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At risk, yet dismissed

The criminal victimisation of people with mental health problems

Public perception is that people with mental health problems are offenders, and historically, policy, research and clinical practice has focused on the risk they pose to others. However, in recent years a body of work has explored the victimisation of people with mental health problems and the impact it has on them. This research was conducted by a partnership of Victim Support, the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, Mind and St George’s University of London and Kingston University, in collaboration with University College London, funded by the Big Lottery Fund and the Medical Research Council.

This study was designed to understand experiences of victimisation and engagement with the criminal justice system among people with mental health problems. The
main questions the study sought to answer were:
• What proportion of people with severe mental illness had been a victim of violent or non-violent crime in the past year, and how does that compare to the general population?
• What are the barriers and facilitators for people with mental health problems, who have been victims of crime, in reporting crime, progressing through the criminal justice process, and accessing support?

The study was conducted in two main parts, a quantitative survey and qualitative interviews and focus groups. The survey used a modified version of the Crime
Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) with a random sample of 361 people with severe mental illness (SMI) using community mental health services in London. The findings from this sample were compared with those from the general population who took part in the CSEW survey over the same time period in London. We also gained information from clinical notes, and professionals involved in the participants’ care.(See appendix 1 for details).

For the qualitative research we interviewed 81 individuals who had mental health problems and had been victims of crime in the last three years. The profile of these interviewees was slightly different, with a broader range of mental health problems, and a third were not using community mental health services. The interviews explored their experience of crime, its impact and their engagement with the criminal justice system. We also conducted focus groups and individual interviews with 30 relevant professionals from a range of different backgrounds including police officers and mental health care coordinators.

The findings of the survey showed that people with mental health problems experienced high rates of crime, and were considerably more likely to be victims of crime
than the general population.
• Forty-five percent of people with severe mental illness (SMI) were victims of crime in the past year.
• One in five people had experienced a violent assault; a third were victims of personal crime and a quarter were victims of a household crime.
• People with SMI were five times more likely to be a victim of assault, and three times more likely to be a victim of household crime, than people in the general population, after taking into account sociodemographic differences. Women were 10 times more likely to be assaulted.
• They reported very high rates of sexual and domestic violence, with 40% of women reporting being a victim of rape or attempted rape in adulthood, and 10% being a victim of sexual assault in the past year.
• Victims with SMI were up to four times more likely to be victimised by their relatives or acquaintances than those from the general population.
• Nine percent of the victims described crimes in psychiatric inpatient settings.