The science of violence

building personal and community resilience

The Science of Violence

Science of Violence is an innovative training consultancy empowering practitioners in the social care and criminal justice sector to work safely and effectively with challenging behaviour and complex needs.

Science of Violence was founded by Dinah Senior a pioneer of trauma-informed practice in the serious youth violence sector with over fifteen years’ experience of designing and delivering violence reduction interventions and known for her dynamic capacity building work in communities disproportionately affected by escalating violence.

“I would literally recommend this training to everyone from youth professionals down to the man/woman at the bus stop.” — Peer Advocate, The Asian Centre Waltham Forest

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“The warning lights are flashing” Metropolitan Police Commissioner, January 2017

knife crimes reported (2016)

incidents of self-harm recorded in prisons in England & Wales (2016)

percentage of rape crisis users under the age of 25

children in the UK sexually abused

increase in violent crime in London and South East (2016)

“What an experience. I have learned so much , thank you for creating a safe space for such amazing work.” — Counsellor, Waltham forest

The Science of Violence The Science of Violence 72% of children released from custody go on to reoffend (Barnardos 2014)50% of children in youth custody come from the foster or residential care system(Lord Laming Review 2016)34% of children in custody have a mental health disorder (Barnardos 2014) “I have gained so many tools and models to draw from and my awareness of self and the impact I can have on others is priceless. Thank you.” — Gang Worker, Brent

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Science of Violence provides bespoke psychodynamic training and consultancy for public sector agencies, charities, front line practitioners and vulnerable communities as well as general audiences interested in building resilience to violence in all its forms from bullying to violent crime.

Learning outcomes for training programmes and workshops can be provided on request, competitive rates apply.

“This training opened my eyes to the kind of things young people might share. Exposure to that alone makes me better equipped to listen and respond to young people’s experiences.” — Bereavement Counsellor, Waltham Forest

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Delivery of practitioner skills training and reflective supervision for Another Way the UK’s first late-night provision for young people involved in criminal exploitation. Developed in partnership with The Harrow Club W10 and funded by the Mayor’s Young Londoners Fund.

Another Way is a unique piece of work building capacity at the heart of the uniquely traumatised community surrounding Grenfell Tower. It is a community-led and culturally-sensitive intervention staffed by an intergenerational team of youth workers, practitioners and volunteers trained to engage with young people at serious risk of harm using a trauma-informed approach.

“Another Way would not have been possible without the knowledge and expertise brought to the table by Science of Violence. Dinah has played a key role in bringing stakeholders together to create a community response to knife crime that continues to exceed all expectations. We cannot recommend her highly enough.” — Michael Defoe, CEO, The Harrow Club W10

Delivery of serious youth violence training empowering a multi-agency team across Bedford Youth Offending, Early Help, Social Services and Children Services to engage positively and effectively with young people caught up in cycles of violence and exploitation. Working experientially with current case studies this training looked closely at the importance of a relational trauma-informed approach to challenging and violent behaviour.

“Science of Violence went the extra mile to ensure that this training was pitched at the right level for our staff who are already familiar with many of the issues related to exploitation and violence facing young people today.

 They created many opportunities for us to reflect on ourselves and on our approach to these challenges and we are already putting the exercises they shared with us into our groupwork with young people.

In our team’s evaluation 96% of participants said they would recommend the training to their colleagues and 73% said they felt it would improve their ability to form positive relationships with young people displaying challenging behaviour.

Big thanks to Dinah and her team for their energy, expertise and enthusiasm.” Guy Wiseman, Advanced Practitioner, Bedfordshire Youth Offending Service

Delivery of practitioner skills training and reflective supervision for The 4tify Project, a dynamic front line project working to increase the safety and resilience of young people living on the Grahame Park Estate, London NW9.

The 4Front Project is a multiple award-winning youth-led social enterprise on a mission to empower young people and communities to live free from violence. The 4Front Project was founded by Temi Mwale, a tireless social entrepreneur, educator and activist committed to building resilience in vulnerable communities and empowering the next generation to create change.

“The training made me think about trauma and about my own relationship with violence in a much deeper way. I highly recommend it to anyone working in the front line.” — Programme Facilitator

Delivery of Shame Reframe training to the Luton Youth Offending Service in Bedfordshire supporting their multi-agency team towards a trauma-informed approach focussing on the power of shame-aware communication to improve engagement with young people affected by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and criminal exploitation.

“The four theories of violence were very useful, they helped put shame into perspective and made me think about the impact we have on the young people we work with.” — Youth Justice Officer

Development of community mentoring and employment access project in partnership with voluntary sector agencies Community Turf, KNI Foundation and The Asian Centre funded by the London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF) as part of its Gang Prevention Programme Enough is Enough and positively evaluated by Cordis Bright.

