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Knife crime- FOI reveals top 25 most dangerous cities
Over recent months, the increase in knife crime has become a common focus of news coverage with London featuring as one of the most dangerous cities with almost 15,000 knife crimes recorded last year. However latest analysis of police statistics suggests the rate of knife attacks in regional towns and cities is higher than in many of the London boroughs.
Data collected from 34 police forces, obtained by the BBC from a Freedom of Information Request, reveals that serious knife crime offences are rising sharply, exceeding London borough figures, in other cities. Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Blackpool and Slough are within the top 25 most dangerous cities in England and Wales for serious knife crime.
The data also reveals a worrying upward trend across other regional areas, such as Lancashire where knife crime offences have doubled over the last five years (981 offences in 2018 compared to 455 in 2014). As police crime statistics are collected differently in Scotland it is only possible to measure knife possession, also on the increase with more than 2,300 crimes reported in 2018. The safest areas, with less than one crime per 10,000 people, includes Dorset, Monmouthshire the Cotswolds and Malvern.
Last year, almost half of all suspects in serious knife crime offences in England and Wales, were aged 24 and under. Drugs gangs (including County Lines), school exclusion rates, poverty, unemployment and cuts to services are all factors blamed for a rise in youth violence. Deprivation is seen as a key factor in children and teenagers' engagement in this behaviour, where they carry out illegal activity to support households. Blackpool, which Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government figures reveal has eight out of the ten of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England, is also listed in the top 25 most dangerous places for knife crime.
In 2018, 15% of knife crime suspects were female. It is thought that there may be deliberate recruitment of girls and young women being exploited to carry weapons because they are much less likely to be stopped and searched by police.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on tackling serious violent crime, Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Sebire, has blamed police funding cuts for the fall in charge rates saying:
"The large reduction in police funding since 2010 has meant fewer detectives with less time and a bigger workload taking on long investigations, meaning it can be more difficult to get a charge.”
According to a Home Office spokesperson, 20,000 new police officers will be recruited over the next three years and £10m in additional ring-fenced funding will allow forces to increase the number of officers carrying Tasers.
However, as reported in our last newsletter, there has been criticism of HM Government plans to introduce new laws to tackle knife crime. Children’s services leaders warn that controversial proposals such as Knife Crime Prevention Orders (KCPOs), may negatively impact on relationships between the police and local communities. The Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) has also questioned what equality measures will be put in place to prevent a disproportionate increase in the use of KCPOs. (Half of young people in youth custody are from black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities). The Association have also called for guidance to include details of circumstances in which it is deemed appropriate to seek an order without "tangible evidence" of knife carrying.
£20m funding for National County Lines Co-ordination Centre
Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced a £20m funding package is to be made available to support child victims and disrupt “county lines” activity. The funding will be used to expand the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre to offer a specialist support service for victims and their families.
In her speech at the Conservative Party conference, the Home Secretary said the additional funding would stop gangs: "terrorising our towns and villages and exploiting our children”.
The extra money will be used to grow the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre to increase its capacity at regional and national level, enabling it to employ extra officers and staff and offer strategic resources to regional organised crime units. Dedicated teams from the British Transport Police will also be based at railway stations across England, earmarked as key hubs for county lines drug trafficking. Investment will also be made in automatic number plate recognition to proactively target vehicles suspected of being used in “county lines” activity.
Since its launch a year ago, the centre has made more than 1,800 arrests and safeguarded 2,400 vulnerable people, of which more than 1,000 were children.
Scottish smacking ban
Scotland has become the first country in the UK to legislate and make it a criminal offence for parents to smack their children. The ban on all physical punishment, which was backed overwhelmingly by 84 votes to 29 by the Scottish Parliament this month, will give children in Scotland the same protection from assaults as adults. Under current Scots law, all physical attacks on adults can be treated as assault however children do not have the same protection. This is because a person accused of assaulting of a child can claim a defence of "reasonable chastisement" or "justifiable assault" when they have used physical force as a form of discipline on children under the age of 16.
The smacking ban bill was introduced by Scottish Green Party MSP John Finnie, a former police officer, who won the support of the SNP, Labour and Lib Dems as well as his own party and many children's charities. Mr Finnie said the ban would "send a strong message that violence is never acceptable in any setting" stating there was "irrefutable" evidence of physical punishment damaging children, that it is not an effective form of discipline and that it can escalate into physical abuse. The ban was opposed by the Scottish Conservatives, who claimed the bill was bad legislation that risks criminalising "good parents" for using "reasonable chastisement”.
Sweden was the first country in the world to ban smacking in the home, Scotland is the 58th to do so. Whilst Wales is also on the verge of introducing a ban there are not currently any plans for England or Northern Ireland to follow suit. Northern Ireland has similar legal provisions to those currently in place in England and Wales. Ireland banned smacking in 2015.
