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The Global Rise of Knife Crime

Written by: Robert Kaiser

The Global Rise of Knife Crime

I was 18 years old when I carried my first knife, 19 when I first used one, and 20 when I saw my first dead body, the victim of another edged weapon—a broken bottle. A few years later, I reached a crucial crossroads in life. One path led to continuing as I was, and the other to making significant changes. Fortunately, my government offered me an opportunity that led to a new sense of belonging, a new environment, and new people, though it required many sacrifices.

For the next two decades, I had the opportunity to learn and study the use of knives, and more importantly, the protection from them. As part of this journey, I trained hundreds of frontline professionals to understand the precise risks and detailed physical consequences of an edged weapon attack. In 2009, I founded PPSS Group, a company specialising in the engineering and supply of field-tested and operationally sound stab-resistant body armour and the highly acclaimed SlashPRO® Slash Resistant Clothing. My companies’ aim is to further protect frontline professionals from this specific threat.

Now before I go into some aspects of knife crimes and share my humble opinions on some points, let me state one single thing that is of utmost importance when facing anyone with a knife, even if he/she looks like he/she hasn’t got a clue what he/she is doing. Let me use the words of my friend Steve Collins, a man who established PS5 in 1986, a consultancy, providing training to the law enforcement, defence and the security sectors in countries around the world.

Steve once said:

“There are a handful of supremely skilled people out there that could disarm you, take your knife and stab you four times with it before you realised you weren’t holding the knife anymore, So, if you are faced with the horror of a real knife attack and, for whatever reason, have forgotten to put on your full medieval battle armour… then don’t be a mug… RUN AWAY!”

One got to understand that a hardly noticeable 1” (2.5cm) cut at the wrong place can well lead to rapid blood loss and subsequently be the final curtain in someone’s life, and those ‘wrong places’ are unfortunately, but most likely exposed in a close quarter combat situation… so yes… RUN AWAY if you can!

Just today, during my research for my forthcoming book NEVER A VICTIM – A Comprehensive Guide to Women’s Safety, I watched a brief video clip showing a group of men in a verbal argument. Virtually undetectable to the average person, one man suddenly pulled a small, concealed knife. In literally a split second, he cunningly, almost invisibly slid the knife between the legs of the man he was arguing with, who continued talking, totally unaware of the pool of blood forming at his feet. Twenty-five seconds later, the injured man collapsed and died. Unbeknownst to him, his femoral artery had been severed, causing him to bleed out. The simplicity and speed of a knife attack can indeed be incomprehensible to most people.

However, running away is sadly not always an option. This fact will most likely be dictated by two two factors, one being your profession and the other being your environment.

This article will highlight the extreme global problem posed by edged weapons. I recall many conversations from years ago when people believed that only guns could kill and that knives weren’t involved in multiple or mass killings. History has proven them wrong. Here are just a few very recent headlines of some horrendous violent incidents involving edged weapons from around the world.. These examples illustrate that this is a global issue, not limited to any specific belief, language, culture, or country—though we must acknowledge that certain Central American countries have topped the ‘homicide per capita’ list for several years now.

Why the increase in such violent crime?

In his 2010 book “Knife Crime: The Law of the Blade”, John McShane compiles a catalogue of the UK’s most high-profile knife murders over the last few years. Describing the 1995 murder of Philip Lawrence, McShane declares that it marked “the dawn of an age when the response to a confrontation was no longer verbal or even rough physicality. Instead it was the quick, uncaring thrust of a blade from a feral youth lacking compassion or morality, thinking only of himself and nothing of the havoc caused to those in his way or their loved ones.”

There is no question that we live in a society where individuals care less for each other than they used to, and a lack of compassion is evident in parts of today’s world.

Every time someone commits murder or assault by bodily contact, whether by choking, beating, or stabbing—it reflects a level of rage and often a personal connection to the victim. Most certainly, it also indicates an incredible lack of compassion.

