Sharp increase in female knife crime shines spotlight on poorly understood problem

Joanna Dennehy, a British female serial killler who stabbed three men to death in 2013, symbolises extreme female criminality Newly rele...

Joanna Dennehy, a British female serial killler who stabbed three men to death in 2013, symbolises extreme female criminality
Newly released data, indicating a 73 percent rise in knife possession by British women and girls, has drawn attention to a normally hidden social problem.

According to police data, there were 1,509 recorded knife-related offences by women in England in 2018, a 73 percent increase from 2014.

There has been a 10 percent increase, year on year since 2014, in recorded female knife possession offences.

Overall, police figures show there were more than 5,800 recorded knife possession crimes, by women and girls, between 2014 and 2018.

There are no available corresponding figures for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Data from 38 English police forces indicates that a quarter of recorded offences involved girls under the age of 18.

These shocking figures have focused national attention on the causes, and drivers, of knife possession by women and girls.

The official explanation, as expounded by the BBC, attributes the rise in knife possession by women and girls to gang culture and the peer pressure employed by gangs to trap girls into crime.

Girls are useful to gangs as they are less likely to be stopped and searched by the police. Female criminals’ ability to evade the police is a key motivating factor for gangs to use them as couriers for knives, guns and drugs.

In London alone there are said to be over 250 criminal street gangs. Thousands of girls and young women are associated with these gangs but, at present, local authorities do not collect specific data on the number of so-called 'gangster girls' in Britain.

According to figures analysed by the Office of the Children's Commissioner in England, two-thirds (66%) of children in England, assessed by councils as being involved in gangs, are boys and one third (34%) are girls.

Meanwhile, estimates from the Office for National Statistics suggest a higher figure - that as many as half may be girls.

The focus on gangs as the locus of female knife crime inevitably throws up “hard” solutions to the problem, notably the use of the criminal justice system to punish female criminals.

But there are alternative voices who are calling for “softer” solutions to the growing social problem. 

Writing in the Guardian on August 9th, Carlene Firmin, head of a safeguarding programme at the University of Bedfordshire, says to stop women and girls carrying knives, the government must tackle “the abuse and violence they face”.

A recognised expert on female criminal violence, Firmin argues that the criminal justice system is not the best approach to tackle the problem. Instead she calls for a “public health response” to female violence.

Yet another alternative approach centres on empowering families of victims of female knife crime.

Alison Magdin, whose 18 year old daughter Samantha was stabbed to death by a 15 year old girl in Wallsend in August 2007, set up “Samantha’s Legacy”, a charity which aims to tackle the problem at a grassroots level.

The charity visits schools and youth organisations to warn young people about the dangers of knives.

“We are Samantha’s voice now, she needs to be heard”, Magdin told Chronicle Live on August 10th.        

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