New research, commissioned by the U.K.’s Counter Terrorism Policing (CTP), has revealed a ‘striking prevalence’ of domestic abuse in the lives of those referred to the Prevent program as being vulnerable to radicalization.
The research, named ‘Project Starlight’ is the result of extensive collaboration between CTP, the government’s Home Office, and a wide variety of charitable, community and third-sector organizations.
It analyzed referrals made to the counter-radicalization Prevent program in 2019, as part of CTP’s commitment to understanding the complex vulnerabilities that can be linked to extremism.
Out of a sample of 3045 individuals, just over a third (1076) had a link to a domestic abuse incident, either as an offender, victim, witness or a combination of all three.
This is significantly higher than the prevalence of domestic abuse in the wider population, according to the best available estimates. While not directly comparable, the Office of National Statistics data for 2018/19 indicates that 5.7% of the population were victims of domestic abuse – while victims made up 15.4% of Prevent referrals analyzed as part of Project Starlight.
Incidents ranged from a child witnessing domestic abuse in their household, to individuals with convictions for attempted murder.
National Co-ordinator for Prevent, Detective Chief Superintendent Vicky Washington said: “This initial research has resulted in some statistically significant data which cannot, and should not, be ignored.
“Project Starlight has indicated a clear overrepresentation of domestic abuse experiences in the lives of those who are referred to us for safeguarding and support. It is absolutely vital that we use this information to shape what we do, and strengthen our response across all of policing, not just in counterterrorism.”
Whilst the data showed a similar prevalence of domestic abuse incidents for both men and women referred to Prevent, men were most often recorded as an offender and women as a victim of abuse. Children (those under 16) were most likely to be a witness.
Where a link to a domestic abuse-related incident was identified, an Islamist ideology was recorded in 28% of referrals, while Extreme Right Wing ideologies accounted for 18%. Other categories included cases where vulnerability to radicalization was present but with no clear ideology (21%), or cases which were referred to Prevent but assessed as having no immediate radicalization concerns (12%). This was consistent with the wider Project Starlight cohort, and was consistent across age groups.
Det Chief Supt Washington added: “It is more important than ever that we look beyond traditional boundaries of what we do, and work towards understanding the bigger picture. What Project Starlight demonstrates is that vulnerabilities associated with radicalization are complex and far-reaching.
“This research is not about stigmatizing anyone or claiming that one factor necessarily links to another, it’s about us doing all we can to strengthen our understanding and approach, to ensure the right support is in place. And it’s about a joint mission to protect vulnerable people from all forms of harm.”
Joan Smith, author of ‘Home Grown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists’ said: “This is a very important piece of work, making the link between terrorism and other forms of male violence. It broadens our understanding of violent extremism, offering the opportunity to safeguard women and children, as well as doing the vital work of protecting the public.”
In light of these initial findings, Counter Terrorism Policing plans to develop this Project further by using the research to inform ongoing work alongside wider safeguarding practitioners, as well as using it to improve understanding and training for both counterterrorism and police safeguarding practitioners. Further research is also planned to widen the initial data-set, and examine more closely the link between domestic abuse and the pathway to radicalization.