Today I’m in London and like many others who are involved in the prevention of violence in Scotland I’m here to speak to new colleagues and provide some thoughts on how to address the ongoing incidences of violence in the UK’s capitol.
What is good is that the narrative is slowly changing from one of enforcement to public health. This is good because it moves from the ‘Who’ question (Who’s responsible? To why is this happening and what is contributing to the issue.
The adoption of a public health focus is one supported by the World Health Organisation and implemented successfully in Scotland.
So, here’s my tips (some may be unconventional and not what is being drip fed in our media).
Tip 1 –Stop focusing solely on knives – Whilst you are seeing the use of knives as the weapon of choice, the knife is an inanimate object, that will lie in its drawer or on the table all day until the individual picks it up and then decides to use it.
Let’s be clear, London you have a violence problem. You have people who are using the tool of violence as their way of gaining power and control. The knife is the symptom. If it wasn’t knives it would be something else.
So, focus on the behaviour and the attitude and ask where did this come from?
Tip 2 – Get a strategy in place which communicates that you are going to deal with the issue. This strategy needs a ‘contain and manage’ focus. This is the role of the police to look for creative enforcement tactics to police the problem and send out a message that justice will be both visible and swift.
Warning – continued stop and search may not bring you the results you want and may have unintended consequences. Consider a stop and engage focus rather than default to stop and search.
At the same time any strategy needs to develop the partnerships that will bring about the longer-term benefits. Partnerships will be far varied and involve everyone who has a vested interest in tackling the issue. Don’t narrow your focus here. Look far and wide. Develop a shared-agenda, use creating healthy relationships as part of that agenda. We all benefit from such relationships.
The benefits of the strategy are huge. It will start to communicate a consistent narrative to all involved, including the public who just now are concerned. Your strategy also will help define the problem you are addressing. As I mention above this is wider than knives. Your strategy will start to introduce the notion that an investment in the early years will bring many positive outcomes.
A strategy that focuses on many areas will help reassure communities that you are still holding people accountable but are seeking sustainable reductions in violence. We can do both, we must do both.
The strategy will help provide clarity for partners – What is my role?
Strategies may look good, but they require the right people to make them come to life. Get the right people involved. Give them space, trust them and watch the creativity grow.
Be very clear that this is a long-term strategy. Communicate that at times it may feel like you are paddling that canoe up-river. Be clear that the rewards will be immense. Start from where you are and keep moving forward.
Tip 3 – A focus on engaging and empowering communities
The prevention of any issue starts in a community, any community. Think wide on this one.
Your communities are scared. They will have experienced violence, they may have witnessed violence, some will be victims or know victims.
Start to look at the good in your communities, the excellent work that’s probably ongoing already. This isn’t going to be about you, more about the people you permit and trust to get on with the work. They will be the heroes here.
Be careful not to emphasise the norms you are experiencing through the violence, more aim to create the norms you want to see. Often in our efforts to stop an issue we can make the problem worse. Please stop showing pictures of knives that police officers are recovering. You may think you are communicating ongoing action but you may actually be communicating that the carrying of a knife is required for self-protection.
The majority of people in your communities are good law-abiding people who want the best. Create ways to share this passion. A sense of community is a good persuader. Get media on-board, help them to communicate stories. You are now as much in the business of persuasion as in that of prevention.
People in your communities often witness the lead up to incidents. These may be fall-outs, disagreements. Consider communicating ways that they can remove friends who may be getting angry. Also communicate ways they can support friends who may be victims of any form abuse. Give them useable tools to help them. Use public spaces to communicate these tools. Don’t simply tell people not to stand by, give them options, tools that they can use effectively.
Empowering and equipping your communities is a good way to communicate your narrative. You need them onboard for the long journey. This is as much about their leadership as yours.
I said to think wide when it comes to community. A school, university, sports team, workplace or youth centre are all small communities within a larger community. Create learning environments within these communities. Give them knowledge and tools and inspire them to be individual leaders in these communities.
Prevention is like a dripping tap. Fill the glass and then watch as it overflows and spreads.
Tip 4 – A focus on domestic violence
There will never be peace on our streets until we have peace in the home. Often many of those you see in the gangs and causing issues in their schools and neighbourhoods are experiencing domestic abuse within the family home. Is it any wonder many choose the gang rather than the family.
Have courage to look at the backstory of those committing the violence. This doesn’t mean that you won’t hold them accountable, more that you are trying to understand the behaviour.
Experiencing domestic abuse as a child is a recognised Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). The way a child is nurtured can have an impact on their nature. Furthermore, abuse in the home is role-modelled by a parent. Children learn that abuse and intimidation get results.
A focus on domestic violence will help reduce the number of ACEs a child might experience. This will bring longer term benefits both for families and you.
Tip 5 – A focus on gender.
What is often missing from discussions on violence is the gender of the perpetrator and indeed the victim also. In vast majority of cases victims and perpetrators of violence are men.
Yes, women commit violence, but you just have to look at the statistics to see the issue of gender.
Have courage to ask “What is going on with men and boys that say its ok to use violence?” Many young boys living in our communities will have experienced violence in their homes. Many will have witnessed their mothers and sisters being assaulted. They themselves may be victims of abuse.
This biography of masculinity can travel with an individual as they navigate their life journey. If no interventions take place, violence can become the tool of an individual’s masculinity.
Areas of focus would include fathers as role models, discussing male stereotypes and equipping boys with the tools to be the men they want to be. Media literacy is also a good way of discussing current media narrative which can drive behaviour.
A focus on gender doesn’t mean we don’t see women as perpetrators it is a focus on the risk, which is a key aspect of any public health approach.
I could go on. Efforts to prevent violence require many different fronts. You are addressing a wicked problem, a problem that may change shape when you are trying to address it.
Will we ever eradicate violence? I’m not so sure but we can sure make it better or worse.
And like many of us involved in prevention in Scotland, we are here to help.