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Violence Research Centre


During lockdown, the VRC has continued nurturing its links with national and international research networks, collaborating on a variety of publications. Here is a fresh selection of papers from the VRC team, Institute of Criminology’s researchers and affiliated researchers from other academic institutions. Research topics include organised crime and terrorism, violence and violence prevention, and bullying.


Organised crime and terrorism

Campana, P. and Gelsthorpe, L. (2020). "Choosing a Smuggler: Decision-making Among Migrants Smuggled to Europe". European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 


This paper explores how transactions between smugglers and migrants come about in the context of irregular migration. We first offer some theoretical reflections on the challenges that such a context poses to both parties—smugglers and migrants—and point to three main conditions under which smuggling transactions take place: illegality, asymmetrical information and low trust. Next, we explore the strategies that migrants and smugglers alike may employ to overcome these challenges. We focus on three broad sets of strategies related to information-gathering, to information-checking (reputation and the role of physical and virtual communities) and to developing substitutes for trust (guarantees, escrow services and hostage-taking strategies à la Thomas Schelling). To illustrate our reasoning, we draw on examples from published works as well as from a novel set of 43 qualitative interviews with migrants recently smuggled to Europe. Such interviews were carried out in a destination country (England) and in a transit country (Greece). Evidence from this work supports previous calls to move away from a simplistic “predator-victim” discourse.


Campana, P. (2020). “Human Smuggling: Structure and Mechanisms”. Crime & Justice,  

Human smuggling is a form of illegal trade in which the commodity is an assisted illegal entry into a country. While this is hardly a new phenomenon, evidence points to increased involvement of smugglers in facilitating these journeys. This has been linked to the hardening of entry policies in developed countries. Smuggling markets tend to possess low barriers to entry and remarkably similar organizational arrangements in all the main smuggling routes in the world: no monopolies and small, localized, and rudimentary hierarchies. There are clear separations between migrant smugglers and their protectors and between migrant smugglers and drug traffickers. The limited empirical evidence suggests that, rather than being involved in other unrelated criminal activities, smugglers often run small-scale legitimate businesses. There is very little evidence of direct involvement of traditional mafia-like organizations. Finally, smugglers, often in competition to attract migrants, have developed diverse strategies to foster transactions, including investing in their reputations, offering warranties, and bringing in third-party escrow services. Recent developments in information technology have facilitated use of social media and the internet.


Tankebe, J. (2020). “Unintended Negative Outcomes of Counter-Terrorism Policing”. In Weisburd, D., Hasisi, B., & Calderoni, F (eds.) Understanding Recruitment to Organised Crime and Terrorism.

Since the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in New York and on 7/7 in London, many researchers have documented how local communities experience counter-terrorism measures. Evidence on these experiences has raised concerns that these measures might be counter-productive, increasing rather than reducing the risks of radicalisation and terrorism. Using an experimental vignette design, this study tests how the nature of counter-terrorism practices affects people’s perceptions of the risks of recruitment into terrorism. A national representative sample of Muslims in the United Kingdom was randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions showing (a) procedurally just street stops, (b) procedurally unjust street stops, (c) procedurally just counter-terrorism raid, or (d) procedurally unjust counter-terrorism raid. After reading the scenarios, participants completed a short questionnaire on the risk of terrorism recruitment. Procedurally unjust street stops were deemed to cause increased risks of radicalisation. However, there was no evidence that procedurally unjust counter-terrorism raids had similar unintended negative consequences. The implications of these results are discussed.


Ariel, B., Langley, B., Tankebe, J., Sutherland, A., Beale, M., Roni Factor, R., and Weinborn, C. (2020). “A Simple Checklist, That’s All It Takes: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Field Trial on Improving the Treatment of Suspected Terrorists by the Police”, Journal of Experimental Criminology,

