1. Definition of delinquent violence
One of the greatest challenges in current violence research is the lack of a commonly accepted definition of the core subject itself: violence (Heitmeyer and Hagan, 2002; Imbusch, 2002). Violence and the scientific as well as the general perception of what violence actually is have obviously changed over time (Aebi and Linde, 2016). Although the undisputed core of violence is the intentional infliction of physical harm upon another person (Popitz, 1992; Nadelmann, 1997), new dimensions such as psychological, verbal, economic, structural, symbolic, medial, object-related, or institutional and many other, have blurred the picture and vastly broadened the subject scope of violence research. There is a clear trend towards indefinitely stretching the term violence, up to the point where almost everything is labelled as violence and therefore in the end almost nothing presents itself as violence (Meyer, 2002). Since meaningful impact research on this broadening of violence research’s subject scope is lacking, it is impossible to determine its’ effects and assess whether they are positive or negative. It is however possible to question and criticise the terminological diffusion this (d)evolution has created and to refocus violence research towards its’ core subject: the study of physical violence.
2. Normative and empirical operationalisation of research subject and scope
Based on Violence Research Lab’s working definition of delinquent violence, understood as the unlawful use of force by one or more person(s) against one or more other person(s) against their will with the exclusive or primary intent to inflict physical harm or to kill, the empirical capturing of the research subject and scope will focus on readdressing the definitional issue in a broad multidisciplinary manner and simultaneously provide opportunity for the conceptualisation of cyber harassment. This should ensure a broad consensus on the understanding and operationalising of delinquent violence as well as cyber harassment and leave room for potential adjustments, dependant on the assessment of empirical data to be collected in order to meaningfully pursue the answering of the main research questions (phenomenology, etiology, and prosecution of delinquent violence with focus on protecting particularly vulnerable groups of victims). Basically, the empirical capturing should provide answers to the question: which data is necessary in order to empirically capture the research subject? Based on the answer to this subject-question it will then be necessary to answer the scope-question: which data might realistically be collected and from which specific sources? Thus, the empirical capturing will also further specify the particularly vulnerable groups of victims’ typology. The normative capturing of the research subject and scope will further specify the working definitions, based on the outputs of the empirical capturing. It will particularly specify in its’ material criminal law component which misdemeanours and which criminal offenses should be included or excluded and thus deliver solutions for the handling of attempts and special cyber-features. It will also in its’ procedural criminal law component define the workflow of misdemeanour and criminal offense cases through the prosecutorial process, with particular focus on empirical data access points, filtering mechanisms, and informal police, prosecution and court practices that might be relevant.
3. Data collection
One of our objectives is to successfully operationalise the empirical field work and data collection in accordance with Violence Research Lab methodology. Data collection should include at least 2 of the following data collection methods on a nationwide sample: interviews with key persons, experts, practitioners, victims, and offenders; case analysis; self-report-victimisation survey; self-report-delinquency survey. At least the interviews with key persons and a targeted total of 8,000-10,000 case analysis of final prosecutorial and court cases at all 223 relevant prosecutorial and both criminal and misdemeanour judicial offices in Croatia should be conducted successfully. Violence Research Lab has divided the source institutions into regional clusters to be covered by Violence Research Lab’s Zagreb central Violence Research Lab and the 3 regional labs in Split, Rijeka and Osijek. This will not only enable a cost efficient way for conducting the field work, but also allow Violence Research Lab research group members to cooperate with Violence Research Lab’s local practitioner associates and make use of their contacts in order to facilitate access. The detailed breakdown of each field study is provided in the financial plan under field study costs. Expected results in this stage will be to have at least 200 conducted interviews (80 in Zagreb and 40 in Split, Rijeka, and Osijek) with key persons; conducted 16 field studies and completed 8,000-10,000 case analysis with 1 overall report on the data collection summarising main findings on lessons learned, best practices, methodological and practical challenges, etc..
4. 'Dark figure' of delinquent violence
Pilot study “dark figure" of delinquent violence will be conducted across specific institutions which might get in touch with delinquent violence and where detection might be expected but is found to be rather low (esp. hospitals). The purpose of this data collection is not the detection of delinquent violence for the purpose of prosecution, but exclusively for the purpose of assessing the ‘dark figure’. If the pilot project should be implemented successfully it could set the path for a nationwide collection of data across all relevant institutions. The gathered data will be used not only for assessing the ‘dark figure’, but also for developing targeted solutions for better detection and reporting of delinquent violence.
