Having been aware of the issue for some time, I was intrigued to see a report yesterday on the BBC website that the murder rate amongst teenagers has shown a sudden and dramatic drop. The report begins as follows:
The number of teenagers killed violently in the UK has fallen by 30% in one year, BBC research has found.
The BBC teen homicide database, which records murder and manslaughter cases, shows 51 10 to 19-year olds lost their lives in 2009 compared with 72 in 2008.
Most 2009 victims were male and half of all those killed were stabbed. Twelve were beaten and two were shot.
Police say anti-knife crime tactics explain the drop, but critics argue it is too early to make such conclusions.
Back in June I blogged about a possible increase in the number of teenagers committing murder. This article was the result of a hunch, based initially (as it happens) on reports from the BBC news website. Later in the year, however, I was able to obtain proper figures which showed a definite increase in the rate of teenagers convicted of murder, going back to some time in the mid 1990s. In many cases, the victims of these teenage murderers are also themselves teenagers. Hence the decline in teenage murders will probably also indicate a decline in teenage murderers.
Again based on the absence of news reports, I had begun to suspect that the number of murders involving teenagers had indeed declined this year, so this story is no great surprise. Indeed, it must be welcomed. As it indicates, however, there are a number of unanswered questions.
One is whether or not the decline will be sustained. The chart I produced from the figures supplied shows occasional dips as well as a gradual rise in the number of teenagers convicted of murder. However, it must be pointed out that murders by teenagers sometimes involve multiple perpetrators —ie they are instances of gang attacks —and so it might only take one or two fewer killings to produce a significant drop in the number of killers. Both the dips and the rises on this chart may be affected by this factor. By contrast, a large drop in the number of murders would, on the face of it, seem more significant, since single incidents rarely involve more than one victim.
The second question, posed in the BBC article itself, is what might have caused a decline. The police and Home Office point (unsurprisingly) to their own initiatives. Others suggest the informal counselling done by staff in hospital A and E departments.
For my own part, I wonder if the decline has been caused, actually, by teenagers. Young people have always had their own, informal but powerful, sub-culture, created by the things in which they take an interest —games, fashions, TV programmes, the internet and so on. People of my age well remember the seaside clashes of Mods and Rockers back in the ’60s. Then came the ‘Hippy’ movement and Flower Power. The fashions came and went, shaped by the trend-makers, but dependent, ultimately, on the young people themselves.
It would be no surprise to me if the teenage community simply decided it had had enough of violence —at least at the level sufficient to result in someone’s death. Maybe all those ‘shrines’ on Facebook and Myspace have had an effect. There is nothing quite as capable of bringing an end to a trend amongst young people as negative peer pressure. Certainly it would be worth investigating wether this might be so. I am much less easily convinced that it has been the result of anything said or done by adult ‘officialdom’!
Then there is the third, related, question, which is what caused (or, maybe, is still causing) the nevertheless high rate of these killings, for behind the apparent decrease is certainly a previous increase, as the figures show. Was this, too, a ‘fashion’, and if so, what drove it? Just as importantly, could it have been ‘nipped in the bud’ at an early stage?
Any decline in violence must be welcomed, but we should remember that there is still a subculture out there which, I suspect, would horrify most of us from more sheltered backgrounds.
John RichardsonAnonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.
24 December 2009
24 December 2009