Let’s be clear, we are not ‘drowning in a tidal wave of youth violence and knife crime’. However, there continues to be irresponsible reporting happening, shaping public opinion and alienating young people in the process. With that said, we can’t ignore that youth violence is the third leading cause of death for young people in the UK. One argument is that death in such circumstances can occur because people are unsure of what to do in an emergency. Crucially targeted work – with those who are most at risk of being both perpetrators and victims – can help to reduce the prevalence and consequences of youth violence.
StreetDoctors is a national network of medical students and junior doctors working to reduce such incidents of youth violence occurring. They teach young people at high risk of violence, emergency life-saving skills and the true potential medical consequences of violent injury. Here people’s attitudes to violence are challenged.
For some young people there is a perception that it is safe to stab someone in certain areas of the body and, it has been argued, many young people are unaware of the potentially life-changing impacts of a non-fatal stabbing. It involves promoting a positive mind-set through mentorship, enabling the past of young people to not define their futures.
The organisation was established in 2008 and by 2013 was a registered charity. It was set up due to concerns that high numbers of young people had witnessed a stabbing or shooting, or had been a victim of crime themselves.
The charity educates young people who are likely to witness violent incidents how to call for help and what to do before professionals arrive. It is common knowledge that young people are significantly more likely than the general population to be both victims and perpetrators of violence . They may be caught up in situations where violence feels like the only option.
Young people have shared their experiences of taking part in such focussed sessions:
- 93.4% of those surveyed strongly agreed or agreed that at the end of the session they understood the consequences of violence (n = 1,442).
- 94.0% of those surveyed strongly agreed or agreed that at the end of the session they knew what to do when someone was bleeding or unconscious (n = 1,938).
- 85.9% of those surveyed strongly agreed or agreed that they would be willing to act in a medical emergency where someone was bleeding or unconscious (n = 1,442).
StreetDoctors conduct case studies into some of the young people they work with. Here are just two incidents where the young people in the sessions have been exposed to violence, and how a StreetDoctors session affected them. The case studies below are just two of a number kindly provided to me by Jo Broadwood, CEO and Sam Jackson, Medical Director, at StreetDoctors:
One young person Joel had heard reports of a man who had his hand cut off in a revenge attack for an affair. He also knew about three ‘kids’ who had repeatedly kicked a homeless man to death. Joel does not feel Liverpool is a safe place to grow up. He says StreetDoctors greatly increased the chances of him helping someone who is bleeding or unconscious, and that the teaching session was much better that he was expecting.
Hannah, the youngest of the group, did not have any experiences of violence or crime. She was extremely engaged with the sessions, to the point where she was asked jokingly by a member of the YOT team to let someone else have a go. When asked if she feels safe growing up in Liverpool she was not sure. She said StreetDoctors did make her more likely to act if an emergency presented itself, and that she hopes one day to become a midwife.
Sean Creaney is a Lecturer in Psychosocial Analysis of Offending Behaviour in the Faculty of Health & Social Care at Edge Hill University. He is a former Trustee at the National Association for Youth Justice. He is currently an advisor at the social justice charity Peer Power, and a PhD candidate at Liverpool John Moores University. He also writes The Youth Justice Blog in Children and Young People Now.