21 January 2021

Victims of serious violence in England and Wales, 2011–2017

Iain Brennan tells us about his analysis addressing gaps in our knowledge about the distribution of violence across groups, places and times – in adults and children – using data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

Knowing how much violence happens and where it happens are important pieces of the violence prevention puzzle. We know that violence is not experienced equally across the adult population, which means that prevention strategies can be targeted towards those people, communities, times and places where risk of violence is greatest. Not only do we know that some adults are at greater risk of violence in general, but there is evidence of patterns in the severity of violence, with some groups being at greater risk of serious violent injury than others. Although we have some understanding of patterns in violence among adults, we know far less about patterns of violence among children. In part, our knowledge about the distribution of violence is limited because a great deal of violence does not come to the attention of organisations responsible for collecting information about violence, such as police and, increasingly, hospitals.

This report, 'Victims of serious violence in England and Wales, 2011–2017', fills gaps in our knowledge by using six years of data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). Each year, this survey asks around 35,000 adults (aged 16 years and older) and around 5,000 children (aged 10 to 15 years) about their experience of crime in the past year. For learning about violence, the CSEW is a good alternative to police and hospital data. We know that people are more likely to tell a trained CSEW surveyor about their experience, probably because it is easier and there are no consequences. Thankfully, violence is rare, so most people don’t give any information about violence, but each year, around 2% of adult survey respondents give some details about one or more assaults, including who they think assaulted them, when, where, how, why and what the consequences were. By pooling information from several years of the survey – in this case, over 10,000 incidents – we can see patterns in the violence experienced in England and Wales.

It is important to note that, while we have data from adults and children, the two groups are surveyed in slightly different ways, so we looked separately at the patterns of violence they experienced. Also, we know that the main form of the survey used in this report misses some forms of violence, particularly concerning domestic violence and sexual assault, so this report may be better at describing violence experienced by men and boys than that experienced by women and girls.

The study showed that between 2 and 3% of adults are victims of violence each year. Around one in a hundred are injured in violence and one in 250 receive medical treatment for violent injury. Among children, the rate of violent victimisation is much higher: around 16% are victims each year. About 7% of children are injured in violence and around 1.5% receive treatment for violent injury. Importantly, when adults and child victims were asked about the violence they experienced, children were much less likely than adults to regard the violence as serious.

Among both children and adults, males were at greater risk of violence and being younger  was a consistent risk factor. In general, being from an ethnic minority background protected against being a victim. The study found strong evidence for an effect of economic deprivation on violence: children in the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods were 55% more likely to report violent victimisation than respondents in the 10% most affluent neighbourhoods. This relationship was even more pronounced in adults, with respondents in the poorest neighbourhoods, 82% more likely to be victims than those in the most affluent areas. 

The study also sought to identify if the characteristics of violence – who was the perpetrator, where and when did it happen and how – could reveal patterns in which violence was the most harmful. For adults, violence that took place in the home or in licensed premises was most likely to result in injury. The location of the incident did not predict injury in child victims. There was no pattern in serious violence by time of day or day of the week. In both adults and children, the use of a weapon and the number of assailants increased the likelihood that the victim would be injured.

The study looked at patterns in the use of weapons in violence. Younger children (compared to older children), Asian children (compared to White children) and adult females (compared to adult males) were less likely to have a weapon used against them when they were assaulted but there were no other significant patterns. Although around 70% of violence against children took place in schools, it was less likely to involve a weapon than violence in the home or in an outdoor public place. Similarly for adults, weapon use was most likely in the home or in outdoor public spaces. There was no relationship between time of the day or day of the week and use of weapons, but violence involving more assailants increased the risk that a weapon would be used. 

This report uses new data to both confirm and refute knowledge about patterns in violence developed using police and hospital data. For instance, it did not support the suggestion that weapon use is prevalent in or around schools or that the hours immediately after schools are much riskier for young people. The study revealed a very significant proportion of young people experience violence (16%) and violent injury every year (7%), but also showed that much of the violence is not regarded as serious by the victims. The paper also demonstrated that ethnic minority groups are not at increased risk of violence – if anything, an ethnic minority background is protective against violent victimisation. The paper also reinforced the serious potential of weapon use and group violence. Serious adverse outcomes from a violent incident are hard to predict, but the use of a weapon and multiple assailants significantly raised that risk. Removing weapons and tackling group violence from violent incidents would substantially reduce the overall burden of violent harm.

Finally, the report demonstrated that, while the methods of routine data collection around violence – police and hospital data – are robust, much violence is not reported or recorded in this way. In particular, 70% of violent injury experienced by children and 36% of violent injury experienced by adults did not come to the attention of police or a medical professional. The CSEW, a publicly accessible data set, provides an alternative source of information about violence that, when used alongside police and hospital data can provide valuable insights into patterns and inequalities of violence.


The full report was written by Professor Iain Brennan, Director of Research for the Department of Criminology and Sociology at the University of Hull.

This report was prepared for the College of Policing as part of the Vulnerability and Violent Crime Programme.  The Phase 2 intervention evaluations will be published in Spring 2021.   


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