Objectives - When it comes to interviewing suspected terrorists, global evidence points to harsh interrogation procedures, despite the likelihood of false positives. How can the state maintain an effective counterterrorism policy while simultaneously protecting civil rights? Until now, the shroud of secrecy of “national security” practices has thwarted attempts by researchers to test apparatuses that engender fair interrogation procedures. The present study aims to test one approach: the use of a “procedural justice checklist” (PJ Checklist) in interviews of suspected terrorists by counterterrorism police officers in port settings.
Methods - Using a clustered randomized controlled field test in a European democracy, we measure the effect of implementing Procedural Justice (PJ) Checklists in counterterrorism police settings. With 65 teams of officers randomly-assigned into treatment and control conditions, we compare post-interrogation surveys of suspects (n = 1418) on perceptions of legitimacy; obligations to obey the law; willingness to cooperate with the police; effectiveness of counterterrorism measures; distributive justice; feelings of social resistance to the state; and PJ. A series of multi-level linear, logistic, and ordered logit regression models are used to estimate the treatment effect, with Hedges’ g and odds ratios used for effect sizes. Results - When compared with control conditions, implementing a policy of PJ Checklist causes statistically significant and large enhancement in all measured dimensions, including the willingness of suspects to obey the law (g = 1.022 [0.905, 1.138]), to cooperate with the police (g = 1.118 [0.999, 1.238]), distributive justice (g = 0.993 [0.880, 1.106]), effectiveness (g = 1.077 [0.959, 1.195]), procedural justice (g = 1.044 [0.930, 1.158]), and feelings of resistance towards the state (g = − 0.370 [− 0.259, − 0.482]). Conclusions - PJ checklists offer a simple, scalable means of improving how state agents interact with terrorism suspects. The police can use what is evidently a cost-effective tool to enhance legitimacy and cooperation with the police, even in a counterterrorism environment. If asked “How should society treat terrorists?”, most people would argue for a more punitive response (Hood and Hoyle 2015) [continue reading at].


Violence and violence prevention

Liem, M. & Eisner, M. (2020). "From homicide to imprisonment: Mapping and understanding the flow of homicide cases". Homicide Studies, 2 

The likelihood that homicides lead to arrest, conviction, and incarceration of the perpetrators varies widely across world regions. To date, we lack a comprehensive framework that can explain the differences in how homicide cases are processed in different jurisdictions, and how this knowledge can be used to hold perpetrators to account, to advance the rule of law, and to promote equal access to justice. This Special Issue seeks to advance the cross-national and comparative analysis of homicide case flows, from suspicious death to imprisonment. In this Introduction, we outline some analytic priorities that may help in moving the field forward.


Nivette, Amy; Trajtenberg, Nico; Eisner, Manuel; Ribeaud, Denis; Tourinho Peres, Maria Fernanda (2020). "Assessing the measurement invariance and antecedents of legal cynicism in São Paulo, Zurich, and Montevideo", Journal of Adolescence,

INTRODUCTION: This paper accomplishes two goals. First, we assesses the measurement invariance of legal cynicism among adolescents in São Paulo, Brazil, Montevideo, Uruguay, and Zurich, Switzerland. Second, we evaluate a series of social and individual antecedents that are expected to influence legal cynicism across contexts. METHODS: This paper first evaluates the measurement invariance of legal cynicism using Multigroup Confirmatory Factor Analysis with three randomized clustered samples of adolescents in Zurich (n = 1447), São Paulo (n = 2680) and Montevideo (n = 2204). Second, we assessed the correlates for legal cynicism in each city using structural equation modelling techniques. RESULTS: The results demonstrated metric invariance, but not scalar invariance among adolescents in São Paulo, Zurich, and Montevideo. We were able to establish partial measurement invariance for legal cynicism in São Paulo and Zurich, and therefore proceeded with the comparison of latent means and antecedents. The results show that on average legal cynicism is higher in Zurich, but that the size and strength of antecedents were similar across cities. Low self-control was by far the strongest correlate of legal cynicism. CONCLUSIONS: Overall, our results suggest that current operationalizations of legal cynicism may not be rooted in social structural context and experiences with legal authorities, but rather reflect how individuals interpret legal boundaries and dispositions towards rule-breaking. Researchers must reconsider how legal cynicism fits into models of legal socialization, and whether developmental models of self-control may help us understand the origins and nature of legal cynicism, as it is currently measured.


Farrington, D.P. and Ttofi, M. M. (2020). Advancing Knowledge about Youth Violence: Child Maltreatment, Bullying, Dating Violence, and Intimate Partner Violence. Journal of Family Violence,

Violence, in all its different manifestations, is a universal problem affecting individuals of different age groups, of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and of different sexual orientations. Family violence and youth violence are interconnected. This special issue advances knowledge about child maltreatment, bullying, youth violence, dating violence, and intimate partner violence. This commentary critically discusses the contributions to the special issue in the context of the most recent research developments in family and youth violence. It concludes that long-term longitudinal studies with frequent assessments are needed to advance knowledge further, especially relating within-individual changes in influencing factors to within-individual changes in outcomes. It is highlighted that the intersection of family violence and youth violence remains a fertile field for further research, and that it is important to provide family, school and community services within an ecological focus.

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