“One girl carried a knife because someone tired to sexually assault her best friend. Another admitted to carrying a knife for her boyfriend.
“They are scared of being robbed or raped and of everyday life being a girl.”
I’m speaking to Louis Bamber – the founder of Live Your Life Drop the Knife Campaign in Runcorn , about the reasons why girls as young as 13 are carrying knives in Merseyside.
Our conversation comes after figures recently released by police forces across the country showed a steep rise in the number of knife possession offences involving women.
Between 2014 and 2018, Merseyside Police saw a 54% increase in the number of women carrying knives in the region, with a total of 499 offences.
These shocking figures make Merseyside the second highest place in the country for female knife possession after London, with almost a quarter of all recorded offences in England involving girls under the age of 18.
To find out why women and young girls are arming themselves , I spoke to Louis, along with other knife crime campaigners in Merseyside who are trying to tackle knife crime on a daily basis.
Women carrying knives in Merseyside
“They were scared of being sexually assaulted”
As someone who grew up in a house of domestic violence and drugs, and was later kicked out of every school he went to, Louis understands the complex issues young people can face more than most.
Since starting his campaign back in September last year, Louis and his team of 22 have worked with hundreds of girls and boys aged 13-19 in schools and through referrals from social care bodies and police, to educate them on knife crime.
One of the biggest reasons that Louis has come across for young girls carrying knives in Halton , is “because they are scared for themselves.”
He said: “We did at 12 week session at a centre with 13 girls who had all carried knives who were from different schools across Halton.
“A lot of them said they were scared of being sexually assaulted.
“Most of them carried knives because they felt scared. While a couple of them carried it for someone else.
“They are scared of being robbed or raped and of everyday life being a girl.”
Carrying sharp objects Louis says, gave the girls a sense of protection and made them feel safe.
Louis added: “When you look at the areas they live in they don’t have proper street lighting so they carry a knife because it’s dark and they’re scared.
“These are little things that you take for granted and that people from other areas don’t come into contact with.
“We advised this group of girls to get criminal identifier spray for £8 because it stains their face red for up to 2 weeks afterwards. We ended up buying it for them in the end. “
“A lot of it starts as stupid arguments on social media”
Louis claims around 80% of the knife crime cases his team come across in Halton start on social media, with girls getting into conflict with each other in “an attempt to fit in.”
Louis said: “A lot of it starts as stupid little arguments between young people over social media or as a tit for tat at school which they carry on online.
“But then the argument escalates and someone says they are going to stab the other person, that’s our situation in Runcorn.”
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The majority of knife crime incidents that happen in Runcorn according to Louis, take place between 3pm and 6pm, after children have finished school.
Another knife crime campaigner who believes social media plays a key part in knife crime by “spreading fear and violence” is Alan Walsh.
Over the last year alone Alan and his team have worked with over 48,000 young people aged 5-25 in Liverpool, to tackle knife crime and youth violence.
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The 47-year-old, from Old Swan , said: “Social media has got so much to take responsibility for its unbelievable.
“Girls and boys are carrying knives because they are fearful that everyone is carrying one.
“They are hearing that that everyone is carrying a knife so they arm themselves.”
“A status will say someone has been stabbed but in reality it never happened”
Alan says rumours about knife crime are often spread through social media and instill a fear in young people.
He said: “Someone will post a status saying that someone has been stabbed down the road or that they’ve overheard that someone is carrying a knife and it spreads around the community, even though it doesn’t exist.
“Kids will tell each other and parents will warn each other in the playground and it’s all whispers but it never happened in the first place.
“Social media is spreading fear through the kids.”
Violent videos which are shared on social media and end up going viral, are also spreading this fear among teenagers Alan says, and should automatically be blocked.
He added: “Once something is posted it’s there for the world to see. It can be deleted but thousands of people might have seen it before that happens.”
“There’s less chance of women being searched”
He said: “We educate just as many women about knife crime as men, the name was chosen as a PR stunt to get people talking about knife crime and it’s worked.
“We get girls coming up to us all the time pointing at the name on our t-shirts and saying ‘what about girls.’”
