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Professor Hazel Kemshall on 'The Derwent Initiative: 25 Years of Leading The Way'

On 9th July, TDI celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a reception in Newcastle. We were honoured to have as a guest speaker Professor Hazel Kemshall, Professor of Community and Criminal Justice at De Montfort University. Hazel's research considers risk assessment and management of offenders, effective work in multi-agency public protection, and implementing effective practice with high risk offenders. Over the course of her career, she has established herself as an expert and a leading voice in both theoretical and practical questions around harm prevention and reduction, publishing widely and conducting research projects and assessments for government and civil bodies and training professionals. It has been our privilege and pleasure to have known Hazel for much of our history, and we were over-joyed that she was able to join us and offer some words reflecting on questions of tackling sexual offending both in our past and in our future. Hazel has kindly allowed us to reproduce her comments here (slightly edited from her speaking notes to aid comprehension):


It has been my privilege to be involved with The Derwent Initiative for most of its life. From small beginnings, it has had considerable impact and has been at the forefront of prevention and innovation for its 25 year history.

In considering violence, and sexual violence in particular, the facts and figures available to us convey the picture of a significant social problem.  For example, the European Union have violence amongst the top 5 social problems, particularly violence against women and children.  The United Nations estimate over 2 million children per year are affected by some form of abuse or sexual exploitation. In the UK approximately 473,000 adults are victims of sexual offences, and 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused; 1 in 3 by an adult and did not tell, and 90% are abused by someone they know. More recently, the UK Office of the Children’s Commissioner has estimated that ‘up to 1.3 million children living in England will be a victim of sexual abuse by the time they turn 18’.  Notwithstanding difficulties in statistical measures of violent crime, there has been a small but genuine rise in violent crime in England and Wales with increases in murder and other violent crimes in 2016, including a 13-14% increase in gun and knife crime, and an ongoing increase in knife crime.  In England and Wales one woman in four experiences domestic violence in her lifetime.  Approximately two women are killed each week by a current or former partner.  In the year ending March 2016 1.2 million women reported experiences of domestic abuse in England and Wales.  Not only do statistics like that demonstrate a significant social problem, they can also leave us with a feeling that violence, and sexual abuse in particular, is inevitable.  We can feel overwhelmed, and challenged.  We know we need to act and should do something, but we’re not sure what to do or how to act. 

However, prevention of violence in all its forms has become a policy and practice aspiration since at least the 1990s.  However, it is also an elusive aspiration on occasion, not least because we live in an era of performance management and indicators, measures for everything with costs attached.  However, measuring what you prevent happening is somewhat challenging, largely the performance indicator is in the negative things you avoid happening further down the line.  Success is literally a measure of something bad not happening.  Needless to say, this kind of performance measure does not readily appeal to funders, civil servants and senior policy makers.  As part of this increasing public awareness about violence, including sexual violence and violence to children, programmes and campaigns to educate the public have grown.  Their aims are often two-fold: to galvanize ordinary members of the public into acting, and to create environments within which violence cannot thrive.

However, understanding and designing effective public awareness campaigns is more challenging.  Making people aware is one thing, inspiring them to act is another.  Awareness of a problem is not the same as understanding a problem, and knowledge of an issue is not the same as being equipped with the skill and motivation to do something about it.  We have all had moments when we have observed something we didn’t think was quite right, and yet we failed to act, feeling equally uncomfortable that we let something pass, but equally discomfited by the thought of speaking up.  We know we should “interfere” but we don’t, and later we justify our lack of action in a number of ways ranging from - “well it was probably nothing”, “someone else will do it”, “I probably misunderstood what was going on”, and of course “it’s not my business”.  Actually its everyone’s business we just don’t feel that when it happens.

TDI entered this challenging arena 25 years ago, prepared to tackle a challenging social problem in a practical and effective way through the Leisurewatch initiative.  They have made it possible for ordinary people to talk about the ‘unspeakable’, and to make the invisible visible.  Importantly they are able to make everyone feel that they are capable of making a positive contribution to risk reduction. TDI gives practical and effective expression to prevention.

We know that there are considerable psychological barriers to intervening when one is a bystander.  Research has indicated four key barriers:

We expect others to intervene; we defer to the cues of others around us; we fear we will look foolish if we do act; and we believe we do not possess the skills or competence to act effectively.  Importantly TDI have practically addressed these barriers, by providing skill, competence, and confidence to act to those staff working in frontline settings where offending and inappropriate behaviours can occur.  Simply put, the key message is: if you see X, do Y; and this is how you do Y; and, as importantly, TDI seeks to improve leadership and create organisations that actively expect staff to do Y.

So, what is unique and important about TDI?  Well, it was amongst the first charities to take the environmental management of sexual offence risk seriously through the Leisurewatch initiative.  In effect, Leisurewatch highlighted the importance and effectiveness of managing space and environments in order to manage the risk; they work with organisations to create and enhance natural vigilance, and to improve the confidence and competence of those watching; and importantly Leisurewatch turns bystanders into interveners. Organisations become risk aware and effective in their broader risk management responsibilities.  In essence, Leisurewatch and other aspects of TDI, creates environments within which violence cannot thrive.

In addition, Leisurewatch has a proven track record, and is transferable across contexts and environments, such as shopping malls, care homes etc; and is applicable to a wide range of violence prevention scenarios including workplace violence and the PREVENT agenda. 

