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Reasons for teenage knife crime

Hold up!

See that little date above?

This post was published years ago.

My opinions have changed over time: I think it's quite fun to keep old posts online so that you can see how that has happened. The downside is that there are posts on this site that express views that I now find offensive, or use language in ways I'd never dream of using it today.

I don't believe in airbrushing history, but I do believe that it's important to acknowledge the obvious: some of what I've written in the past has been crap. Some of it was offensive. Some of it was offensively bad. And there's may be some brass among the muck (you can make up your own mind on that).

Some of what I've presented as my own views has been me—wittingly or unwittingly—posturing without having considered all the facts. In a few years, I'll probably think the same about what I'm writing today, and I'm fine with that. Things change. People grow. Society moves forward.

The internet moves on too, which means there might be broken links or embedded content that fails to load. If you're unlucky, that might mean that this post makes no sense at all.

So please consider yourself duly warned: this post is an historical artefact. It's not an exposition of my current views nor a piece of 'content' than necessarily 'works'.

You may now read on... and in most cases, the post you're about to read is considerably shorter than this warning box, so brace for disappointment.

In a perverse way, the ongoing coverage of teenage knife crime amuses me. Tabloids will insist that all teenagers are delinquents, and yet come August, they all have 25 A-Levels as a result of dumbing down. In reality, only a minority of teenagers sit A-Levels (let alone pass them), and far fewer still are ‘bad kids’ (no matter how they might look).

And let me bust one more myth. We are not in the middle of a knife-crime explosion. Here’s a graph. Not a particularly pretty graph, but a graph nonetheless.

Graph showing fatal stabbings in the UK over the last ten years

Knife crime has been at reasonably consistent levels over the last ten years. It’s reasonable to hypothesise that the teenagers of 1996 were involved in just as many knife crimes as the teenagers of 2006. There have been around five fatal stabbings per week for the last ten years. There has been no dramatic increase. But suddenly, every one of those five has become headline news. It’s being noticed more, but it isn’t happening more. Sorry to burst the dead-tree media bubble.

But that doesn’t answer the crucial question: Why is there teenage knife crime on our streets?

It’s nothing to do with a lack of activities for teenagers. If you apply that theory to any other section of society, its flaws are clear. Did Ian Huntley commit the Soham Murders because he didn’t have a social worker to take him bowling every week? Did Harold Shipman bump off old people because he didn’t have a club of like-minded individuals to socialise with in a controlled setting? Was Hitler a community volunteering project away from sticking with painting and decorating? I think not.

And it’s nothing to do with the prevalence of knives on the streets, either. Sixty years ago, knives were much more common amongst teenagers, and teenagers were also much more adept with the use of guns thanks to National Service. Weapons don’t kill people: People kill people.

Also sixty years ago, there was a very clear, defined enemy. The Germans. Teenagers would probably have had little hesitation in taking out their frustration on any Germans they happened upon, but fortunately that didn’t happen very often. They were rebels with a very defined cause, and a cause which society supported and viewed as ‘healthy’.

A Knife

So what’s the ’cause’ today? Who are our enemies?

In the absence of a clear enemy, society as a whole has started to attack within its own group. Football rivalries become as embittered as those between warring nations, and so violence ensues. Rivalries between middle-class parents to get their children into the schools at the top of artificial league-tables get out of hand. Minor road incidents turn into violent road rage. And rivalries between gangs of friends escalate to stabbings. It’s not rocket science.

As a nation, we have nothing to unite against and fight. Yet we have a human need for rivalry and fighting, so in the absence of a defined enemy, we fight each other. It’s happening throughout all age groups and in many walks of life, but because the media has an obsession with demonising the youth, it’s this that gets highlighted.

This is not the end of society as we know it. We do not have a generation of evil teenagers. It’s a natural development, which will probably subside as the nation becomes united again behind some visionary cause.

So please, just for me, can we stop harassing these poor teenagers? Life’s tough enough for them without criminalising them with silly ASBOs, slapping discriminatory policies all over them, and constantly criticising them.

Fix the behaviour of your own generation before criticising theirs.

This post was filed under: Media, News and Comment, Politics.