New research project to support vulnerable children
The Economic and Social Research Council, ESRC, has launched a new £1.9m four-year research project aimed at finding better ways to protect vulnerable children from the threat of child sexual exploitation (CSE) and “county lines” drug dealing.
The project will investigate how local authority social care systems can improve their safeguarding work with vulnerable children. The project will examine the risks children and young people face in areas of criminal exploitation including CSE and gang association.
Abuse between children, known as peer-on-peer abuse, is another safeguarding issue the project will explore.
The overall aim of the evidence-based project is to gather information to assist local authorities better support and protect children and young people. The research will scrutinise the work of six councils focussing on three specific areas of safeguarding work:
Trauma-informed practice - the potentially long-lasting impact on young people's mental health when dealing with adversity and trauma in their life;
Transitional safeguarding - safeguarding issues when young people are making the transition from childhood to adulthood;
Contextual safeguarding - an approach to understanding and responding to risk and young people’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families.
The project is being co-ordinated by academics at the University of Sussex, involving researchers at the University of Bedfordshire, which has developed work around contextual safeguarding over the last six years, together with Research in Practice, Become and the Innovation Unit.
On behalf of the University of Bedfordshire, contextual safeguarding programme head Dr Carlene Firmin MBE (who will directly work on the project) stated:
"We are thrilled to be partnering others in this project at a critical point in the development of contextual safeguarding as more as areas beyond those with whom we are directly working - begin to take up and develop the approach.”
CAWNs used combat CSE & “County Lines”
In recent years Child Abduction Warning Notices (CAWNs) have become a valuable safeguarding tool. Now they are also being used in the fight against Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), particularly when served upon members of “county lines” criminal networks to prevent children being harboured.
CAWNs may be used by police and social workers as a preventative tool to protect children from people who may place them at risk. They can be an effective safeguarding measure in combatting potentially exploitative situations, such as inappropriate associations or relationships, for children who regularly go missing for periods of time and where there are risks of CSE. Colloquially known as “Harbourers Warnings”, CAWNs are issued as a warning to people believed to be harbouring children, alerting the respondent that authorities are aware of their involvement with a child.
As they are not within the remit of any legislative statute a breach of a notice is not in itself a criminal offence. Where breaches occur actual offences are dealt with through existing legislation such as Section 49 of the Children Act or Section 2 of the Child Abduction Act. However, CAWNs are proving to be an effective early warning deterrent measure and an important tool in combating increasing exploitative abuse such as “county lines”.
Domestic Abuse Bill moves a step closer to becoming law
As the Domestic Abuse Bill progresses on its pathway through parliament, local authorities have stated that investment in children's services and prevention is crucial to the success of the revived Bill.
Prior to the second reading in the House of Commons, the Local Government Association (LGA) stated:
"In order for the bill to have real success in tackling domestic abuse and creating consistency of services, it must be underpinned by adequate, long-term funding in key services including children's services and housing."
The association is also advocating a cross-government approach for prevention of domestic violence and early intervention to the problem, involving Health, Housing and Education.
Former children’s minister Tim Loughton has also called for local domestic abuse commissioners to be appointed to ensure councils are protecting vulnerable children and families. Describing the current system of support as a “postcode lottery”, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham voiced support for the planned appointment of a national domestic abuse commissioner but also believes that local commissioners are also needed to ensure that councils are properly supporting children with experience of, or at risk of, living in violent households.
FGM- labia elongation
Here at SSS Learning we are dedicated to raising awareness of the practice known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and highlighting safeguarding protection against this type of abuse and support for victims. This week we are highlighting a form of FGM often misinterpreted or not recognised as a form of this harmful and dangerous practice- labia elongation.
Labia elongation or stretching is a cultural custom, originating and practiced in parts of Eastern and South Africa and countries in the South Pacific region. However, due to migration, this practice is a global safeguarding concern. In the UK it is practiced in migrant communities originating from areas where labia elongation is culturally accepted. The process is deemed by communities as a young girl’s rite of passage into womanhood.
In the main, the process of labia elongation starts between the ages of 8 to 14 prior to commencement of a girl’s menstruation cycle however it can continue into adulthood. If girls refuse to undertake the process they are often stigmatised, seen as less desirable and isolated by and from their communities.
The two to three-week process involves pulling or stretching the labia minora either manually or by using weights or harnesses. As detailed in World Health Organisation (WHO) information, the procedure is usually started by an elderly woman, designated to perform this task, by placing sticks of a special type to hold the stretched genital parts to prevent them reverting to their original size. The girl is then instructed to pull her genitalia every day to stretch the labia further, adding further sticks to hold the labia as it stretches.
As with other forms of FGM, the effects of labia elongation often severely affect health and wellbeing with symptoms including severe pain, open sores / ulcers, irritation, infection and psychological trauma.
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