Stabbing someone is a close, face-to-face act. It’s extremely graphic and tells an emotional story of hate or rage. I believe more people are becoming increasingly angry and frustrated with life in general, bringing them closer to the stage of ‘rage’ from the outset. Humans can be seen as ‘pressure cookers’. Many people today are under financial, emotional, mental, or physical pressure. Each person can only handle so much pressure (some more than others), but ultimately, many will ‘blow up’ if they haven’t learned to ‘let off steam’ in a controlled manner or find a balanced and satisfying lifestyle.

Many of these individuals have ‘exploded’, acting out of anger, hate, disappointment, or frustration. They were unable to control themselves or chose not to. This is not about right or wrong but about understanding why it happens.

Personally, I believe five key factors significantly contribute to the increase in violent crimes involving edged weapons.

knife crime - reasons

  1. Religious/Political Extremism – If you are so totally misguided and so extremely blinded, and truly believe that harming or killing others is the absolute only way you can reach happiness/fulfilment or reach your ultimate goal (whatever that might be)… then you are unlikely to stop from ‘proceeding’ with your action.
  2. Drugs – the production of, the trafficking of, and the dealing with drugs has always and will always bring violence along. It simply comes as a ‘package’. One cannot produce, transport and deal with drugs without enforcing certain aspects during the process. Guns have been used a lot in the past and are still weapon of choice in some regions, but in more and more countries we can already and will continue to identify a shift moving to the use of edged weapon during above, and I will highlight in a second why that is.
  3. Poverty & Social Exclusion – Knife crime and the carrying of knives are without any question symptoms of a broad social problem. Knife crime is mostly present in the poorest and most deprived places where violence is a clear sign of deeper problems such as poverty and social exclusion. That subsequent missing ‘sense of belonging’ often leads to the desire of wanting to become a member of a gang, which ultimately leads to the need of carrying and ultimately using a knife.
  4. Social Media – yes, this has also been blamed for the increase in knife crime, with some experts arguing that social media means everything to these knife carrying criminals. Some even say there might have been situations in the past where someone would have walked away and backed down, but now people are recording these attacks and videos of major knife attacks. These videos are being streamed millions of times, offering each and every one that ‘minutes of fame’ and more ‘followers’, and in their opinion that much craved for ‘respect’ and fear of them.
  5. Serious Mental Illness – Many of those who have been responsible for multiple killings using edged weapons have been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses before or after the killings. I remember the particular case of Ashleigh Ewing very well. Ashleigh was a 22-year-old mental health worker, stabbed 39 times in a frenzied knife attack by a paranoid schizophrenic she visited in Newcastle. I have used this rather shocking example in several training events for ‘lone workers’, especially those working alone and entering the homes of others (health care, utility, housing, estate agencies and social services to name but a few).

But why the clear shift from guns to knives?

In many countries, guns are illegal. The sale, purchase, export, import, carrying, and transport of firearms come with significant risks. Due to the threat of global terrorism, intelligence services and law enforcement agencies closely monitor anything metal that fires rounds designed to kill. The risk of arrest during the purchase, sale, or transport of firearms is too high for most terrorists, criminals, or ‘pressure cookers.’

However, such individuals can simply go home, grab a kitchen knife, and return to the scene of their anger and hate, using the only method they believe is right at that moment.

This ‘grab a kitchen knife’ scenario is also relevant to the rise in global terrorism involving edged weapons. Stringent firearm controls in Europe and other regions, combined with the minimal planning required for a knife attack, have made knives the weapon of choice for many so-called “lone-wolf” attackers.

Knives are widely available, and this is unlikely to change, regardless of future laws. We cannot prevent people from entering a kitchen or local hardware store, grabbing a knife (or screwdriver), and randomly stabbing others. If someone intends to cause harm with a knife or edged weapon, intelligence services and law enforcement agencies will always struggle to prevent such atrocities.

