Young researchers release recommendations to help end youth violence in Merseyside

The Peer Action Collective young researchers

A group of inspiring young Merseyside researchers have released their recommendations for how to put a stop to youth violence following an innovative two-year project involving hundreds of young people across the region.

The new study ‘Youth Violence and Us: The Culture of Youth Violence in Merseyside’ produced by PAC (Peer Action Collective) reveals that apathy and hopelessness are among the key factors that lead to violence.

They argue that a greater focus on empathy and a focus away from punishment towards education would help prevent hatred and abuse from becoming “normalised” on Merseyside.

The innovative research programme saw the group of 14 “peer researchers”, aged between 16 and 25, quiz nearly 350 other young people either in person, online, or at focus groups to get their views on key issues to make their area a better place to live.

Among its findings, the PAC study examines the link between a young person’s race, gender and sexuality and their chances of becoming a victim of violence.

Feelings of hopelessness were expressed by some of the respondents, particularly in more disadvantaged areas, with young people believing that a lack of purpose meant they were more easily groomed by gangs, saw the need to fight and had fewer reservations about carrying a knife.

As the report concludes: “A feeling of vulnerability suggests a need and a desire to survive, rather than live their lives fully as young people, trusting of adults around them and unafraid.”

The study also explores how early exposure to abuse at home and a lack of trust in adults can exacerbate problems.

But the report also praises efforts to engage with teenagers at school, support sports and other activities designed to beat boredom, and salutes a regional commitment to reduce Violence against Women and Girls.

It also portrays a real sense of pride in Merseyside, with one contributor commenting: “People think that Liverpool itself is not a nice place, it is amazing place and as much as I did struggle growing up, I think I still had a good life.”

As a result of their study, the group of young researchers have released 17 recommendations for reducing fear and apathy, tackling discrimination and for creating a sense of place, resilience and hope.

The study has been labelled “an extraordinary achievement” by the Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership (MVRP) and the Young Person’s Advisory Service (YPAS).

Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell said: “It is a remarkable feat these young peer researchers have been able to produce such a thorough, insightful and mature study and the team ought to be congratulated.”

“I will be studying their comprehensive new study closely and looking at where we can use their findings and recommendations to help inform the work of the police, the VRP and our partners to support young people, prevent violence and build a safer, stronger region for them to grow up in.”

Temporary Head of the MVRP Superintendent Georgie Garvey, said: “This study is an extraordinary achievement by PAC’s young researchers, providing the VRP with some fantastic insight into the viewings and feelings of young people across our region. It’s our job to now use their findings to inform positive action to tackle violence and create positive opportunities.

“Their findings in relation to recognising trauma and involving whole families and communities in change, really resonates with the work of the VRP. I am also glad the team recognised the value of our Mentors in Violence Prevention scheme, which equips young people with the language and framework to challenge and educate and in fact highlighted this as a model for others to follow.”

The group of peer researchers began their project in September 2021, meeting three times a week and undertaking group training and collaborating closely with academics and specialists to ensure they used the highest standards of balance and effectiveness.

They discovered:

  • Young women felt the need to adopt preventative measures, such as covering their glass up to prevent spiking.
  • Young people felt that those who were racist, homophobic, or misogynistic often thought their behaviour was harmless banter.
  • Respondents from the LBGT community sometimes didn’t want to report abuse to their parents because they felt that they were homophobic too.
  • Anxiousness around violence promoted other mental health issues with one respondent saying: “In Liverpool you have to think about anything and everything that could happen while you're out.”

Barriers to improvement, included the closure of youth clubs, a lack of information on mental health services for young people, and a mistrust of the authorities based on past experience and the toxic views of others around them. Respondents longed for more activities and protection in public places such as parks where young people congregated, stating that adults and young children had plenty of opportunities, whilst they had none.

Read the full Youth Violence Report: Youth Violence and Us