In the same month The Guardian launches Beyond the Blade, the first database of its kind compiling information about victims of knife crime, Ellen White looks at the root causes of this social issue and the charities working to prevent it.
Often seized upon by the tabloids as a strictly London gang-related problem, the realities of youth knife crime are far more complex. Home Office statistics show that the top UK hotspots for knife crime are in fact Cumbria and Durham, and data from Beyond the Blade shows that in 2017 so far, fatalities are more likely to occur in the North East of England.
‘Not many people realise that if you only look at gang violence you won’t make much difference to what is happening with knife crime’, said leader of the Police and Crime Committee Steve O’Connell, in an article on the BBC News website.
“The dominant driver for young people carrying knives appears to be a belief that they need to be prepared to defend themselves.”
Steve O’Connell, Police and Crime Committee
It would appear that many young people are simply scared, but of what? Dontae, 15, from South East London, believes boys carry blades as protection from their peers. ‘They’re thinking, if there is sufficient danger, then I’m going to pull it out, threaten with it then get rid of it,’ he told the BBC. Dontae’s reasoning reflects the gender bias also affecting knife crime; in London 95 per cent of those caught with a knife are male.
While gender is certainly a factor, the way knife crime is reported often focuses on race as the main issue; with the misleading interpretation that this type of violence is limited to young, black men living in urban areas. An article published in March by Gary Younge in The Guardian reveals the falsehoods in this stereotype, citing evidence that when social and economic factors were taken into account, race and ethnicity had no significance at all in relation to knife crime statistics.
“Austerity didn’t invent knife crime, but it is certainly contributing to the conditions in which it can thrive.”
The Department of Health has found that violence has one of the highest inequality rates, with five times more emergency hospital admissions for violence in the most deprived communities. Youth-led social enterprise The 4Front Project is one organisation working to tackle the issue from the inside out. The London-based scheme was founded in 2012 by Temi Mwale, in memory of her friend Marvin Henry who was shot and killed in 2010.
Their mission is to empower young people and communities and reduce youth violence by understanding the systemic conditions that cause it.
“I do believe we can end serious youth violence by addressing its root causes, such as trauma.”
Temi Mwale, 4front Project Founder
There is indeed strong evidence to link trauma in childhood with those involved in youth violence. A 2016 report by awareness project Beyond Youth Custody found that 43 per cent of people in contact with the youth justice system were found to have emotional or mental health needs; a far higher percentage than found in the general population. Problems often arise when childhood trauma goes undetected or untreated. These children could well grow up re-enacting this period of their lives over and over again in an effort to achieve some kind of ownership. What groups like The 4Front Project do is work with young people who are displaying violent tendencies whilst trying to gain control of their emotions and lives, in many cases without even knowing it.
With a similar approach to 4Front’s work, the Violence Reduction Unit aims for long-term attitudinal and societal change in order to reduce violent crime and behaviour, rather than increasingly harsh punishments. Community pillars including doctors, nurses and even dentists are trained to recognise signs of violence and counsel those with knife wounds.
Medics Against Violence are a group of healthcare workers campaigning to reduce violence amongst young people in partnership with the Violence Reduction Unit, ‘We started the project in 2008,’ says the group’s Christine Goodall. ‘All those who started it were already working in mainstream hospitals on facial and head injury units.’
“We were seeing a lot of young people in particular with knife injuries such as slashes across the face.”
Christine Goodall, Medics Against Violence
After seeing the consequences of knife violence first hand, Goodall and her colleagues put together a school programme, visiting local secondary schools to educate young people about the causes and consequences of violence. ‘The programme has been very popular,’ she says. ‘We get a lot of requests, and believe it has been very successful.
‘We’ve seen a fall in violent injuries across the whole of Scotland, particularly amongst those aged 15 to 24. ‘Many schools have a campus cop who we work closely with alongside the VRU to help kids navigate a difficult world. In England, Stand Against Violence are also working with young people, up to the age of 25, in a similar way. They deliver violence prevention workshops, showing young people the resonating effect that a moment of anger can have across a community. Sadly, this organisation was also started in response to the murder of another young person, 17-year-old Lloyd Fouracre.
“There’s been a concerted effort and it seems to be working”
Christine Goodall, Medics Against Violence
Learn more about:
Follow the Beyond the Blade project here