social inequality).



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