Community professionals at risk of abuse need risk guidelines

November 15, 2001

Although for many professionals working in the community these days, physical and verbal abuse are part and parcel of their job description all too often they are ill equipped to deal with it according to new research. In this so-called 'risk society' professionals perceive and manage risk of violence very differently and often have no guidelines to help them predict risk, minimise harm and reduce danger. The research shows that probation officers are the most risk conscious and most likely to use formal risk assessments whereas GPs and clergy use risk assessment in a more haphazard and reactive way.

The ESRC funded research at the Department of Social and Political Science at Royal Holloway, University of London collected data from three main professional groups, probation officers, GPs and members of the clergy. One in three GPs, all probation officers and all stipendiary clergy based in the South East of England were surveyed. 'We wanted to find out the incidence of violence reported by professionals working in the community, the meaning they attached to this violence and the fear of it and how they managed this very real risk' explains Dr Jonathan Gabe author of the research.

More than 90 per cent of probation officers and over 70 per cent of both GPs and clergy stated that they had been verbally abused once over the past two years. Between 10 and 12 per cent of the same community based professionals have suffered a physical assault during the same period. 'Many older clerics and GPs explain verbal abuse to be a consequence of loss of status compared with the 1950s and 1960s when they were treated with more respect' explains Dr Gabe. The perception of violence also varied. 'Whilst the majority of GPs and probation officers said they did feel afraid of being a victim of violence, less than half of the clergy expressed the same fears. The professionals who were most fearful of violence were women-particularly those who had to make home visits.

Most assaults involved being pushed or shoved. Threats were more common than actual physical violence and were reported as occurring at least once over the last two years by around 22 per cent of GPs and Anglican clergy and 37 per cent of probation officers. 'What was interesting was that contrary to popular belief the clergy were most likely to report having been assaulted and least likely to report having been verbally abused of the three professions' says Dr Gabe. 'Although the clergy were the least likely to have a formal risk assessment policy many professionals on the study employed informal safety precautions such as 'backing down' from a confrontation to defuse potentially violent situations' says Dr Gabe.
For more information contact Dr Jonathan Gabe, Department of Social and Political Science, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX. Telephone: 01783 443144/443149, email:
Or contact Julie Robertson, Lesley Lilley or Karen Emerton, in ESRC External Relations on 01793 413032,413119 or 413122.


1. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and government. The ESRC invests more than £46 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is

Economic & Social Research Council

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