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MDX academic to explore women's experiences of gambling-related harms in Howard League research project

02/12/2021
Researchers will investigate why women may start gambling and how it can escalate and potentially lead to criminal offending

Stock gambling picture by Erik Mclean

A Middlesex University academic will be exploring women’s experiences of gambling-related harms and crime in a major new research project.

Dr Julie Trebilcock, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology, has been commissioned by the Howard League for Penal Reform to investigate the issues in partnership with the charity Betknowmore and co-investigator Dr Nicola Harding, a Criminology Lecturer at Lancaster University.

This 10-month project will explore why women may start gambling, how they gamble, how it may escalate, whether it leads to criminal offending and experience of treatment services.

“There’s only so much people can physically drink, there’s only so much people can take in terms of illicit drugs but with gambling there’s no limit, gambling companies will often just keep taking your money and this means that gambling-related harms can quickly escalate.” Dr Julie Trebilcock, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology.

At least 30% of calls to the National Gambling Helpline are made by women either in relation to their own gambling or others’.

The charity GamCare also reports one fifth of its clients in treatment services are women and in a recent survey 23% of women respondents discussed crime linked to gambling.

Dr Trebilcock said: “Gambling is often perceived to be a male activity and this means services are usually designed with men in mind rather than women but research tells us women often gamble in different ways and for different reasons.

“Although gambling is becoming more normalised for women, research suggests some women are gambling in isolation and as a form of escapism in response to various challenges in their lives.

“These can include domestic issues within the home and challenges with juggling child care and work and for some women, gambling is a means of getting away from it all rather than being a social occasion where everyone is betting on the match.”

The project is recruiting women with lived experience of crime and gambling-related harms to work as peer researchers. It is hoped this will encourage more people to come forward and speak with researchers who have faced similar issues.

Dr Trebilcock wants to raise awareness across the criminal justice system in prison and probation settings.

“We believe a lot of women are deterred from seeking treatment and support because just as gambling is perceived as a male activity, treatment services are also seen as male spaces,” she added.

Women with escalating gambling problems may sometimes begin committing financial crime such as stealing from employers and family members, according to Dr Trebilcock.

She also said there’s “growing concern” of the links between gambling and domestic violence.

“Women’s gambling is a hidden and under-researched problem which we believe is increasing because online gambling is increasing and with COVID-19 more people are at home, working and living online,” added Dr Trebilcock.

“Research suggests that most women’s gambling takes place online – which can be a very unregulated space, with 24-7 opportunities to gamble. Online gambling can also be a hidden activity, and for women, their loved ones and friends might not be aware they are doing it until they hit a financial crisis.

“There’s only so much people can physically drink, there’s only so much people can take in terms of illicit drugs but with gambling there’s no limit, gambling companies will often just keep taking your money and this means that gambling-related harms can quickly escalate.”

Dr Trebilcock, who specialises in research around mental health and offending, has worked with Howard League for more than 10 years including on two previous large research projects into short prison sentences, one of which focused on women.

If you are interested in becoming a peer researcher, see more details here.

Find out more about studying Criminology at Middlesex University.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

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