It must be said before we go on, that 'Moral Panic' doesn't necessarily refer to things that aren't happening at all, but often refers to things that are happening, and that have been exaggerated beyond the level of threat they pose.
I haven't posted much about this, since it has been done very well elsewhere. Sunny has a good post up at CiF, Septicisle, John Band and Anton Vowl also have good takes (actually, John Band has a couple), and Mark Easton of the BBC has two great posts on his blog. There isn't an awful lot left for me to say.
But I do have a couple of things to add. You'll be hearing the figure of 14,000 stab victims a year being taken to hospital all over the press. A figure that seems to have originated at the Independent. As Mark Easton points out - this figure not only includes people assaulted with a sharp object, but manages to include people injured as a result of coming into contact with a knife, sword or dagger by accident. Take those out and you remove nearly half of the Indy's 14,000 figure.
Of course, I understand that some people who have been assaulted with a knife will lie about it being an accident - but there is no way no how that everyone injured by sharp things are pretending they've not been stabbed. Just adding these together and shouting about 14,000 knife victims is something I'd have associated with the Mail or the Express rather than the Independent, but there you go.
Mark Easton says this:
A trawl through the hospital figures for all age groups strongly suggests that knife crime is rising: a total of 5,700 admissions for "assault by sharp object" in 2007 compared with just under 4,000 a decade earlier.But have a look at the figures from 1998/99 (PDF), and check the methodology at the top of the report. You'll see these things:
For the 1998/99 financial year, Hospital Episodes Statistics (HES) has collected nearly 12 million records detailing episodes of in-patient treatment delivered by NHS hospitals in England.and:
The HES database is assembled from records originally generated by the patient administration systems within nearly four hundred separate NHS Trusts.Now have a look at the methodology of the 2006/07 data (PDF), where you'll see these things:
For the 2006-07 financial year, Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) has collected more than 15 million records detailing episodes of admitted patient care delivered by NHS hospitals in England.and:
The HES database is assembled from records originally generated by the patient administration systems within over five hundred separate English NHS trusts and independent sector organisations.So, the new data records three million more incidents from over 100 more NHS trusts. Surely, that accounts for some of the increase, even if it doesn't account for all of it. Maybe that's why the NHS data includes this disclaimer:
You must exercise great care when comparing HES figures for different years. Fluctuations in the data can occur for a number of reasons, eg organisational changes, reviews of best practice within the medical community, the adoption of new coding schemes and data quality problems that are often year specific. These variations can lead to false assumptions about trends. We advise users of time series data to carefully explore the relevant issues before drawing any conclusions about the reasons for year-on-year changes.Sod that - 14,000 KNIFE VICTIMS! SHIT YOURSELF RIGHT NOW!
Another stat that has popped up has been in the Daily Mail. According to the Mail, it has 'Revealed: The truth about knife crime - it has soared by 35 per cent in some parts of Britain'. The story includes a handy Daily Mail table - hurrah! - that reveals that in more than half of the police forces in England & Wales, the number of knife crimes actually dropped.
18 of them recorded a drop, 2 remained the same and 14 got worse. Of those 14, only 4 recorded a rise of 35% or more, and that includes Cumbria, which went up from 8 to 13, and North wales, which went up from 14 to 29. A more accurate headline would be 'The truth about knife crime - it has dropped in most parts of the country'. Sod that - KNIFE CRIME SOARS! SHIT YOURSELF RIGHT NOW!
There is one other factor in these figures - the Mail is comparing stats from last January - March with this April - June. It may be the case that the differences in rates are accounted for by seasonal difference, or it may not. One thing's for sure, since this is the paper that's given to distorting figures to make them as shocking as possible, I would be quite surprised if I found out that a straight seasonal comparison was as shocking as the figures the paper did use.
It's incredibly difficult to guage the extent of the problem in amongst the flurry of skewed statistics and shouty headlines we're seeing at the moment. With even the Independent joining in with the hyperbole and hysteria, how can anyone actually arrive at a proper considered conclusion?
Is knife crime rising in some places? Sure. Does this fact deserve media coverage? Definitely. Are knife victims getting younger? Most probably. Is it a crisis that deserves drastic measures like curfews and automatic imprisonment for anyone carrying a knife, nationwide? Difficult to say, but probably not.
Neil Clark has a not very good piece up over at CiF, in which he makes this great point, made entirely of straw:
By denying the scale of the problem, and pretending that rising violent crime is an invention of rightwing tabloids, the liberal-left are, in effect, defending a society that is far from being a progressive, leftist model.Now, I can't claim to speak for the liberal-left (or Sunny Hundal, who Clark is mainly talking about) but I am not denying the scale of the problem - I'm trying to find out what the scale of the problem is. I'm not pretending that rising violent crime is an invention of the rightwing tabloids - I'm questioning whether anyone - including the left wing broadsheets - are giving an accurate representation of one specific element of violent crime. From my reading of Sunny's piece, I think he is too.
You would have thought the liberal-left would be attacking – and not defending such an atomised and dysfunctional society.That's a bit of a leap. In any case - questioning whether current media coverage of a specific area of crime is accurate is not the same as defending an 'atomised and dysfunctional society', or 'defending a society that is far from being a progressive, leftist model'. It's questioning whether current media coverage of a specific area of crime is accurate. That's all.
I would have hoped that the liberal-left - and everyone else for that matter - would want to base their view of the world and the problems faced by society on as accurate evidence as possible. Not just jump on the latest bit of media hyperbole as a springboard to political grandstanding, whatever side they were on. But I'm naive like that.
*UPDATE*Excellent article over at the BBC - 'Is knife crime really increasing?', which includes this:
Doug Sharp, professor of criminal justice at Birmingham City University, said knives had been a problem for many years in cities such as Glasgow.Seems to sum it up. Knife crime doesn't seem to be soaring, but it looks as though more young people are carrying. Sod that - YOU WILLGET STABBED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT! SHIT YOURSELFRIGHT NOW!
He said it was hard to know if things really were worse today.
"It's very difficult to say in terms of absolute numbers, because it's only very recently that we've started to keep statistics that are specific on knife-related violence.
"Previously the weapon would only have featured in the charge.
"What we do know is that in the Metropolitan area [London] recorded incidents of knife crime are lower this year than at the same point last year.
"In terms of the prevalence of knife crime, we do know anecdotally and from research in respect of young people and gangs in certain parts of the UK, knives have been a problem for many, many years.
"The use of knives and their use by violent men goes back to the turn of the 20th Century."
Prof Sharp said many current problems related to the fact that more young people were carrying weapons.
"We do have a very specific problem today and a problem we should be seriously worried about.
"Research that I and some others have done show that knives are being carried more by young people.
"It's more likely that young people, who are faced with a situation when threatened, are likely to draw their knife."