Alan added: “One of the main reasons we have seen a small increase in the number of women carrying knives is because they are being asked to carry them by men as there’s less chance of them being searched.
“But it’s not just young people. When you look at the actual statistics kids are only a small part of the problem, it’s adults who carrying knives as well.
“And they carry knives for all kinds of different reasons.”
“It’s cuts to police, to education, it’s cuts to everything”
Government cuts to education and police, coupled with a lack of opportunity in certain areas, are all contributing to the reasons why teenagers are arming themselves Louis says.
He told me: “It’s cuts to police, it’s cuts to education, it’s cuts to everything.
“55% of the people in prison are kids with no qualifications who went to pupil referral units.
“So when they leave prison they have no opportunities and they end up re-offending because they don’t know any better.
“We need a review of our criminal justice system, it’s failing our kids.
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“I grew up in a household full of domestic violence and drugs so I thought that behaviour was normal.
“I got kicked out of high school after two years and ended up in a pupil referral unit where they just teach you basic maths and English, so I left with no GCSES .”
The lack of youth clubs in parts of Halton Louis says, is also contributing to the knife crime epedemic.
He added: “There used to be a youth club on every estate and you had a relationship with your local bobby but now you’ve got kids that don’t know what the law is because they’ve never really seen it.”
Girls as young as seven have carried knives data shows
A series of Freedom of Information requests obtained by the BBC from 38 out of 39 police forces in England, have revealed a 73% increase in the number of women carrying knives across the country over the last five years.
These shocking statistics, show the number of female possession offences recorded by police between 2014 and 2018, with Merseyside Police recording 499 offences.
While London’s Metropolitan Police came top of the list with 916 possession cases involving women over the last five years, Merseyside saw these offences increase at a faster rate of 54%.
Offences by force
And the region was not alone, with other parts of the North including South Yorkshire experiencing a 82% rise during the same period, while offences in Greater Manchester doubled.
In total the figures show that between 2014 and 2018 more than 5,800 women carried knives in England - a rise of at least 10% a year.
The data also revealed how a quarter of recorded offences involved girls under the age of 18, with the youngest being seven years old – the BBC reports.
What is being done to tackle the issue?
Since the Live Your Life Drop the Knife campaign began back in September last year, Louis and his team have reduced knife crime in Halton by 32% through a series of workshops held in schools across Halton, aimed at educating girls and boys on the consequences of carrying a knife.
While other children have been directly referred to the team, including a group of 13 girls from schools across Halton who completed a 12 week programme on knife crime.
Louis said: “The 13 girls had all been identified as at risk of knife crime.
“We worked with them at a centre in Halton for 12 weeks where we looked step by step, at the dangers and consequences of carrying a knife.
“We offer help and support to those young people in order to reduce knife crime. We tackle mental health, bullying and problems happening at home, you never know what’s happening for that young person.”
He added: “It’s all about building a relationship with them so that they can trust you and making them as comfortable as possible.
Louis added: “Our relationship with the teenagers we work with is a voluntary one, so they don’t have to engage with us if they don’t want to.
“But we find that they open up to us a lot more and tell us things that they might not necessarily want to tell a teacher or a parent.”
“I’ve left a knife here can you go and get it”
One way these weapons have been recovered is through a text message service monitored by Louis and his colleague Vicki Shepherd, which people can message 24 hours a day for support.
Louis said: “We’ve had people messaging us saying I’ve left a knife in such a place can you go and get it.
“There’s been 14 messages like this so far. Some of them will say things like ‘I don’t to be involved with this anymore can you go and collect the knife.'”
Other weapon recoveries have been made during ‘weapon sweeps’ in conjunction with Cheshire Police , where the campaigners along with members of the community have searched different areas for knives.
So far the discoveries include two knives which were found in a shopping centre and others which were stashed or thrown into undergrowth.
Alongside the text message service, Louis and Vicki also run a 24 hour help line which people from anywhere can call.
The phone line which receives 10-15 calls a day, includes calls from teenagers in the middle of the night who have no one else to turn to.