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Comments and responses

Comment from Mort Karman

    01.20, 10/04/2007

Over on this side of the pond only the poorest of the poor teen gangsters use knives to kill the people they don’t like. America is a rich country and even the slum dwelling hoodlums are able to afford a gun to do their killing with. And if they can’t afford one, they can always steal from someone who already has one. The 9mm semi-auto is the murder weapon of choice for the gang teenagers here.
Knives are used mostly in domestic disputes. Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends are mostly the ones sliced up.
The switchblade knife went out as a weapon of choice shortly after West Side Story closed.
It appears it is easier to simply pull the trigger of a hand gun then open a switchblade and start to chop. Besides it takes at least some strength to cut someone up while almost anyone can pull a trigger.
One problem is the guns are nosier then the knives so if you live in a neighbourhood with a lot of drive by shootings your hearing can suffer. Another problem is with a knife you have to be really close, so you usually cut up only the person you intend to. With guns the projectiles travel some distance and sometimes you kill the wrong person and have to come back to try again.
But at least the deliquents today have a choice of weapons available to them. Decisions, decisions.

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    06.57, 10/04/2007

We also have a fair degree of teenage gun crime over here – though clearly not to the level of that in the US. Indeed, there was teen shooting in London last night, and another a couple of days ago. But there’s been a lot of media attention in the last few days on teenage stabbings and knife crime, hence the post.

Comment from Nick

    14.00, 25/10/2007

I am a 16 year old boy living in north west london. yesterday i was assaulted and mugged, for my phone and money, by six “youths” ranging from 14-17 years old. I am just one of the millions of people my age that is in the middle of a culture that has no respect for life and has no moral grounding whatsoever. Your graphs and statisitcs may say that there isnt really a problem, but i know for a fact that there is a very big problem indeed. The sanctity of life has dissolved with the massive influx of afro-carribbean culture, hip-hop and “grime” music. I am not a racist, I am not a prejudiced person, i am simply stating the facts. You adults can sit comfortably in your offices speculating about the problems of todays youth. But you will never actually know what its like.

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    18.54, 25/10/2007

Nick – Thank you for sharing your experience, and I hope you’re getting over your assault. It must have been a terrible experience for you.

The graphs and statistics certainly don’t say there’s not a problem – they merely say that there’s a consistent problem, that’s neither being tackled nor worsening. The fact is that I had an equal chance of being mugged when I was sixteen as you do today, which maybe suggests that the problem isn’t related to the influx of people from other cultures, but rather to consistent underlying factors.

I certainly hope you don’t see me as an adult sitting in an office – I’m only 22, I don’t like the idea of being that disconnected from the world of ‘today’s youth’. But even so, if you believe – as I do – there are issues affecting young people that aren’t being represented by decision-makers of all levels, then let them know about it. Carrying on sharing your experiences, let them know what the reality for you is, and maybe something will change.

Good luck.

Comment from Kyle

    12.56, 13/05/2008

If Knife crime isnt a big isue why is Britain branded the Knife capital of Europe?

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    15.11, 13/05/2008

Well there’s two points to make in response to that.

Firstly, knife crime is a big issue – it’s just not a growing issue.

Secondly, it’s the media who have both distorted the picture and branded Britain the ‘Knife Capital of Europe’, despite the fact that some European countries have far higher rates of knife crime – Spain and Portugal, for example – whilst others don’t collect separate statistics for knife crime as a subset of other weaponised violent crime, so no valid comparison can be made.

Comment from Anonymous

    13.42, 15/05/2008

too right!

Comment from Kyle

    12.44, 16/05/2008

Does Latvia have a lot of knife crime?

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    10.53, 17/05/2008

Apparently, Latvia has a similar level of knife crime to Western Scotland – so I’m guessing that it’s not all that much.

Comment from Kyle

    11.20, 20/05/2008

What anoys me is the fact that MPs and top Police chiefs deny a problem with knifes when you hear about stabbings every week. I think they are just saying that so they dont alaem the public. Ive never heared a copper say ” Yes knife crime is a big problem”. They need to wake up!

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    13.31, 26/05/2008

Agreed – they can’t tackle the issue unless they acknowledge that it exists.

Comment from Liam

    08.34, 04/07/2008

You are so right, when I was at school in the ealy 70s we had problems with knife crime. I remember when I was even younger watching a near neighbour take three slashes to the chest and a stab in the upper arm due to an argument about name calling by the children of the knife user. So what is new; the above incident did not even make the local paper according to my father and as for the police well; no one “grassed”.

Comment from anonymous

    15.45, 09/07/2008

i disagree i feel that there needs to be more youth projects out there for children to do. I’m a teenager i do not feel that adults understand fully the state of mind that these youths are in and i feel as though we need to get more people that can actually relate to what these teenagers are going through, for example ex gang members and help guide them the right way. By having these issues plastered all over the news and having the government discussing it and even releasing documentries on it your only patrionising the youths of today.