Design and delivery of practitioner skills training for intergenerational multi-faith groups of community mentors in LBWF wanting to work with young people affected by gang association, serious violence, child sexual exploitation and radicalisation.

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The science of violence prevention

Q: What were the key health and social problems the city of Cali faced when you were elected mayor in 1992?

A: When I first came to office, communicable and other chronic diseases were no longer the main health issues. Homicide had become the leading cause of death. Violence and insecurity were considered the most serious problems in our city.

Q: You pledged to reduce violence and improve public safety in your 1992 election campaign. After you were elected and unveiled your plans, how were they received?

A: At the time, people thought nothing could be done about the violence and insecurity, but I was convinced that the epidemiological method could be applied to the investigation of a social condition – in this case violence – to help understand its risk factors, just as this method is used in the investigation of the spread of disease. My proposals to remove risk factors, such as restricting the carrying of firearms and the opening hours of bars and discotheques were not at all popular, while my proposals for youth and other social programmes received enthusiastic support.

“People thought nothing could be done about the violence and insecurity.”

Q: Later, you wrote that people were under the misconception that drug cartels and poverty were the main causes of the violence in Cali. Why?

A: It was a natural assumption. The sudden increase in homicides in Colombia in the late 1980s coincided with an increase in the production of cocaine and marijuana.

Drug traffickers developed a strong presence in many Colombian cities with displays of money and boastful behaviour.

Medellín and Cali were particularly affected and so people attributed the epidemic of homicides to drug trafficking.

Q: So how did you tackle the violence?

A: We knew we had to be clear about the causes of the violence and so we took an epidemiological approach. This approach requires a clear definition of the problem, so we adopted the World Health Organization’s definition of violence that includes the use of force with intention to do harm.

We then explored what we call “descriptive variables”, such as the age of victims and perpetrators, their blood levels of drugs and alcohol, possession of firearms, place of occurrence, etc. A prerequisite for this method is reliable information, but much of our information was conflicting. For example, the judiciary reported twice as many homicides as the police.

After careful analysis we found that the police only counted the dead in the street – not in hospitals – while the judiciary counted everyone who died in Cali, regardless of where the incidents occurred.

To resolve discrepancies and obtain reliable and timely crime data, I called a weekly meeting of representatives from the police, the judiciary and the municipal statistical agency as well as forensic experts and health and social scientists from the city’s university. We called it a “crime observatory”.

Q: What did you find?

A: We found that about 80% of homicides were committed with firearms and that most homicides occurred at weekends or on celebration days, such as Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, when people consume lots of alcohol. Most of the perpetrators and victims were young men from deprived areas.

This epidemiological pattern pointed to social disruption as a major cause, not organized crime. Later we concluded that drug trafficking was similar to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that attacks the body’s defences. People with HIV are susceptible to otherwise innocuous diseases.

Similarly, drug traffickers undermined the police and judiciary by offering them bribes and, as a result, society’s defence mechanisms became weak and dysfunctional. Thus people got killed in street fights, in quarrels between neighbours and in arguments over traffic accidents.

Contrary to popular belief, we found that drug trafficking was not the main direct cause of the increase in homicides, but rather our law and order institutions were weakened by the drug traffickers.

Q: Did the results of your analysis change perceptions of violence?

A: Yes, in fact, we developed a theoretical model of urban violence by reviewing the literature on the topic and also from our observations of violence in Cali.

We found substantial evidence to show that the possession of firearms, the consumption of alcohol and social inequalities – as opposed to poverty per se – were the factors most strongly associated with violent behaviour in Colombia.

Other risk factors included a history of child abuse – predisposing some people to violent behaviour – exposure to violent films, and the presence of organized crime.

  • Q: What solutions did you come up with in Cali?
  • A: We launched the DESEPAZ programme in 1992, this stands for DEsarrollo, SEguridad, Paz (development, security and peace), a multi-sectoral approach that included social and economic programmes and gun and alcohol restrictions.
  • Q: What kind of social and economic programmes did you launch?

A: During my first term the city organized the Casas de Jóvenes (youth clubs) where young people can gather to meet and discuss different issues with an experienced social worker on site. Young people were offered training, for example, in making cobblestones, and the city hired them to pave the streets.

We started providing positive parenting courses to prevent child abuse and programmes to prevent bullying in schools. During my second term we built 17 day-care facilities each with about 300 places, some in collaboration with the private sector. All were staffed with nutritionists, psychologists and social workers.

I hope that future administrations continue this important work.

