It is an undoubted fact that knife crime within the UK is becoming an increasingly large social problem. Recent reports suggest that it is on the increase and those who are most at risk are young adolescents, particularly those in deprived urban areas; that is not to say that is purely young people who are at risk from knife crime, anyone could become a victim. The problem in London is especially acute, although cities like Manchester and Liverpool are also experiencing a problem.
Knife attacks have far reaching consequences. Obviously fatal stabbings will lead to the death of the victim but it is rarely realised that the families and friends of victims can endure severe psychological trauma. However a fatality does not have to occur, even with minor injuries often the impact upon the victim's life can be extremely detrimental; often causing fear and a loss of confidence. It is not just victims however that feel the effects of knife crime; the emergency services take much of the strain, whilst also being put into dangerous situations. The result is that paramedics and police often have to wear stab proof vests as a means of protection.
The public perception of knife crime and culture is heavily influenced by what is reported in the media. However, whilst the media perform a valuable role in raising awareness of the issues, often the sensationalist journalism does not help the situation. That said, the media reports of gang warfare on the streets, with young people often brandishing knives is often relevant, in some areas of the country the problem is truly out of hand.
But what can authorities do to tackle the issue of knife crime? Solutions are few, but councils and local authorities do have options. One of these options is naturally legislation; the government understandably have a responsibility to legislate and produce laws that not only prohibit the sale of knives to young people, but also to crack down on the carrying of knives. An initiative that is often put forward is the knife amnesty, it is hoped that by giving people the option of handing in weapons without fear of retribution that less knives will be on the streets. However, whilst this type of initiative has its benefits, its widespread effectiveness is questionable; after all, a simple kitchen knife can do the same damage as a jungle variety.
Currently the law states that for carrying a knife a prison sentence of two years can be applied, however, if this knife is deemed to be an offensive weapon a sentence of four years can be bestowed. The problem is that the implementation of these laws is down to judges and while the judiciary perform a valuable service, leniency is overused in many cases.
One of the most effective ways to limit knife crime and increase the safety of young people is to educate them on the dangers of carrying knives. This education however has a dual purpose, whilst it is attempting to protect vulnerable young adults; it also serves the purpose of giving authorities and organisations an understanding of why knives are carried. The result of such educational initiatives has been a recognition of the fact that the majority of young people who carry knives do so for protection, not for reputation or intimidation.
Knife crime will not simply go away; unfortunately it is a part of modern society that has complex socio-economic causes. At the root of the problem is the sense of abandonment in some inner city areas and as this hopelessness spreads, the feeling that the only way to achieve anything is to carve out a reputation amongst local gangs. No one initiative will work; it will take a combination of legislation, education and policing to curb the growing problem of knife crime in the UK.
Cultural affairs specialist Thomas Pretty takes a look at the issues surrounding knife crime in the UK and the various initiatives put in place to tackle the problem.