Comment from Paul

    16.12, 09/07/2008

Knife crime is very much “the” news item of the moment, but it does seem very difficult to get a balanced view of what is happening. For example the Times seems to be the source of the comment that Britain is the knife capital of Europe and yet in the same article it says that Spain and Portugal are worse. Some time ago I heard that Scotland had a far higher level of knife crime than the rest of Britain. And in Ireland, Limerick is ofter referred to as “Stab City”.
All these statistics (or is it just anecdotal evidence) seem very vague – is there a reliable source for figures on knife crime that can be used to compare levels between different countries and time periods? There is a huge difference between reported crime and unreported crime, and I have seen references to both, but I can’t find any sources for the information.
It is all so reminicent of the dog bites child stories that were prevalent in the press in the early 90’s and ultimately led to the dangerous dog act.

good blog btw.

Comment from Kyle

    09.52, 10/07/2008

Statastics are always changing. The goverment are just a buch of idiots.

Comment from Gael

    14.37, 24/08/2008

Im currently doing a Sociological study for my A2 coursework on the reasons for the increase in knife crime. So far I have come across the main reason for the apparent increase being down to peer pressure, and lack of activities for youths. If there is anyone willing to answer a couple of questions relating to my study that would be great, as living in Northumberland there isn’t as much access to information as there would be in London!
Thanks, Gael.

Comment from BOB

    10.15, 12/09/2008


Comment from UKMED

    10.17, 12/09/2008


Comment from bob

    10.18, 12/09/2008


Comment from UKMED

    10.18, 12/09/2008


Comment from Sammie Jo

    10.20, 12/09/2008

i feel that teenage knife crime is going beyond a joke too many teenagers are deing and 99 % of them are innocent .something needs to be done x just think of all those parents over the U.K whohas lost a son or daughter … be careful . x

Comment from ukmed

    10.21, 12/09/2008

i lost half a but cheek on knife crime not a plesant thing keep safe stay in school

Comment from BOB

    10.22, 12/09/2008



Comment from ukmed

    10.23, 12/09/2008

im sori darling how bout me nd u dina mi place no knifes invovled

Comment from BOB

    10.23, 12/09/2008



Comment from ukmed

    10.24, 12/09/2008

oh yes sexc hehe lolololol naaaaaaaaa stop nw it aint a joke knifes shuld be stoped

Comment from ukmed

    10.24, 12/09/2008


Comment from bob

    10.25, 12/09/2008

=| SKN (:

Comment from UNKNOWN

    17.49, 17/09/2008


Comment from joe

    11.47, 24/09/2008

what is the real reason for teenagers going around and stabbing/killing other people?

Comment from Kyle

    10.37, 25/09/2008

They could be a number of reasons why teens go round with a knife. Many do it to show off and “brag” about it. Some its to do with peer pressure. Or a way of protecting themselves from other gangs as rival estates and members often are live close by their turf separated by no more than a road or field aspecialy in places like Glasgow. Like i said there could be a hundred reasons.

Comment from Whisper

    22.36, 25/09/2008

im actually doing my a2 sociology coursework too, but mine is not about knife crime, mines about black boys doing bad in education…. we are doing bad…. but we still going uni but… i agree with everything sjhoward is saying…. knives dont kill people, people do…. and all the mps that think they know wa gwan can sit the fuck down…. the sun newspaper needs to suck dick too…. they dont know their own street…. maybe if they did i wont be bored every weekend… and all i could think about is fucking girls…. n there are bag of mans who are like me…. give us something exciting to do… n not youth clubs…. we anit little kids no more…. THINK… THINK…. YOU OWN THE COUNTRY DONT YOU…. THINK

Comment from Whisper

    22.41, 25/09/2008

n its true most of us do it to protect n some for revenge…. but its all a game now… we are so bored we make the most dumbest thing get on our nerves…….. n some of us go to church… aka me… only God knows the answer

Comment from john

    00.17, 15/10/2008

my young cousin was kill last month with a knife stopping his mate from fighting i my self have been there but as they say an eye for an eye one yes but not six times he was only 17yrs he was 26 yrs old so i will have a word ?.j

Comment from Jack

    20.03, 05/12/2008

Im actually doin this topic for my GCSE sociology coursework, and i find that the parents of the people carrying the knives (mainly teenagers) are mostly to blame. Think about it if eens had decent perants they would know better and, wouldnt get the oppertunities to get hold of the weapons and harm other people

Comment from mat5o

    20.01, 12/01/2009

that is a very good and strong passage and i am very pleased that someone is there to help the teenagers
though i am not too sure about the country uniting in the next geneation of “evil teenagers”

Comment from kirsty

    16.21, 26/01/2009

OMG…I actually agree with Whisper and Jack.. i think it is mostly the parents to blame…im 16 and my parents have brought me up fine…and guess what ive turned out fine….but i feel this problem has gone too far and we wont be able to control…:0