A weekly youth club held by the campaigners on a Monday evening, has also seen 113 teenagers signing up so far.
Louis added: “When you see them going from zero to being a happy, smiling kid again it’s brilliant. Money can’t buy that feeling.
“We’ve had kids coming up to us after all the other kids have gone asking if we can help them with their maths.
“There is no better feeling than the moment a kid realises that they have potential.”
Other help that is being offered to people across Merseyside is provided by Alan Walsh and his team of professionals through the Real Men Don’t Carry Knives campaign.
As part of the campaign and an education programme called Pathways Liverpool – held in conjunction with Liverpool City Council , the team have visited every school in Liverpool, along with sports centres, community centres and youth clubs to crack down on knife crime.
Alan said:”There’s so many different reasons why young people carry knives so it’s all about taking a holistic approach.
“One thing doesn’t work with everyone because every person is different and we
“It’s about taking a holistic approach because one thing doesn’t work with everyone, every young person is different.”
This is what Merseyside Police had to say about the figures
Lead of knife crime in Merseyside, Superintendent Claire Jenkins of Merseyside Police , said: “The figures are quite startling but I think firstly we’ve got to understand the context that they are in which relates to the whole of those four years.
“Of the 499 crimes, half of those are domestic related. Domestic abuse is a very complex issue with lots of nuisances to understand.
“Some of those women offenders will be in a toxic relationship and are carrying a knife for self defence. While others may have reached breaking point.”
Superintendent Jenkins says a lot of the offences recorded over the last four years involve women carrying knives in their homes rather than out on the streets.
She added: “They are not all individuals who are carrying knives in public, a lot of it happens inside their own homes.
“It could be the spontaneous grab of a kitchen knife and it’s really important that this is reflected in those figures.”
In 2014, Merseyside Police recorded 20 offences of women carrying a knife in public, compared to 47 in 2018.
Superintended Jenkins, said: “Whilst these are what I would describe as low numbers we don’t want anyone to carry knives in the public domain. These are females who have been stopped by police and found with a knife.
“They might have been fleeing a domestic situation and are carrying it for protection. Women are coerced into carrying knives by gangs”
Aside from complex domestic issues, Merseyside Police have also found that women carry knives in public because they are less likely to be searched than men.
While a fear that other people are armed in the streets and on public transport is also contributing to the issue.
Superintendent Jenkins added: “There is evidence that females are less likely to be stop searched and stop checked so they can be coerced into carrying knives for individuals and gangs.
“Knife crime is really complex problem which takes a lot to understand.
“The University of Hull recently released figures which showed that a fear that people are carrying knives can lead to others carrying them.
“We’ve got a really vicious cycle of perception and to tackle this mindset that not everyone is carrying knife is huge.”
What Merseyside Police are doing to tackle knife crime
Merseyside Police have been working together with partners including the fire service, education services and probation, along with members of the community to understand why people are carrying knives in public.
This work includes acting on intelligence as part of Operation Target, which has seen over 400 weapon sweeps and land searches taking place over the last two months.
Knife arches have also been placed on a number of occasions in busy train stations such as Liverpool Central, Moorfields and Sandhills which members of the public are encouraged to walk through.
The aim of the arches is not only to identify those that are carrying a knife but also to reassure the public that people are not carrying knives on public transport.
A successful bid for more funding from the government has also enabled the force to increase the work they do with young people and in hotspot locations.
Lead on knife crime in Merseyside Superintendent Claire Jenkins , said: “We have used the additional funding to flood hotspot locations with additional staff and spread the message that we won’t tolerate young people carrying knives in public.
“The feedback we’ve had so far is that people do know that they are more likely to be stopped and searched.”
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“It is a long road and it really is about culturally sharing a message that not everyone is carrying a knife and that if you are you will be prosecuted.
“We act on a lot of intelligence that we receive from the public because they are the ones with the information.”
Anyone with information on a knife crime related incident can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously, on 0800 555 111 or via their online form at: https://crimestoppers-uk.org/give-information/give-information .
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