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Military service violent offending link

Large scale study provides clues to better violence risk assessment

Mark Gould

Friday, 15 March 2013

Young men under 30 who have served in the UK armed forces are three times more likely to have a conviction for violent offending than men of similar age in the general population, according to new research published today in a Lancet special on Iraq.

The study, the first large scale examination of its kind, found pre-military history of violence, younger age, and lower rank were the strongest risk factors for violent offending. Men who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan with direct combat exposure were 53% more likely to commit a violent offence than men serving in a non-combat role. Witnessing traumatic events on deployment also increased the risk of violent offending.

Alcohol misuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and high levels of self-reported aggressive behaviour on return from deployment were also found to be strong predictors of subsequent violent offending.

The study linked data from 13,856 randomly selected serving and ex-serving UK military personnel with national criminal records to assess the impact of deployment (serving in Iraq or Afghanistan), combat exposure, and post-deployment mental health problems on subsequent offending behaviour.

They found that 17% of male service personnel had a criminal record and whilst overall lifetime offending (all offences from theft to assault) in the military was lower than in the general population, lifetime violent offending (ranging from threats of violence to serious physical assault or worse) was more common among military men (11% vs 8.7%).

In particular young servicemen (under 30 years old) had a much higher conviction rate for violent offending (20.6% vs 6.7%).

Dr Deirdre MacManus, from King’s College London, who led the research, said: “There has been a lot of media coverage and public debate about violence committed by veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our study, which used official criminal records, found that violent offending was most common among young men from the lower ranks of the Army and was strongly associated with a history of violent offending before joining the military. Serving in a combat role and traumatic experiences on deployment also increased the risk of violent behaviour."

According to Dr MacManus, “The findings provide information that can enable better violence risk assessment in serving and ex-serving military personnel. They draw attention to the role of mental health problems and the potential effect that appropriate management of alcohol misuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, especially hyperarousal symptoms, and aggressive behaviour could have in reducing the risk of violence."

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