Comment from ellie

    18.29, 27/01/2009

i am a year7 student who is doing a projest on knife crime. I chose my topic for the project and i think that there should be more youth centres and knifes are the reason for people being killed today. my project if aimed to my home city of sheffield and i think 2 shabbing under the space of 2 month is atrouseus and i for one will not stand for my future to be ruined by other peole stabbing and carrying knifes round becouse it makes me and my friends feel unsafe and im not aloud out in the dark becouse of ot. and in my area of sheffield where i live it is full of people with knifes and thetaning people , it is on a weekly basise that the police are called. an i ont want to be feeling unsafe every time i walk to the shop on my own which i 2 minutes away from my house.


Comment from Tiffany

    14.05, 28/01/2009

Hi Ellie. I am a college student and i am doing the same thing as you on gangs and knife crime. I think there should be more things for the ages of 15-18. This is when the knife crimes are mostly high.Should be more things and places for young children to do? This is to help prevent knife stabbings and to let people feel safe when walking the streets night or day. Not many people go out in the dark because of being attacked by a gang. Like you said you dont want to feel unsafe but its the way how the world goes and i think personnally there should be more done about knifes. Should shops should stop selling them as this increases knife attacks on people?

Comment from jazzman

    20.28, 26/02/2009

I’m an american and even though that discounts alot of what i’m going to say but please just read this and hear me out. i have been doing reports on gun rights for the last five years and one of the constant things in all the cases whether its in a country like the U.K. or in individual cities like New York here in the USA the only people that dont have guns are the people who wouldnt commit a crime with them becasue they are law abiding citizens and not the crimainals that stiil ahve them. would a carpenter turn in the tools of his livelihood, would he turn in his hammer and saw? even if you can get rid of guns then they will turn to knives and if you look at the top of this blog you will see that there is very little change in the ten years the chart shows.

Comment from Aishah

    08.14, 12/05/2009

I moved to Algeria, 4 yrs ago for my children to live in a safer society and to be brought up with respect for each other and elders. I saw too many teenagers with no respect and swearing at you if you told them off for bad behaviour. I had this experience myself when I was sworn at a couple of tiimes by kids, and in the end I kept quiet like everyone else as I didn’t want my children to see the conflict. Also I felt that as parents we had no control over our children with all the talk about not being able to smack them. I know myself as a child being naughty in class with the knowledge that the teachers could do nothing about it. Children have too much power in the uk and the adults havn’t. People are now too scared to tell kids off in the parks or streets when they see them misbehaving and spoiling things for others in case they get abused, or now, stabbed.
In Algeria the children have more respect and listen when they are told off for misbehaviour. The other day my husband told a teenager off for smoking and the teenager didn’t say a word, blushed and put out his cigarette.
Here the kids are hit in school if they misbehave, which I am not against, but the other day my children were smacked for getting a question wrong and for writing too slow. This is wrong. It’s the other way round here and sometimes the teachers abuse their positions and end up giving the kids no confidence. No win situation!

Comment from Aishah

    08.18, 12/05/2009

I think a lot of it depends on the adults through example. If you swear at your kids your kids will swear back at you! It depends on how you bring your children up. If you bring them up to be respectful then they will be. We can only do our best.

Comment from Aishah

    08.27, 12/05/2009

Should be more things and places for young children to do? quote by Tiffany

Here the kids havn’t half the places to go to or do like they have in uk, although they do play outside more on the street like how I used to as a child.

However they still have more respect.

Comment from Aishah

    08.45, 12/05/2009

I moved to Algeria four years ago because the lack of respect some of the teenagers have for adults in the uk. Also the lack of control we have over our kids, not being able to smack them etc. I have had personal experience of this a couple of times after telling off teenagers for swearing and behaving badly in the playgrounds where I was taking my kids. In the end I gave up like everyone else and I didn’t want my children to see the conflict. People are too scared to interfere when they see kids doing something wrong for fear of getting abuse or NOW being stabbed.
Here the kids have more respect and the teachers smack the kids in school for misbehaving. The other day my husband told a teenager off for smoking and he didn’t say a word, blushed, and put out his cigarette. That would never happen in uk.
However the teachers can sometimes abuse their power and smack them for silly things like getting a question wrong or writing too slow which is what happened to my kids. No win situation!
At the end of the day it depends a lot on the parents and how they bring up their kids. If you swear at your kids they will swear back at you!

