Tag Archives: vulnerable

Can you Read and Write?


Two weeks ago I had the privilege of leading a workshop at the Resolve ASB annual conference on “Putting Victims First”.  I co-led the workshop with an ASB practitioner from Greater Manchester who is passionate about putting victims first and led the section on how we do that practically. Her casual mention of the fact she asks people “can you read or write?” before she leaves them with a diary really struck me.

Diaries are a classic way to start gathering evidence in cases of anti-social behaviour.  Yet, I wonder how many practitioners do ask that question: “Can you read and write?”  It might seem an unnecessary question but it really got me thinking.  Whilst the UK boosts 99% literacy, it is widely recognised that more than 1% of the population are functionally illiterate and struggle with reading information from unfamiliar sources or on unfamiliar topics.

There are also people whose second language is English who may particularly struggle to write in English.  What struck me with Janice’s comment was how aware she was of all the hurdles that could be placed in front of a victim of anti-social behaviour.  She showed through and through a victims-first approach.

Hurdles to reporting ASB

Anti-social behaviour is under-reported, and sometimes when it is reported, action is not taken nor is the victim taken seriously.  How many of the most vulnerable in our society are in those two categories – either they find the whole experience of trying to report an incident of anti-social behaviour too overwhelming, or once they pluck up the courage, they may struggle to clearly articulate the problem and are fobbed off or ignored.  Or sent a letter with further information which they find incomprehensible due to unfamiliar terms and an overload of jargon …

Speaking at a Surrey ASB Practitioners Forum last month, I urged delegates to keep their communication clear, remove jargon, and take time to explain unfamiliar processes such as the court system.  It can be easy to forget that victims have no clue about all this.

At that forum I was challenged by someone about how accessible we as a charity really are.  She commented that only a small proportion of victims of ASB would have access to the Internet to find our website, and then only a small proportion of them would be able to read through the content we have there.  I feel that is harsh and unfair.  92% of the UK population has access to the Internet and we have sought to make our information as clear as possible for victims.  Yes, they need to be able to read, though they may have advocates who can access the information and share it with them.  Unfortunately anti-social behaviour is such a complex topic that it cannot be simplified too much – we are keen not to mislead victims that it is easy to define and easy to resolve.  Usually it is not.

Yet this is a good question to keep holding out there: “Can you read and write?” We are a small charity and are aware that we cannot yet reach the most vulnerable in our society who do not have access to the Internet and cannot read English.  Yet it is worth remembering, anti-social behaviour can hit anyone, anywhere – it is not just areas of deprivation – and therefore we believe there are still many people who can benefit from our resource.  For those who are isolated, our hope is that someone somewhere will listen and connect them to the help and advice they need.  That when they pick up the phone to report the problem, the official at the other end listens carefully, chooses to put the victim first and takes prompt action to help them.

Tips for Putting Victims First

Janice’s tips for how to keep victims in the centre were:

  1. Prioritise going to talk to the victim after they call in to report the ASB (in the next couple of days, not a week next Thursday!  Note: visit, not write)
  2. Empathise and really listen to what they are sharing
  3. Do not downplay what they say but ensure they feel that you care about the effect the behaviour is having on them (such as sleep deprivation, effect on work/school performance, health impact, fear, anxiety, isolation, etc.)
  4. Clearly explain what you plan to do, what you can do and what you can’t do to help them
  5. Check in with them on an ongoing basis to see how they are coping and whether the behaviour has improved if a warning has been given

Victims Sidelined Once More

Efforts to control public spaces, such as the latest furore over the ban on swearing at Salford Quays, are in the spotlight at present. The Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) have been contentious from the start and research undertaken by The Manifesto Club has recently highlighted why (http://www.manifestoclub.com/). I’ve read criticisms about anti-social behaviour being an “ever-expanding and arbitrary term” alongside concerns of hyper-regulation of our everyday lives. asbhelp2

For us the overarching focus on PSPOs creates a rather different issue. Yes, we agree that statutory guidance is in sore need of clarification to ensure PSPOs go through the proper consultations and to prevent innocent acts from being criminalised. Yet, we fear so much focus on these PSPOs too neatly takes resources away from those types of ASB that are ruining the lives of so many individuals and families in this country.

I’m sure it’s unpleasant to hear a load of foul language if you’ve gone for a family walk through Salford Quays. Yet surely this is temporary. We are rarely contacted by victims experiencing ASB in a public place. No, the heartfelt cries that we receive are usually those who feel trapped in their own homes thanks to the behaviour of their neighbours. The isolated and vulnerable – unable or too scared to galvanise public support to get the Council to take action. Unsurprising, since when they finally do get up the courage to report the ASB they are too often fobbed off, the problem belittled, the victim’s story disbelieved.

We make no secret about our focus – the Community Trigger. This has been designed to help the vulnerable, the isolated, those at the point of breaking, to get a multi-agency review of their case and action taken. Sadly we often feel we beat a solitary drum, the media seem remarkably disinterested in spite of the potential this has to show up agency failings, something they usually like to do! Often the hidden anti-social behaviour is the most complex and costly to solve. Easier to focus scant resources on implementing PSPOs to respond to those who shout the loudest (for what are often relatively minor incidents) than attend to the individual, complicated cases.

Do we have to see another tragedy like that of Fiona Pilkington before agencies truly appreciate the importance of prioritising the vulnerable or those suffering persistent ASB that wears even the strongest person down? PSPO debates rarely mention the victims that are behind the power. They’ve been sidelined once more, this time in favour of the general public’s opinion.

We are glad to see organisations and individuals shouting loud about free expression, free movement and free association. These are important values and the legislation’s statutory guidance flawed given its lack of protection of these. Who is shouting out, however, for that lonely victim, suffering anti-social behaviour of the most damaging kind, not knowing where they can turn? We hope other voices will join with our own and champion the rights of those who most need it.

Jenny Herrera CEO, ASB Help

Death Threats

“I felt like the police were trying to talk me out of pressing charges as they didn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation until we started getting death threats.”

‘Carole’, in Council housing, explains she was a victim of hate crime due to her religion and mental illness. If she was suffering with a mental health problem, she should have been classified as vulnerable and given additional support. However, she says that “a lot of the times I felt like the police were trying to talk me out of pressing charges as they didn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation until we started getting death threats.”

She mentions mistreatment of her children to the point she removed them from school, vandalising her car and gardens, obstructing the road and shouting, swearing and name calling with reference to mental health and religion. She became a recluse and was suicidal for the last 4 weeks they lived in that house.

“I could not eat or sleep for fear. My children could not play outside. Eventually got moved because of the death threats. Now, 6 months on, I have only just started going out of my new house to get food shopping but take a 25 mile round trip to avoid bumping into these people. I still cannot sleep and have severe panic attacks. I’ve completely lost what little confidence I had. I just don’t want to be around people. I am fearful all the time. My youngest child will not leave my side and now wets the bed and wakes up screaming from nightmares. It is really devastating that people can behave in this way but yet we had to move from a home we loved.”

‘Carole’ awaits a court case which she is very anxious about but she is determined to speak out against those who have caused her such distress.

Hate Crime is a serious matter and should be reported to the Police. See here for a definition of hate crime.