Chris Marshall: Less than 1% of population suffers 57% of all violence

New Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf's 65-year-old father became a victim of crime when he was attacked by thieves trying to steal his car (Picture: John Devlin)
New Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf's 65-year-old father became a victim of crime when he was attacked by thieves trying to steal his car (Picture: John Devlin)
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When former justice secretary Michael Matheson told a conference of police officers last month that most people in Scotland don’t experience crime, he was setting himself up for a fall.

Recently released statistics from Police Scotland show violent crime rose by 1.1 per cent in the past year, while sexual offences are up more than 12 per cent.

The minister’s comments were an open goal for his critics who accuse him of presiding over a “soft-touch” criminal justice system that fails victims by not to get to grips with repeat offenders.

His successor as justice minister, Humza Yousaf, recently had his own experience of crime when his 65-year-old father was attacked by thieves attempting to steal his car.

But while many Scots know someone who has been a victim of crime, for the most part we do not live our lives in fear. Violent crime, in particular, is something which happens to other people.

In fact, most crime is something which not only happens to other people, but to only a small cohort of other people.

In 2016/17, for example, 0.8 per cent of the population were victims of 57 per cent of all violent crime.

READ MORE: ‘Staggering’ rise in drug-related deaths in Scotland

Despite recorded crime falling consistently since the 1970s, there are parts of the population who have noticed very little difference.

These are not middle-class communities worried about housebreaking and car theft, but the country’s poorest neighbourhoods which have been blighted for years by violent crime, anti-social behaviour and drugs.

These are communities whose members are most likely to have suffered what is now referred to in criminal justice jargon as an “adverse childhood experience” or “ACE” for short.

Such an experience could be physical or sexual abuse; emotional or physical neglect; or living in a household where there is domestic violence, drug abuse or alcoholism.

According to the Scottish Government, someone who has experienced four or more ACEs is 14 times more likely to be a victim of crime, 15 times more likely to be a perpetrator of violent crime and 20 times more likely to go to prison.

Scotland’s former chief medical officer, Harry Burns, has spoken of how deleterious these early experiences can be, not just in relation to crime, but the overall health of the nation.

He points to studies which show that those from deprived communities are more likely to have higher levels of stress hormones in the blood which can have implications for parts of the brain important for learning, decision-making, stress regulation and emotional arousal.

READ MORE: Record numbers of women dying from drugs in Scotland

Slowly but surely, government is waking up to the significance of what is experienced in the early years of a person’s life and how it can colour everything which comes afterwards.

The question is: What can it do about a problem where there are no quick fixes and where it will take many years before it can be determined how effective their interventions have been?

Yesterday figures published by the National Records of Scotland showed there were 934 drug deaths in 2017, more than double the figure of a decade ago and the highest ever recorded.

Scotland has a higher rate of drug deaths than anywhere else in the UK, with opiates or opioids, such as heroin, morphine and methadone, implicated in nearly 90 per cent of cases.

Critics of those attempting to tackle ACEs say the idea is nebulous and faddy.

Tackling Scotland’s drug blight once and for all would be a good way of proving those critics wrong.