Our acting Director Will Linden takes a look at recent reports that violence is increasing in Scotland.
Is violent crime in Scotland on the rise? The recent headlines say it is. But what do the available statistics actually tell us?
What we know is we have seen sustained reductions in violence over the last ten years. Scotland has transformed its image as the violent man of Europe. So any indication that we may be seeing violence creeping back up again is of course concerning. Behind each crime figure is a person, a family and a community devastated by the lasting effects of violence. We have to be constantly vigilant and never content with what has been achieved so far if we’re to keep reducing violence in our society.
Recorded crime is a good indication of the direction of travel and we must pay attention to it. However, we know from studies of A&E departments that more than half of assaults are not reported to the police, which means that recorded crime isn’t a true reflection of the levels of violence that actually exist in our society. Other monitors like the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey, and data from the NHS combined with the police recorded crime stats give us a much better understanding. And when we do look at that broader range of figures we are not necessarily seeing the same picture of increasing violence as has been recently portrayed.
All stats come with a health warning and a simple analysis is rarely possible. So is violence rising? The honest answer is we don’t know yet. It doesn’t make for punchy headlines, but the truth is we need more data before drawing any conclusions about whether there has been a real rise.
That said what we do know is alcohol is involved in roughly half of all violent incidents. The increase in the last two years in the number of alcohol related illnesses is a result of us drinking more. Could this be one of the factors behind any real increase in violence? Quite possibly.
So if we want to make sure violence doesn’t start to increase in Scotland then we need to have a serious conversation about alcohol. Addressing how much we drink will not just impact on levels of violence and disorder but also the health of the nation.
The Violence Reduction Unit still strongly support minimum pricing as a universal public health measure. But we would go further. We are also calling for a review of licensing policy on the over provision of on and off sales in our towns and cities.
For many people alcohol possess few negative effects (although my health colleagues may argue otherwise) we dance, we sing, we celebrate and we commiserate to alcohol. Some unfortunately don’t stop there though and become violent. There is no right to drink, so perhaps we should be thinking about stopping people from drinking who can’t control themselves. For some this may seem draconian however if that person had driven under the influence we would take away their right to drive, why not take away the right to drink from those who commit violence under the influence?
And what of the reported move of violence from outdoors to behind closed doors? A close analysis of the figures would suggest that rather than increasing, indoor violence just hasn’t decreased by as much as outside violence has. So where two thirds of violence used to be outdoors and a third indoors it’s now roughly 50/50 in terms of location. So yes some violence has moved indoors but most of it was already there. Indoor violence is however a real concern because policing can’t address it by traditional methods. To stop hidden violence we will need to be clever, to think differently, and most of all never stop in our constant drive to change attitudes.
Violence is not inevitable nor is it acceptable. We believe violence is preventable if we all simply refuse to accept it. There can be no bystanders.