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The unseen effects of knife crime on children

Ellie is a Project Worker who supports young people who have been exploited and are identified as carrying a knife. She helps them rebuild their lives and make sure they aren't targeted by criminals again.


Criminal hierarchy 

When I begin working with a young person that has been criminally exploited it can take a while to break down the barriers they’ve put up to protect themselves. 

These are children who society has failed to keep safe

Organised crime works like a business. There are those at the top who have the illegal links and are making a profit. Below them are the ones who coordinate and carry out the plan. It is these individuals who befriend and exploit children to carry out criminal activity or aggression on behalf of the group. It doesn’t matter to these criminals if one of them dies, there are many more children to take their place. 

knife crime

Three teenagers look to the camera with serious expressions

Grooming is calculated and gradual

The exploitation begins with the perpetrator giving the young person a little bit of money here and there to do them a favour. In a child’s mind, this is someone they can trust and they think they’re just helping a friend out. They might have grown up with them, they may know them, they often just live down the street from them.

criminal exploitation

Now they’re in danger. They are handed a knife or another weapon; yet they can’t see the bigger picture. They are so afraid they feel like the only way to stay safe and protect themselves is to carry a knife. They’re constantly on edge, always looking over their shoulder.  

What children don’t say 

Most of the young people I see have experienced some kind of childhood trauma and I can relate to that. My family life looked picture perfect and because of that, professionals failed to see what was really going on behind closed doors. 

I didn't speak up because I didn't know it was trauma. To me that was everyday life. Sometimes it’s more often what children don’t say, than what they do. 

I often tell young people that nothing they are going to say will shock me. I say, ‘I’ve been you before, I completely understand.’ And I think that helps me in my role, young people say that they can tell I’m speaking from experience. 

girl on bus looks out of the window while holding mobile phone

What is county lines?

County lines is more prevalent in the UK than you might think. It's not just a 'big city problem' that affects young people from a certain age group or background.

Protecting the perpetrators 

Recently I was working with a boy who was being threatened on social media by a rival group. When I suggested he block them he said, ‘I would rather know to expect them to come for me, than be caught off guard. He said he could have a knock at the door one day and be stabbed.

Deleting or blocking people doesn’t mean it will just go away for these young people. It can actually heighten the anxiety for them. 

Another young person told me, ‘Snitches get stitches.’ He would rather go to prison than talk to the police. This is common. None of them will say names of the people exploiting them. 

changing young people's lives

Changing young lives 

Success for me is being able to change the way they view their exploiters and see the danger that they are in every day. A child can never consent to being exploited. 

I’ve had quite a few young people say, ‘I’ll never carry knives again.’ Some have gone home and had that difficult conversation with their parents. They have shown them the knives hidden under their bed. 

girl sits with practitioner

Influencing young people about knife crime

We’re working with these young people directly, but who knows how many other parents and children they are going out and reflecting that learning to. 

The impact is wider than we can always see.

young people exploited

We not only support young people. We mentor them and inspire them to reach their full potential. We become a positive role model and instill hope and aspiration

I don't know many services that are able to engage young people and support them not only on a local level, but a national level too. 

We are here for these young people in a way that no one else is.

You can learn more about how to spot the signs of child exploitation through our #LookCloser campaign.

Author: Edward Herbert

boys playing computer game in the bedroom

You can help

Donations from our supporters are vital to the work we do. They go directly towards helping the young people we work with. This year I was able to reach 42 young people. Of these 42 I worked one to one with 26 of them and as a result was able to save all of them from child exploitation and knife crime. 

If you are reading this and are able to support the work we do with young people, I would ask that you please do. It can make all the difference.