The ‘ripple effect’ into the private lives of those trained is also striking, with user feedback indicating that trainees transfer learning and skills to their family lives and have the skills to challenge extended family members and to have those difficult conversations when they think something is wrong.  This example of capacity building in ordinary people is for me the hallmark of TDI and Leisurewatch.  It can turn interveners in the workplace into interveners in their private lives, thus extending capacity into the wider sphere.  An ‘added value’ is the informed looking and the informed responses that people carry into their wider lives and connections.  In this way, awareness becomes action.

However, since its inception the context within which TDI operates has become more difficult.  Austerity and the shrinking of public funds and services most notably at local level is a demanding climate within which to garner funds. Local government cuts are particularly constraining for any organisation working primarily at local and regional level.

People struggle to commission, no matter how good the product, and local commissioners of services are driven by short-termism and a concern with immediate results.  There is also a perception that prevention costs and that it does not represent value for money, coupled with a view that prevention is difficult to measure and performance indicators cannot be robustly generated.   

Many prevention strategies are cheaper than responding after the offence, and Leisurewatch in particular falls into this category.  The equation we need to do is weigh the cost of the prevention intervention against the cost of every offence not committed including police costs, prosecution costs, court costs, prison costs, costs to health, and other associated costs for the victim; loss of days worked and income, costs of treatment, and diminished health and well-being.  These are calculable on Ministry of Justice, and World Bank formulae, and are enormous (for example in 2006 it was calculated as £35,000 per mid range sexual offence committed and prosecuted).  Department of Healt-sponsored research in 2012 estimated the cost of violence to the NHS as 2.9 billion per year, and the total cost of violence to society at large was calculated to be 29.9 billion per year.  By now it can only be rather more.  Any reduction represents good value for money.  It is possible to generate some basic cost benefit analysis based on reported arrests from Leisurewatch facilities, or from the volume of reported incidents and preventive action taken.

Prevention also matters on moral grounds, it is simply the right thing to do if you have the methods and knowledge to do it. Whilst families of victims always want justice, they also always want no more victims. TDI gives a practical expression to this simple but justifiable aspiration. We all have a right to individual and public safety, and organisations which provide this also provide a public good. So, what is a reasonable price for a public good of this type? It seems to me that TDI provide an enormous public good at a very good price.  Perhaps the issue is not the price but who is expected to pay.  At present those expected to pay cannot - local government in particular.  Put simply the product is right, the price is right, but the system and source of payment is not. 

Those who benefit from prevention - in this case largely criminal justice agencies, Ministry of Justice, and Dept of Health - do not have to pay directly any contribution to the prevention strategies and programmes from which they benefit in terms of longer term cost reduction.  In essence, Peter saves money, but Paul is expected to pay for the initial prevention work that enables Peter to save. The trick going forward is to find costing and funding mechanisms that provide a greater link between who saves and who pays; and between the savings provided by prevention and the initial costs of prevention.  Monetizing the public good of safety, particularly child safety, might initially feel somewhat improper, but might in the long run enable those working in the prevention business to articulate benefits in acceptable economic language, i.e., the language of money. In this language, cost-benefit analyses of prevention programmes become critical to proving effectiveness and potentially to garnering further resources.

As we go forward, and Brexit accentuates austerity, it will be interesting to see what alternative forms of payment systems for important public goods evolve- for example, direct payments from members of the public and parents who believe it is important for the facility they frequently use, crowd sourcing, and so forth.  It will also be interesting to see what demands of providers, including private provides, users make in terms of safety.  Arguably citizens are more risk aware, but will this awareness translate into what they expect community and leisure facilities to provide in terms of personal safety for themselves and their families?  Think about the most recent leisure facility you and your family used,

  • What criteria did you use to judge it as a service user?  Pleasant surroundings, staff interactions with you, cost?
  • What, if any criteria did you use to judge its effectiveness in terms of your safety and your family’s safety?
  • Where in a criteria list should safety be?  If it was number one, would you be prepared to pay for it?

Finally, policy mind sets can be negative and unambitious, and very short termist, making prevention a difficult agenda to promote.  Alongside this there is often a fear and distrust of the public, and the thought of engaging and working with “ordinary people” can be a particularly challenging concept for senior policy makers and politicians.  The latter of course are often deeply concerned with immediate solutions and political pay-offs.  It is to TDI’s credit that it has continued through all these ups and downs, and continues to operate above its weight and funding. Long may it continue to do so.


For a full literature of research and campaigns presented in this lecture see:

Kemshall, H, and Moulden, H. (2016) Communicating about child sexual abuse with the public: learning the lessons from public awareness campaigns.  Journal of Sexual Aggression, published online 6th Sept, 2016.

See also:

Department of Health (2012) Protecting People: Promoting Health.  A public health approach to violence prevention for England. London: Department of Health.

Office of the Children’s Commissioner (2015) Protecting children from harm: a critical assessment of child sexual abuse in the family network in England and priorities for action.  Office of the Children’s Commissioner.  Available at: Protecting Children From Harm Full Report

Further information

You can find more about Hazel at De Montfort's staff pages. She can be contacted at

You can read more about TDI's 25th Anniversary event here.

 TDI celebrated its 25th Anniversary

The speakers at our 25th Anniversary event (from left), TDI Founder and Trustee Susan Winfield, Professor Hazel Kemshall, Hugh Welch of our hosts Muckle LLP and Chief Executive Deborah Jenkins

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