News reports of young people being violently injured or killed are a regular feature in London media. But what about the numbers behind the headlines? What do they tell us about serious youth violence in the capital?
Recently, the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee took a closer look at serious youth violence in London. We wanted to understand the detail behind the rise in victims of serious violence; why some young people become victims or perpetrators; and what could be done to better prevent it.
We found that the number of victims has been rising over the past four years. In 2015-16, there were 6,290 victims: this is an over 20 per cent increase on 2012-13. Youth workers supporting young victims in each of the four Major Trauma Centres in the capital currently see around 50 young people that have suffered assault every month at each centre.
Also, more and more young women are victims of serious violence. They make up almost a quarter of all victims; a rise of around 58 per cent compared to four years ago. We heard concerning accounts that they are increasingly involved in “working with drugs and holding knives”, and that social media is being used to connect vulnerable young women with groups.
Sadly, knives continue to play a significant role in serious youth violence. There has been a reduction in the number of incidents involving knives; nonetheless they are currently identified as a factor in around half of all incidents.
Speaking to young Londoners must be a critical part of helping to clearly identify why serious youth violence occurs. It should also assist us to come up with preventative measures.
The reasons for these changes are complex. A range of factors may be contributing to the rise in the number of victims, including the changing “criminal economy” which involves young people in more serious crimes, such as drugs.
Perhaps most concerning, however, appears to be a belief that young people need to be prepared to defend themselves from harm. This could, in part, be fuelled by the number and severity of weapons young people believe are on the streets. It could also be a fear that results from incidents that happen within communities, making them feel unsafe.
These factors combined can encourage young people to leave the house with a knife – as they believe it will keep them safe – and whilst they may have no intention of using it, by carrying a knife they can end up becoming a victim or a perpetrator.
If a serious incident occurs, there needs to be a concerted effort by the police and other agencies to reassure young people that they are safe and to tackle the immediate sense of danger. This might be through intelligence led stop and search, more visible patrols, or by agencies working with local youth clubs and schools.
The Mayor has committed to tackling the “growing problems” of knife crime and youth violence. Those we heard from said they would like to see the Mayor focus on earlier intervention with young people through schools, pupil referral units and alternative provision; improved information sharing; and minimising the impact of funding changes on youth worker recruitment and retention.
A key piece of work will be to understand more about what drives young people to become involved in serious violence, and importantly why most young people do not.
Speaking to young Londoners must be a critical part of helping to clearly identify why serious youth violence occurs. It should also assist us to come up with preventative measures. We look to the Mayor, MOPAC and the forthcoming Police and Crime Plan to see how these issues will be addressed.
Steve O’Connell AM is Chairman of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee
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