Comment from Ask_about_me

    14.17, 04/08/2009

The reasons teenagers are the main focus of knife crime is because teenagers are the future. If their all knife carrying maniac’s now what hope does society have in the future when their all adults? There are honestly so many reasons for people carrying knifes it is in reality too hard to put it down to things like teenagers having nothing to do, etc. When I was growing up I knew a number of people in my area that use to carry knives, even when they where going to youth club or to play football at the park, so providing more things to do is not going to stop kids killing kids. You can not put the blame soley on the parents either. It is not possible to know what your kids are doing all the time. When they are young fair enough but once they are going out and about alone and with friends you can know what they tell you they have been up too…teenagers lie!

Has anybody considered how poverty plays a part. It would be worth looking into, maybe. Personally I think that it plays a major part.

Also pride and power are other things that adds to it.

As I grew up knowing alot of people that carried knifes, where victims of knife crime and one point carried a knife, I think most people that are looking into the issue are way off the mark. It is usually only those people involved or around this issue that have any real insight. The reality is only those people that carry knives can stop people getting killed, otherwise we are going to lose the little freedom we have.


It is what it is…how most people see the world nowadays. Especally if your poor!

Comment from Liberal Realist

    06.50, 25/09/2009

These crime trends are consistent across the world. Testosterone for instance explains part of the difference in men committing more crime than women.

East Asians (Chinese, Japanese ancestry) have lower testosterone levels on average than whites, who have lower levels than blacks. East Asians also have lower crime rates in the UK, US and other western countries than whites, who have lower crime rates than blacks.


Another factor may be low activity variant of MAO-A which can put someone at greater risk of aggressive behaviour – this varies in frequency amongst ethnic groups.

Another factor sometimes cited is cognitive ability, for instance low iq puts someone at greater risk failing at school and dropping out. They are then more at risk of joining gangs etc. Groups differ in average iq, gestation periods and maturation rates, and average brain volume. This is probably due to both genetic and environmental factors.


psychology.uwo.ca/faculty/rushtonpdfs/P&E%20Crime.pdf – (worldwide crime figures)

Comment from Anonymous

    00.25, 26/09/2009

the government only pretend to be doing something to reduce knife crime. they appease the media frenzied masses buy making pointless laws like increasing the age to buy a knife, when as a teenager why would you bother to buy a knife when there are free knifes in your parents kitchen draws.
They need to spend the time on actually looking into why people are doing the crimes and how to prevent this. The swiss all have knives and guns and yet there are low crime rates, what are they doing right?

Comment from Anonymous

    18.27, 27/09/2009

why does knife crime have blood involved

Comment from Liberal Realist

    06.21, 01/10/2009

“The swiss all have knives and guns and yet there are low crime rates, what are they doing right?”

Read my post above. Some groups are more predisposed to criminal behaviour due to higher average testosterone levels, low activity variants of MAO-A alleles & lower impulse control. The Swiss have fewer of this group.

Comment from Anonymous

    17.08, 20/10/2009

u all chat shit

Comment from Aishah

    22.37, 30/10/2009

Quote “Another factor sometimes cited is cognitive ability, for instance low iq puts someone at greater risk failing at school and dropping out. They are then more at risk of joining gangs etc.” Good point. I can imagine this happening when your thoughts are turned to something else. Not convinced about testosterone argument though.

Comment from Liberal Realist

    06.50, 31/10/2009

“can imagine this happening when your thoughts are turned to something else. Not convinced about testosterone argument though.”

There is a fair bit of evidence that testosterone is linked to violent crime. A study of 4,462 men revealed that the overall picture among the high-testosterone men is one of delinquency, substance abuse and a tendency toward excess aggressive behavior. This is the classic picture of the teenage delinquent, gang member, etc.

These men have more trouble with people like teachers while they are growing up, have more sexual partners, are more likely to show disciplinary problems during their military service and to have used “hard” drugs, particularly if they had a poor education and low incomes.


“Testosterone, crime, and prison behavior were examined among 692 adult male prison inmates. Testosterone was measured from saliva samples, and behavior was coded from prison system records. Inmates who had committed personal crimes of sex and violence had higher testosterone levels than inmates who had committed property crimes of burglary, theft, and drugs. Inmates with higher testosterone levels also violated more rules in prison, especially rules involving overt confrontation. The findings indicate differences between low and high testosterone individuals in the amount and pattern of their misbehavior.”

Testosterone, crime, and misbehavior among 692 male prison inmates Personality and Individual Differences
Volume 18, Issue 5, May 1995, Pages 627-633

Comment from Anonymous

    17.35, 07/06/2011

naaa mate

Comment from Anonymous

    17.35, 07/06/2011

naaaaa mate

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