Children as young as thirteen resigned to life of knife violence, charity boss warns
Teenagers as young as 13 are resigned to being stabbed or ending up behind bars for violence, a charity boss has said.
Workers who speak to young people in hospital after they have been attacked have to persuade them that it is not normal to suffer knife wounds or have their friends die, John Poyton, chief executive officer of Redthread, revealed.
The charity has staff in hospitals in London, Birmingham and Nottingham, aiming to catch victims at a “teachable moment” to stop them either falling prey to another attack or going out to seek revenge.
Mr Poyton (pictured) said: “They’re just in this mindset, ‘Yes I will go to prison and yes I will end up getting stabbed’. Or, ‘Yes my friend died, and that’s normal’.
“These are things that should not be normal but they are being normalised.”
Redthread staff see around 50 young people aged between 11 and 24 every month at each of their London hospital units, the average age is 18 or 19. Dozens more come to a separate drop-in healthcare centre.
Before setting up one of the London units, Mr Poyton saw cases where teenagers were visiting A&E with stab wounds four or five times in a row.
He said speaking to the victim in the wake of an attack is key.
“The young person recognises that they are in crisis, they can’t deny that they are in crisis at that point and they’re in pain and pain is a great catalyst to think, ‘OK, I need to do something differently because I don’t want to feel like this any more’.
“The teachable moment is incredibly powerful, you have an incredibly high engagement rate with those young people. If those were young people who you approached on the street in their own territory when they’re not in crisis, it would be much, much harder to engage them.”
The number of homicides in London so far this year has now reached 100, amid rising levels of violent crime nationally.
Mr Poyton is not surprised that the number of deaths appears to have risen.
“When we’re talking about knife crime or gun violence, the difference between a young person dying and a young person actually being stitched up and sent home within a matter of hours or days can be a millimetre to the left or to the right.”
Young people are living in permanent fear and arm themselves for protection, he said.
“More young people are feeling unsafe and are likely to carry weapons, and therefore get into violent altercations or to try and defend themselves when it’s not related to drugs or gangs. They do live in this hyper-vigilant, fight, flight, freeze mode.”
He looked at the backgrounds of young people who were jailed for committing homicide in 2008/2009 and found that perpetrators had often been brought up in environments where they regularly witnessed violence.
Another common factor is being expelled from school.
“Young people who go out and perpetrate violence, one of the things that inextricably links them all is that they’re almost always out of mainstream education.
“You kick them out of mainstream, their life chances just disappear. You then have young people who have no sense of attainment or opportunity. They just see their life as a bit of a dead end by that point. That’s one of the depressing things that could so easily be turned around.”
He believes violence needs to be treated like an illness.
“It’s about looking at violence as a health issue and an infectious disease, and how we can stop transmission of that disease to either continue to affect that young person or then infect others and communities.”
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