Finally, we have invested considerably in improving the police and the judiciary and bringing them closer to the people, and we are opening a third Casa de Paz – we opened the first two in my first term – where police, forensic experts and the judiciary work in the middle of Cali’s impoverished neighbourhoods.

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Q: How did you continue this work after leaving office in 1994?

A: I helped the Pan-American Health Organization start its first violence-prevention programme in the Americas.

It was an opportunity to apply all the lessons we learned in Cali: the application of the public health approach with clear definitions, reliable information, identification of risk factors, planned interventions and evaluation.

I also helped to establish the Inter-American Coalition for the Prevention of Violence which is working to develop violence-prevention programmes in 18 countries in the Americas.

Q: How successfully has the Cali approach to violence prevention been applied elsewhere?

A: The epidemiological approach to reducing violence is passing the test in other cities in Colombia and across the Americas.

A key part of this approach is to set up crime observatories; regular meetings of all the agencies dealing with crime to gather and analyse data, plan violence-prevention interventions and evaluate them.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the United States Agency for International Development and the World Bank, among others, now recommend creating observatories as a prerequisite for violence-prevention programmes and such observatories have been established in 24 countries in the region.

Q: What happened in Cali after you left office?

A: Sadly, not all of my successors continued to use a data-driven approach to curbing violence, and only sporadically kept up the youth programmes or the firearm and alcohol policies.

The incidence of homicide dropped from 124 per 100 000 population in 1994 to 86 in 1997 then slowly climbed back up to about 100.

In contrast, homicides in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, where the epidemiological method was consistently applied by three administrations from 1995 to 2003, dropped from 80 to 20 per 100 000 over this time.

Q: When you were re-elected as mayor again in 2011 had things changed?

A: Yes. The Colombian police force had become a highly professional and trustworthy body. The powerful drug cartels had largely been dismantled. But the incidence of homicide in Cali was high – around 80 per 100 000 per year – compared to 22 in Bogotá and 70 in Medellín.

When we analysed the data, we found that the proportion of homicides due to interpersonal conflict – such as quarrels, alcohol-fuelled brawling and jealousy – had decreased and the proportion attributable to organized crime had increased.

These homicides were premeditated, sometimes involving contract killers, some driven by drug problems. The national government and our municipality decided to respond as we had done in the past.

Specialists from the police and the prosecutor’s office worked together to identify gang leaders, collect the evidence, and detain and imprison gang members. In 2014 the incidence of homicides in Cali had dropped to 62 per 100 000 and it continues to fall.

Q: What other solutions have you found?

A: In 2011, the city adopted a massive social investment programme benefiting around 600 000 people from the 11 most impoverished districts, focusing on health, education, income generation and food supplements.

Total investment in the programme, including support for the police and judiciary, was US$ 40 million in 2014 and in 2015.

In 2014, the number of homicides fell by 21% (402) in Cali compared with 2013 (1959) and in the first half of 2015, we had the lowest numbers of homicides in the past 10 years.

Q: Have you ever felt that your own life was at risk?

A: I always stress that in Colombia our drug policies are decided and implemented by the national government. My role is limited to securing compliance with city laws. That may have helped because I have never felt particularly at risk.

Q: What have you learned from your time in office?

A: First, urban violence is preventable. Second, violence prevention requires reliable and timely information. Third, the public health method is a practical approach that can be adapted locally. There is no one-size-fits-all.

Fourth, addressing some risk factors associated with violent behaviour, such as reducing social inequalities or establishing healthy child-raising practices, requires time, patience and resources.

Addressing other risk factors such as restrictions on alcohol sales or on carrying firearms can be done with fewer resources and achieve rapid results. Finally, violence prevention requires political will on the part of mayors and local officials.

The Science of Violence

Apparently 1993 was a common year for gun-control studies because of the ongoing debate at that time regarding the upcoming assault weapons ban which was passed in 1994.

Studies following that ban carried out by the CDC and the National Research Council found that the 1994 assault weapons ban had no noticeable impact on gun-related crime, including crimes involving multiple victims, which was precisely the type of event this ban was designed to prevent. The study authors noted that this wasn’t surprising, as it was what many scientists had predicted.

Unfortunately, even in countries with extremely strict gun legislation, violent massacres still occur. For example, in China it is illegal for any private citizen to own any type of firearm.

Yet since 2010, there have been at least 10 major school massacres there, resulting in the deaths of dozens of children as well as  severe physical and emotional trauma for nearly one hundred others.

These terrible events were all carried out without a single firearm.

The take-home message here is that all of the scientific and statistical evidence points to the fact that stricter gun laws will not solve the problem of violent crime, especially the problem of crimes involving multiple victims.

Video Games and Violence

Another area of potential blame that has often been reported by the media is that of violent videogames.

