CAIN: Issues: Housing - Intimidation in Housing by John Darby (1974) - Chapter 4

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Intimidation in Housing
by John Darby (1974)

[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]

Text: John Darby ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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Chapter 4

Theory of Intimidation

For the purposes of this report Intimidation is defined as the process culminating in the decision of a householder, through the perception of insecurity, threats and/or physical danger to himself and/or his family, to leave the house in which he has been living and to move with his family to accommodation elsewhere. This report therefore excludes those families which have experienced varying degrees of threat, but which have not been involved in a housing movement.

A structural model can be devised which usefully illustrates the process of intimidation. This also provides pigeon-holes in which to slot specific methods and types of intimidation. As far as can be determined there has been a complete absence of previous work which might have provided a yardstick to measure these attempts.

Perception of insecurity, threat or actual physical danger is a very important variable in intimidation. What is perceived as a direct threat by one person might be dismissed out of mind as a chance occurrence by another person. Acknowledging that any classification has limitations, intimidation can be placed within a framework of four causal categories, none of which are necessarily mutually exclusive.

Intimidation (i) induced psychological insecurity
(ii) induced psychological threat
(iii) actual physical harm to people or property
(iv) any combination of (1) (ii) (iii)

(i) Induced psychological insecurity

This category can be subdivided according to 3 basic components, which in turn are capable of further subdivision -

general (outside community
environmental pressures

specifice (within community)
environmental pressures

Combination of both



Psychological insecurity can result from a multitude of occurrences. An example of environmental pressure would occur where a family lives in a general "intimidatory" situation as distinct from one which has been specifically intimidated. The Lenadoon movements where some families moved out because of constant gunfire in the area is a case in point; another relevant example is to be found in Derry where families have evacuated corner houses which were vulnerable to crossfire.

Indirect environmental pressures - neighbours becoming unfriendly; friends lowering their eyes in the street; people refusing to talk to the housewife at the shops; manning of barricades; children having no friends to play with anymore; slogans painted on pavements and street furniture -in their mildest forms can make a family uncomfortable enough for parents to decide that "this is no place to bring up children". And a combination of pressures can induce real psychological insecurity amounting to fear. The evidence indicates that many families have moved on this account; they were unable to prove intimidation and moved from their homes without going to any voluntary group or government agency for help.

(ii) Induced psychological threat

This type of intimidation involves fear of physical danger to person(s) or possessions. Although no violence or destruction against the family has occurred its threatened use against the family can be sufficient to be classified as intimidatory.

This type of psychological threat can take any form from a poison pen letter or anonymous telephone call to masked men calling at the door. In North Belfast some Catholic families had mass cards posted to them; Protestant families have had slogans painted on their doors. This sort of pressure can be differentiated from induced psychological insecurity because threats are directed against a particular family.

It is often this factor which causes housing movement, although it is sometimes difficult for the householder to prove that this type of intimidation has occurred.

(iii) Actual physical harm

Actual physical intimidation is the most potent weapon used by intimidators, being directed at the life, limbs or property of families in a minority situation.

Physical harm can take a variety of very nasty forms and combinations, eg pets or children beaten by other kids because of family religion; husband or wife jostled or beaten in a variety of situations; eggs, stones, bottles, petrol bombs or bullets directed through windows or doors; the house ransacked when vacant or occupied, furniture piled up in the street or burned; petrol bomb attack resulting in damage or destruction to the house; a member of the family shot, injured or killed. The list is almost endless.

(iv) Any combination of (i) (ii) or (iii)

The complexity of intimidation, both in terms of the extremes it can take from blatant physical violence to the application of subtle psychological innuendos, and as regards the permutations and combinations which can confront a family, can be presented in the form of a composite framework:-


(iv) Any permutation of (i) (ii) (iii)

Placing intimidation within this framework is an attempt to further an understanding of the complexity of the phenomenon. Given time and qualified research teams conducting perception studies and psychometric tests, it would be possible to elaborate upon or to refute the suggested framework and so to further explain the different types of intimidation and the processes involved.

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