Knife-Crime Crisis: Saving UK Youth Before It’s Too Late

By Briana T. Clayton, Associate Editor

LONDON, England — On the night of November 7, 2019, a shocking night of violence resulted in three teenagers being stabbed within 10 minutes of one another. The double knife attack in West London resulted in the death of one of the victims, while at the same time, police rushed to Feltham where another young teenager had been stabbed. Sadly, this story has become all too common in the UK. Young people, specifically teens are falling victim to the knife crisis, some having been caught when they are defenseless, losing their lives too soon, while others make the choice to carry the weapon for safety in a violently unpredictable environment.

Over the last five years, the UK has experienced an epidemic in knife-crime, and London has rapidly become the worst-affected region despite the issue’s national reach. Hospital admission for youth victims of knife assaults have increased almost 60%, reported by the National Health Service of London, from 656 reported admissions in 2012-2013, to over 1,000 victims, ages between 10 and 19, within the last year. As of now, England and Wales have hit an unprecedented high in over 70 years, this year alone seeing 235 knife murders. Recent reports show the number of children in street gangs is only increasing, in part contributing to the rise of knife carrying among children on the street as well as in schools.

This crisis has lawmakers and officials up in arms, racing to find solutions to combat the problem and save young children from reinforcing the trend. Under current UK laws, it is a crime to sell anyone under 18 years of age a knife, unless it has a folding blade 3 inches long or less. It is also illegal to carry a knife in public “without good reason,” but these laws seem to be of no consequence. There have been a variety of proposals; knives sold with GPS trackers attached, keeping schools open later at night to keep children in schools rather than on the streets during the window of time primarily linked to attacks, and even the proposition that knives be prohibited from being sold altogether. Yet, for an issue of this magnitude, there needs to be more. Families whose children fell fatally victim to knife crimes push for policymakers to get involved with the community and directly with school children and prisoners to deeply effectuate change.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid proposed new knife crime prevention orders to be imposed on children as young as 12 years old. Those subject to the order would have to attend knife awareness courses, abide by curfews and geographical restrictions, and limit their access to social media, in an attempt to prevent young children or teenagers from joining gangs. One would believe this may be a start to doubling down on knife crime, yet the prevent orders have sparked concern from human rights groups that these laws, with its low standard of proof in part possibly based on assumptions or stereotypes, will criminalize young people and subject them up to two years in detention. There is a real concern that children will be exploited and targeted, rather than safeguarded, with these new prevention orders.

Lawmakers are tasked with balancing the safety of communities as well as the need for law enforcement to utilize all tools necessary to reduce these incidents of knife crime, despite the reality that there seems to be no near end in sight. The Government has made available £51m of the £100m promised for more patrols, weapon sweeps and officers, hoping that this will have a significant impact. Proposals have surfaced for front-line works in schools and hospitals to educate officials on the warning signs of young people involved in violent crime. The restoration of trust between police and young people is also another focus for the UK in solving the crisis, and attempts are being made to diversify the force that may be able to connect with teens. As the region tries to find ways to attack the root of the problem, one thing is for sure: all efforts are valued, but this is a fight that needs time, funds and commitment in order to effectively find solutions that will essentially save the UK’s young people from themselves.

References:

Hospital Admissions for Youths Assaulted with Sharp Objects Up Almost 60%, NHS England (Feb. 9, 2019), available at https://www.england.nhs.uk/2019/02/teens-admitted-to-hospital/.

How to Solve Britain’s knife Crime Epidemic, The Week (April 18, 2019), available at https://www.theweek.co.uk/crime/97620/how-to-solve-knife-crime.

Rob Picheta, Blunt blades, GPS Trackers and Longer School Hours: The Hunt for an Answer to Britain’s Knife-Crime Crisis, CNN (June 24, 2019) available at https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/24/uk/knife-crime-uk-solutions-gbr-intl/index.html.

Rob Picheta, Two Teenagers Die Minutes Apart During Violent Night in London, CNN (June 15, 2019), available at https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/15/uk/london-stabbings-shooting-gbr-intl/index.html.

Angie Quinn, Uxbridge Stabbing: Teenage Boy Arrested after Fatal Stabbing at Hillingdon Civic Centre, MyLondon News (Nov. 7, 2019) available at https://www.mylondon.news/news/west-london-news/uxbridge-stabbing-teenage-boy-arrested-17221085.

Matthew Robinson, England’s Knife Crime Epidemic Sees 54&Rise in Young Stabbing Injuries in 5 Years, CNN (Feb. 9, 2019) available at https://edition.cnn.com/2019/02/09/uk/knife-crime-violence-stabbings-hospital-admissions-gbr-intl/index.html.

Ben Butcher, and Rachel Schraer, How Do We Know How Many Children are in Gangs?, BBC (Feb. 28, 2019), available at https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-47388890.

Mark Townsend, Sajid Javid’s New Knife Crime Laws ‘Will Criminalise the Young,’ The Guardian (Feb. 24, 2019) available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/24/sajid-javid-youth-knife-crime-orders-human-rights-fears.

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