The Biological and Emotional Causes of Aggression

  1. Explain how aggression might be evolutionarily adaptive.
  2. Describe how different parts of the brain influence aggression.
  3. Summarize the effects of testosterone and serotonin on aggression.
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When we see so much violence around us every day, we might conclude that people have an innate tendency, or even an instinct, to be aggressive.

Some well-known philosophers and psychologists have argued that this is the case. For instance, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) took this view, arguing that humans are naturally evil and that only society could constrain their aggressive tendencies. On the other hand, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was more positive.

He believed that humans are naturally gentle creatures who are aggressive only because we are taught to be so by our society.

The influential psychologist Sigmund Freud, who lived through the disaster of World War I in which millions of his fellow human beings were massacred, argued that although people do have a “life instinct,” they also have a “death instinct”—an impulse toward destruction of themselves and others.

Is Aggression Evolutionarily Adaptive?

A belief in the innate aggressive tendencies of human beings—that the ability to be aggressive toward others, at least under some circumstances, is part of our fundamental human makeup—is consistent with the principles of evolutionary psychology.

After all, the goal of maintaining and enhancing the self will in some cases require that we prevent others from harming us and those we care about. We may aggress against others because it allows us to gain access to valuable resources such as food and desirable mates or to protect ourselves from direct attack by others.

And we may aggress when we feel that our social status is threatened. Therefore, if aggression helps with either our individual survival or in the survival of our genes, then the process of natural selection may well cause humans, as it would any other animal, to be aggressive.

Human beings need to be able to aggress in certain situations, and nature has provided us with these skills (Buss & Duntley, 2006). Under the right situation, almost all of us will aggress.

However, just because we can aggress does not mean that we will. It is not necessarily evolutionarily adaptive to aggress in all situations. For one, aggressing can be costly if the other person aggresses back. Therefore, neither people nor animals are always aggressive.

Rather, they use aggression only when they feel that they absolutely need to (Berkowitz, 1993a). In animals, the fight-or-flight response to threat leads them sometimes to attack and sometimes to flee the situation.

Human beings have an even wider variety of potential responses to threat, only one of which is aggression. Again, the social situation is critical.

We may react violently in situations in which we are uncomfortable or fearful or when another person has provoked us, but we may react more calmly in other settings. And there are cultural differences, such that violence is more common in some cultures than in others.

There is no doubt that aggression is in part genetically determined. Animals can be bred to be aggressive by breeding the most aggressive offspring with each other (Lagerspetz & Lagerspetz, 1971).

 Children who are aggressive as infants also are aggressive when they are adults (Coie & Dodge, 1998; Dubow, Huesmann, & Boxer, 2003; Raine, 1993) and identical twins are more similar than fraternal twins in their aggressive tendencies and criminal records.

Behavioral genetics studies have found that criminal and aggressive behavior is correlated at about .70 for identical twins but only at about .40 for fraternal twins (Tellegen et al., 1988).

Understanding Violence

KISS AND MAKE UP: A female chimpanzee (right) kisses a dominant male with whom she has fought. After aggressive conflicts, monkeys usually make dramatic gestures of reconciliation that include hugging and kissing.

Science may never be able to explain in full such violent acts as the shooting at Columbine High School, which claimed 15 lives 15 months ago.

But various studiessome probing the evolutionary origins of aggression, and others, our conscious ability to control itare changing the ways in which researchers regard violence. Two papers review several recent lines of thought in the July 28 issue of Science.

One intriguing perceptual shift is coming from those who regularly observe our closest kin, the chimpanzees, and other monkeys.

Indeed, primatologists are now suggesting that aggressive behavior be viewed as a normal means for competing and negotiating within groups, and not as a fundamentally antisocial instinct.

This shift, they say, could lead to a better understanding of how aggression ends and can be kept under control among humans.

Although it is hard to look at violence as anything but an attempt to destroy community, Frans de Waal, the C. H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University, makes a compelling argument for seeing it as an integral part of any social network.

Were aggressions truly antisocial acts, he points out, there would be no way to explain the fact that the overwhelming majority of attacks involve people who know one another well.

And it wouldn't explain the ways in which colonies of monkeys pick fights or make peace.

Primatologists first began to study aggression as a social phenomenon during the 1970s, when a curious incident was recorded at the Arnhem Zoo after a dominant male chimp attacked a female. The rest of the colony came to her aide, and then screamed and chased one another for a while.

After a tense period of silence, the entire group began hooting, and during this chorus, two chimps embraced each other and kissed. When researchers reexamined the event, they realized that the two who had kissed were the very same two that had been fighting.

Soon they found that most monkeys and apes make dramatic gestures of reconciliation after conflicts.

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