In the summer of 2008, the UK was shocked and saddened by the fatal stabbing of teenager Ben Kinsella in an unprovoked attack. Thirteen years on, his demographic category (young men) remains the most vulnerable to the growing dangers of the blade. There were ‘285 deaths by a knife or sharp instrument in the 12 months ending March 2018’. Amongst the victims, around 71 (one in four) were male and between the ages of 18-24.

Trust Issues, Insecurity, and Wealth Inequality

Ben Kinsella’s 16-24 age group is now ‘45% more likely to suffer knife attacks than in 1946, when records began’.

The rising number of young people that are threatened and traumatised at knifepoint is concerning. Firstly, this could make for a future epidemic of PTSD and mental health problems. Secondly, young people are more naïve, impressionable and likely to fall in with the wrong crowd. Slippery slopes cost futures.

With the above in mind, the social enterprise Inside Success serves to raise awareness of knife violence, especially among the young. One of its volunteers, Israel, explains that ‘knife crime and mental health problems are one hundred per cent connected. […] It’s about upbringing. A lot of people have never had a dad in their house. That can also affect mental health’.This helps suggest some underlying reasons for knife possession.

It’s argued that toddlers develop trust by forming ‘a secure attachment to their parents or caregivers’. This trust becomes ‘absolutely necessary’ for a child’s ‘healthy psychological development’.

 An absent father cannot show his children what to expect from grown men. Perhaps this leaves them suspicious of their intentions? This may also explain why ‘fatherless children have more difficulties with social adjustment, and […] underlying fears, resentments, anxieties and unhappiness’.

Subsequently, fatherlessness emerges as something with the power to erode trust, leaving a child apprehensive. This echoes Israel’s observation that ‘people feel exposed, so they carry these knives for protection. And then, when they feel threatened, they try to defend themselves’.

As well as the inability to trust, father absenteeism leaves a person in a single income household. Israel identifies ‘inequality of wealth’ as one of knife crime’s contributing factors. ‘If everybody had a stable amount of income, the children would not feel the need to go out and find more. At least not in a way where they’d make a life-altering decision’. Unsurprisingly, robbery is the second most common knife offence after assault.

It is also no coincidence that in 2017, 53 per cent of knife possession suspects were Black: the ethnic group most susceptible to casual or insecure work.

Misleading statistics

The trust set up in Ben Kinsella’s name reports 46,937 police-recorded offences with a knife or sharp instrument in the 12 months to June 2021. Just three years earlier in 2018, under 40,000 incidents were recorded — the ‘highest level recorded over a year’.

However, at the time of his murder and in the time before, knife crime was much higher than it is now. In 2007/8, 138,000 knife incidents were recorded, making that 6 per cent of all incidents. This is significantly less than the estimated 334,000 in the mid-1990s, accounting for 8 per cent of all incidents.

Statistics show an apparent decrease in knife crime, But to take them at face value would be misleading. While it is true that knife offences are becoming less frequent, the injuries from them are now ‘more severe’. Doctors report increasing numbers of women and younger people being affected.

Neither straightforward nor simple

As with many forms of criminality, such as illegal trafficking and misuse of firearms, knife crime is entangled in a heavily underground crime web.

As Israel explains, ‘knife crime is mainly an end result, the accumulation of a lot of things. Young people might get involved with drug trafficking before they get stabbed or go and stab someone, and it’s something you cannot come back from. You’ll owe so many people money.’ This brings us to the misleading decreases in knife crime incidents, as shown in official statistics. What they fail to reveal is that they often result from knife victims who ‘cannot be seen to be snitching’, as explained anonymously by one young man.

There is a vicious circle of more unreported knife incidents and an increased inability of victims to come forward. In this way, crime is driven further and further underground. Its detachment from the wider world is so pronounced that ‘it’s very easy to get a knife ordered off Amazon to your door. It’s like ordering a pizza. There are websites selling zombie knives and samurai swords — not on the dark web’. And this is something that anyone outside the crime circle would simply not think to search for, including the police.

The failure of authorities to document knife offences helps explain their seeming ‘decrease’. According to Israel: ‘[Knife crime] is happening so much now that [police] stations don’t really record it. It is more the community addressing the problem, rather than the police. The police aren’t doing enough. Most of them didn’t really grow up in that sort of environment so they don’t know what it’s like’.

Different start, different future

What chiefly emerges from speaking to young people in the know about dangerous knife culture are the effects of segregated neighbourhoods. While problems begin at home, they are essentially perpetuated by ignorance owing to different living standards. Young people from the affected areas find it, ‘amazing [that] dealing with stab wounds is not common knowledge given how big of a problem it is’. I’m shocked at how casually Israel advises me to ‘calm down if you get stabbed — so that you don’t lose more blood’. This is normal life for some of us.

The social divide produces feedback loops. Areas with high knife crime will certainly deter visitors from safer areas. Consequently, division and lack of understanding prevail when ‘what we need is to unite’. Continued failure to recognise the full extent of Britain’s knife crime problem will keep it underground for longer. The longer we wait, the more frightening it becomes.

Listen here to Israel’s interview in full.

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