Whitney Iles



Whitney Iles: From Violence Reduction to Positive Peace

‘Violence reduction’ is both too limited an ambition and too negative a perspective – that’s why I’m passionate about creating a societal culture where peace can exist.

Research on adverse childhood experiences is still expanding, and we are continually learning about the nature, scope and effects of trauma.  If we are willing to recognise the devastating repercussions that seeing, hearing or being subjected to domestic violence can have on a child, then we should also acknowledge the severe impact that racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and other forms of hate crime can have on children and young people. All trauma-centred work needs to include an understanding of social injustices and their effects on the mind of a child.

Traumatic experiences can and do express themselves through behaviour. They also have a biological impact on the brain and within the body; in the words of Robert C. Scaer, MD, the body bears the burden. The physical aspect of trauma needs to be taken into consideration when designing and delivering interventions with children and young people. Person and behaviour focused interventions, however, must be part of a more comprehensive programme of societal change.

Ignoring how societal factors contribute to an individual’s behaviour — placing behaviour solely as the responsibility of the child or adolescent – constitutes an injustice to those individuals and the broader communities in which they live. It ignores the often racist and oppressive policies that have contributed to the lack of opportunities and resources within these communities. If we take into consideration these broader issues that influence behaviour, as well as the different identity groups to which the individual relates, this will enable interventions to be more productive.

One of the most important aspects of healing trauma is healthy relationships. All professional adults who engage in working relationships with children and adolescents affected by violence should be qualified, monitored and held accountable for their work. Accountability does not mean we need to create another white-westernised quality standard model that excludes grassroots work. It does, however, mean that we need to work together to develop a new, authentic culture of accountability and quality assurance.

We, as a society, have made good progress in decreasing the number of children in custody. However, statistics show that this has been most effective with the white British population, and we still have a way to go in terms of how we successfully engage with black, brown and other minority groups. Part of the solution is being able to effectively engage community organisations into the criminal justice system and changing how we perceive and manage risk.

The main focus of strategic planning moving forward should not be one of ‘violence reduction’, but that of creating and maintaining what Galtung refers to as ‘positive peace’. By using evidence and practical inventions, such as the ‘Peace Indicators’, we can change how we measure success and outcomes. By dealing with the root causes of violence and creating community-specific measurements of peace, rather than myopically chasing generic, police or funding driven performance indicators, we will empower communities to create significant and sustainable change.

Whitney Iles is CEO of Project 507