Women whose lives have been affected by crime linked to gambling have spoken about their experiences and revealed how a lack of awareness among agencies at each stage of the criminal justice system – from police stations to prisons – left them without the support they needed.
Their voices are at the centre of a new research report, Holding it all together and picking up the pieces: Women’s experiences of gambling and crime, published today by the Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms, and based on research led by Brunel University London’s Dr Julie Trebilcock.
The report presents the findings from interviews and focus groups with women who have either been involved in gambling-related crime themselves or been impacted negatively by the gambling of others.
This is the latest in a series of research reports being published by the Commission, which was set up by the Howard League for Penal Reform in 2019.
Chaired by Lord Peter Goldsmith KC, the Commission is investigating the links between crime and gambling-related harms, what impact they have on communities and wider society, and what steps could be taken to reduce crime and make people safer.
Lord Goldsmith KC, Chair of the Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms, said: “For too long, the relationship between gambling-related harms and crime, and particularly the impact this has on women, has been unexplored and unaddressed. Our Commission is trying to put that right.
“While public concern about gambling-related harm appears to be growing, clearly there remains a lack of awareness within the criminal justice system about how it relates to crime. This means that women who are affected by gambling and crime are not receiving the support they require.
“This important report was produced by a team that included women with personal experience of gambling and crime. They were involved in all aspects of the research, from designing the interview schedules and recruiting participants to collecting and analysing data and writing the report, and their contribution will assist the Commission enormously as it determines what ought to be done.”
Brunel’s Dr Trebilcock, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology, led a research team that included four peer researchers with lived experience of gambling and crime. The study featured 33 interviews and six focus groups, involving a total of 27 participants. Of these, nine were women with lived experience of disordered gambling and crime. Eight were women with lived experience of being an affected other – defined in the report as someone negatively impacted by the gambling of someone else, such as partners or family members.
The remaining 10 participants were stakeholders – a group comprising an MP, a gambling industry representative, prison and probation staff, and people working for gambling treatment and support organisations, some of whom also have lived experience of disordered gambling.
The women who took part had experienced a range of far-reaching and long-lasting gambling-related harm, relating to finances, relationships, mental and physical health, employment, education, and criminal justice involvement.
All participants who gambled disclosed that they had committed an acquisitive crime to support their gambling when finances were exhausted or when the situation became unmanageable or unbearable. Half of them went on to have contact with the criminal justice system.
More than half of the affected others had been victims of acquisitive crime committed by their partner, with a smaller number experiencing financial abuse, coercive control, physical abuse and threats of violence.
All the women who took part in the study said that they encountered a lack of awareness and understanding about gambling and crime with agencies across the criminal justice system, as well as many other services including those in health, financial institutions and the family courts.
Accounts highlighted in the report include that of a woman whose loved one was arrested and taken to court, where he appeared without representation. She wanted to check on his welfare and asked for a contact number for the custody sergeant, but the number she was given did not work.
Another woman described how she went to prison for a crime linked to her gambling, only to find that bingo was played there on Saturday afternoons, with prison staff calling out the numbers.
Dr Trebilcock said: “Our research reveals how women's lives can fall apart as a result of gambling and crime. All the women in our research – whether they were a woman who had gambled and committed crime, or a woman who had been affected by other people's gambling – were left, most often, to pick up the pieces alone.
“Very limited understanding or support was offered to these women at any point of the criminal justice system. Given the significant harms involved, this needs to change.”
The report, ‘Holding it all together and picking up the pieces: Women’s experiences of gambling and crime’, was written by Dr Julie Trebilcock on behalf of the study team: Tracey Arenstein, Nicola Harding, Nicola Jaques, Carrie Jenkins, Wendy Knight, Liz Riley and Julie Trebilcock.
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