5. Phenomenology of delinquent violence
Violence Research Lab will be able to provide detailed insight into the phenomenology of delinquent violence in Croatia by addressing its’ incidence, structure, geographical distribution, offender profiles, victim profiles, and violence profiles. Based on the holistic approach in capturing all delinquent violence, ranging from the least sever misdemeanours (e.g. participating in a fight) to the most sever criminal offenses (e.g. aggravated murder), and the “phenomenologically thick description of violence”, it should be possible to ‘map’ the violence in Croatia, not according to its normative classification, but according to the level and quality of violence employed. The collected data will be analysed using a specific set of parameters measuring the actual violence outside its normative context in order to find out whether a “genuine violence classification system” will result in a different ‘severity ranking’ of delinquent violence than the normative one. If so, and this is our starting assumption, where are the differences most striking and what would be an adequate ‘translation’ into the normative language? It should be interesting to see the differences in Croatia’s violence mapping according to the normative and the actual violence ‘severity ranking’. Thus the data analysis will enable us to assess the structure of delinquent violence, esp. in relation to particularly vulnerable groups of victims. A large share of delinquent violence in Croatia, that is usually labelled domestic violence, is prosecuted as misdemeanours and has therefore received only limited attention in terms of empirical research. Violence Research Lab will also cover this type of delinquent violence.
6. Etiology of delinquent violence
Based on the phenomenological findings Violence Research Lab will be able to investigate etiological explanations of delinquent violence, esp. related to specific (sub)types of offenders, victims, and violence. Criminogenic and victimogenic factors are of particular relevance, as they should have the highest value in terms of preventing and handling delinquent violence and protecting particularly vulnerable groups of victims. The findings should also enable Violence Research Lab to test criminological theories that have so far tried to explain delinquent violence.
7. Prosecution of delinquent violence
Here Violence Research Lab will focus on the workflow analysis of delinquent violence into and through the prosecution process, which starts with detection, or non-detecting (‘dark figure’). Although empirically the prosecution process regarding non-detection and ‘dark figure’ will be addressed outside the framework of the planned case analysis, it is clearly in case of detection the starting point of the process analysis and closely connected to the reporting. This stage is particularly relevant since the “power to define” delinquent violence as a normative reality usually lies in the hands of the police and the public prosecutors. The mechanisms and criteria for defining a certain act of delinquent violence as a misdemeanour or a criminal offense, and the decision on the specific offense that will be further prosecuted (e.g. grave bodily injury or attempted murder), are of particular interest, as are the reasons for prosecutorial decisions to continue prosecution through indictments, or to stop further investigations and prosecution, or to solve the case through plea bargaining. The largest share of case ‘drop out’ happens at this stage and, at least in Croatia, there has never been conducted a comparable investigation into these prosecutorial filter mechanisms and criteria. In the next stage the focus will be on court adjudication and sentencing. Here some of the main research questions include evidence procedures, pre-trial detentions and their relation to sentencing probability, length of court proceedings, appeals and repeat trails, victim participation, sentencing practices and criteria, etc. Overall, this part of the data analysis should enable Violence Research Lab to assess the criminal justice response to delinquent violence in Croatia and specifically highlight the differences in proceedings and their outcomes when it comes to particularly vulnerable groups of victims.
8. Violence Research Lab database
Simultaneously with operationalising the research subject and scope and developing the Violence Research Lab methodology the Violence Research Lab database will be constructed. It will include a data analysis tool, restricted and semi-restricted data entry interfaces, as well as a data presentation tool, which in the project’s 5th year should be commercialised together with certain parts of the database. The restricted data entry interface will be used for empirical data collection in order to avoid paper-pencil data collection and consequent costs and errors of data entry into the database. Thus, preliminary results will be immediately available with the possibility to quickly detect data collection problems and errors. The semi-restricted data entry interface will be used in a pilot project on the ‘dark figure’ of delinquent violence in selected institutions.
9. Dissemination of research findings
Violence Research Lab will disseminate research findings concerning all the above stated scientific objectives as soon as at least preliminary findings are available. At least summaries of findings shall be made immediately publicly available as free downloads published on Violence Research Lab’s webpage via themed Violence Research Lab scientific reports in English language with extensive Croatian summaries, whereas in-depth research results shall be disseminated into the relevant domestic and international scientific community through conferences, panels, presentations and books as well as journal articles, according to the dissemination strategy specified in the work plan. A final scientific dissemination result is the “genuine violence classification system”.
10. Practical application of our findings
Violence Research Lab’s last objective concerns the practical application of research findings with the aim of improving the protection of particularly vulnerable groups of victims. Although there is a considerable amount of strategies and specific protocols already in place in this area, preliminary findings based on practitioner consultations confirm the general impression that these are not being successfully implemented in practice, esp. regarding the mandatory collection of statistical data on certain types of delinquent violence by all government institutions. One of the reasons for non- or low-perception of these protocols in practice is their very general nature with a one-fits-all approach instead of targeted solutions for each institution involved in the process of preventing and detecting delinquent violence and cyber harassment. Based on Violence Research Lab’s research findings targeted solutions shall be offered via an overall national strategy paper with targeted manuals and protocols, but also through education and training. Finally, Violence Research Lab will offer a “genuine violence phenomenology app” for commercial use.