The issue of adolescent to parent violence (APV) has only recently emerged on the public agenda, but research on the topic is still in its infancy in the UK. More work needs to be done in order to better understand and respond to this type of violence. Professor Rachel Condry’s compelling All Souls Criminology Seminar on 14 May 2015 addressed this topic, outlining some of the critical concerns pertaining to APV and reasons why it has, until now, been under-researched and understated in public policy.
Adolescent to parent violence is at times conflated with domestic violence, while sometimes not flagged as domestic violence at all, which has made it difficult to uncover and study. Because of the uncertainty of which type of violence APV belongs to, Condry’s groundbreaking work has been instrumental in bringing this topic to the attention of police, academics, and policy-makers and ensuring that it acquires a definition and its own space on the public agenda. Yet, as Condry highlighted, such a process involves careful thought and reflection on both the challenges and benefits of this particular research agenda.
There are a range of pathways that result in parents becoming the objects of their children’s violence, stemming from histories involving self-harm, learning difficulties, histories of violence, and no particular reasons at all. One of the explanations why APV has escaped the public radar is because it carries with it stigma, shame, and blame. It’s a profound break in the family structure and family relations when a child denies parental control to such a degree that violence ensues. Parents, in turn, are reluctant to report their children to the criminal justice system since, on top of feeling shame, they don’t want to see their children criminalised as young offenders. Visibility is, therefore, an essential element of this project, one that aims to break the cycle of silence in order to reduce the stigma and shame that APV carries.
Condry showed how a sociological exploration of the ways in which a particular phenomenon emerges as a subject of public, political, and policy concern is useful for understanding the increased attention to APV within the academy and beyond. For instance, parallels can be drawn to how domestic violence came to public attention in the 1970s and child sexual abuse in the 1980s, and the emergence of institutional sexual abuse as a contemporary issue. Key questions in this regard include the binaries between visible and invisible crimes, how the issue itself develops by virtue of researching it, and the ability to track the mechanisms that drive the recognition of and change in this type of violence.
However, as Condry cautioned, the terrain of research on APV is fraught with elements that need to be taken into careful consideration. Adolescent to parent violence is a gendered crime: it typically, but not exclusively, occurs from sons to mothers and as such needs to be carefully studied to avoid stereotyping. Additionally, there are concerns that research on this topic could be instrumentalised to further criminalise youth, particularly those from marginalised communities, and bring them into contact with the criminal justice system under the umbrella of domestic violence.
When Condry and her colleagues started their ESRC-funded Adolescent to Parent Violence project in 2010, there was little academic research in the UK to draw on. Some of the project’s key findings have helped inform the Home Office’s Information Guide for Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse, which serves to inform practitioners on how to respond to this type of violence. As Condry explained, there’s still much to be learned about APV. Criminologists such as Condry are well placed to advance academic knowledge about APV and enlighten both public and policy dialogue on this important social issue.