Headlines, knives and kneejerk reactions

Last week the Office for National Statistics in the UK published its latest Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). This regular publication does not normally merit much public comment in the media unless a politician seizes upon it to argue that crime is continuing to fall, but the July 16 2015 release made the headlines because of an apparent increase in offences involving sharp weapons.

First Knife Crime Rise in four years proclaimed the BBC.

The Daily Mail let us know that Dramatic rise in knife crime is down to a fall in stop and search, says Met chief Hogan-Howe 

Knife crime in England and Wales up for first time in four years cried the Guardian.

The question I’ve been asked is that with this frightening increase in knife crime, should we change our training to focus more on edged weapon awareness and blade defences?

Actually that’s not true, no-one’s asked me if they should do more edged weapon awareness, they just want blade defences.


Reality check.

Have there been more recorded offences involving edged weapons? Yes. According to the CSEW

“In the year ending March 2015, the police recorded 26,370 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument, a 2% increase compared with the previous year (25,974, Table 9a). This is the first year in which these figures have increased since 2010/11 (the earliest period for which data are directly comparable).”

Knife crime 1415

However, before we panic we should bear in mind two things. Firstly the low numbers involved mean that they are susceptible to high percentage changes. The CSEW itself notes that
“For some offence types, such as rape and sexual assault, the relatively low number of offences, that involve the use of a knife or sharp instrument means the volume of these offences are subject to apparent large percentage changes, and should be interpreted with caution. For example, in the year ending March 2015, the number of sexual assaults involving a knife or sharp instrument increased by 28% (an additional 28 offences compared to the 101 recorded in the previous year) and the number of rapes involving knife or sharp instrument increased by 21% (an additional 55 offences compared to the 267 recorded in the previous year).”

Secondly, although we have yet to get fully comparable data, the evidence from hospital admission data indicates that this rise in use has not been mirrored with a rise in injuries. The CSEW records that

“An additional source of information about incidents involving knives and sharp instruments is provided by provisional National Health Service (NHS) hospital admission statistics5. Admissions for assault with a sharp instrument peaked at 5,720 in 2006/07. Admissions have declined since that year; the latest data available, for the year ending March 2014, showed that there were 3,654 admissions, a 5% decrease on the previous year. Admissions for assault with a sharp instrument in 2013/14 were the lowest since 2002/03.”

Knife crime is up, slightly. Deaths from blade usage is down. So have the general populace of England and Wales suddenly become better at defending themselves against knives? No. Defending against a knife is not easy. Training to defend against a knife can have validity, but it is not a simple process.

If a person intends to use a knife, as opposed to using it as an effective tool for coercion and intimidation in robbery or sexual assault, the odds are you won’t even see it.

If we need to do anything ‘new’ as a result of this year’s fresh statistics it is to improve our behaviour. Prevention is better than cure. Some events are so random that they cannot be avoided, but good awareness and good behaviour go a long way to avoiding becoming a crime statistic. As Gichin Funakoshi wrote in his 20 precepts

When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you. It is your behaviour that invites trouble from them.


  1. […] Headlines, knives and kneejerk reactions […]

  2. […] can find one of my articles in Jissen and in my book Karate and Self Defence, and another here on Headlines, knives and kneejerk reactions. While a significant problem, knife crime still makes up only a small proportion of overall violent […]

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