London knife crime linked to youth homelessness and fear of neighbourhood violence

London knife crime linked to youth homelessness and fear of neighbourhood violence

Londoners who start carrying knives at a young age often do so in response to fear of being attacked within the neighbourhoods where they live and because they have witnessed older friends or siblings being attacked in their local area, according to research with over 100 young male offenders in the capital.

Writing at The Conversation, criminology lecturer Erin Sanders-McDonagh adds that most of the young men she has been speaking to “grew up in areas of high deprivation with disproportionately high levels of violent crime compared to other areas of London” and that her study is revealing that “homelessness is also a major issue for young people who become involved in offending”.

Sanders-McDonagh reports one young Londoner telling her that he began carrying a knife at the age of 12 “as he was afraid to walk across his estate to and from school”. She also describes cases in which children “were asked to leave home by parents who didn’t know how else to stop them getting involved with drug dealing, or were worried about keeping younger siblings safe”. Exposure to domestic violence is cited as another reason why youngsters end up homeless: “Tragically, for some of these children, the violence they experience at home makes living on the streets a better option than staying”.

The findings shed light on the influence of family and immediate local factors on boys’ decisions to start carrying knives and other weapons. Much sociological and media focus has been on territorial rivalries between gangs rather than violence and the fear of it experienced by young Londoners within close localities. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is running a campaign urging young Londoners not to carry knives and the Home Office launched a “knife free” advertising campaign one year ago.

In her article, Sanders-Donagh expresses concern over new government data showing a greater likelihood of offenders of all ages across England and Wales receiving custodial sentences and that the average length of these has simultaneously increased. She stressed that “punitive approaches” to young males who are themselves often victims of stabbings or other assaults and may have “lost someone close to them to violence” is not an solution to their offending. She is also critical of the effect of reductions in local authority funding for youth services and failures by councils to help youngsters seen primarily as dangerous criminals.

The full article at The Conversation can be read here.

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