Knives are also much easier to conceal. The desire to conceal a weapon stems from the fact that carrying an offensive weapon is a crime in many countries, and individuals wish to avoid detection and arrest. A knife is easier to conceal than a firearm, leading more criminals to switch from guns to knives. The desire of certain military or government personnel to carry a concealed weapon, such as a knife, is, of course, different in nature.

Another reason why more people choose knives over guns for killing is straightforward: they couldn’t get a gun. It is very difficult to obtain a gun in most countries, and even in countries where guns are available, the chance of purchasing one with a criminal record is nearly zero or certainly not without significant risk.

My final reason why I believe knives are being used more and more is the ‘no training required’ aspect. To purchase a firearm is one thing… to fire a gun and hitting a potentially moving target from a reasonable distance to avoid identification and arrest is a completely matter altogether. A knife is easy to use. It almost doesn’t matter where you stab that body… it will hurt a lot and potentially kill that person (subject to the point of entry, depth of the wound, and number of stabs). Having looked and studied countless of edged weapon attacks and very much understanding this subject matter, I know that some attackers completely ‘got lost’ during the attack, and in total rage ended up stabbing the victim 100+ times in an extremely short period of time. Two of the last so called ‘feral’ knife attacks in the UK took place in September 2016 when Jamiv Usman attacked his 19-year young girlfriend and stabbed her more than 100 times. On Christmas Day 2017, a 72-year old pensioner was murdered when he was stabbed nearly 100 times in his back.

The speed of a stabbing attack can be truly shocking. Most readers would not believe the potential ‘speed of motion’ in such vicious attack, and it is that ‘speed of motion’ that makes the subject of ‘knife defence’ so complex. I genuinely believe that over 98% of those so-called experts who teach or train others in what is in their opinion ‘effective knife defence’ shouldn’t be doing that. And the remaining 2% I would like to refer to as the ‘good guys’ will probably agree with me on this % split.

Protection from a knife attack

I had and have no intentions to turn this article into a ‘self-defence’ article, but in regard to the protection from knives, all real experts will agree on one thing: It is something that is close to impossible, and it takes incredible skill, training and a hell lots of confidence.

‘Knife defence’ is a subject that has been extensively discussed on every digital and social media platform. Unfortunately, many discussions are led by individuals I would describe as narcissistic idiots, clowns, and individuals who love the sound of their own voices.

Let us deal with facts. The reality is that a knife is one of the most dangerous weapons a person can face. A knife turns even the most unskilled person into a potential murderer, and they are readily available online or at any hardware, hunting, or tactical store. Even your own kitchen likely contains an arsenal of knives that, in the wrong hands, can become lethal tools.

Knives are extremely challenging to defend against, first because they are easy for any attacker to conceal, but primarily due to the following three key factors:

  1. Proximity and Speed: Knife attacks usually occur at close quarters, giving the attacker the advantage of being within striking distance. This proximity reduces your time to react effectively. Random knife attacks by strangers are often swift and unexpected, making them difficult to anticipate. However, an abusive partner, ex-partner, or stalker holding a knife and threatening you gives you time to think and respond more effectively. There are vast differences in what a knife attack can entail.
  2. Risk of Injuries: A knife is a highly lethal weapon capable of causing severe injury or death with a single strike, regardless of the assailant’s intentions. Even a small knife in the hands of an inexperienced attacker can inflict serious harm or accidental death, amplifying the psychological challenge of defending against such an assailant.
  3. Unpredictable Patterns: Knife attacks lack predictable patterns. The movements of a knife-wielding attacker can be erratic, making it challenging to respond effectively.

Not many who have been in a knife fight have not been cut and injured at all. So, you may well have to accept that. The key is to survive such attack, not to remain injury free. Considering the highlighted factors, it is crucial to prioritise your personal safety when faced with an assailant armed with a knife. Not many who have been in a knife fight have not been cut and injured at all. So, you may well have to accept that. The key is to survive such attack, not to remain injury free. And how do we do that? In a ‘dream world’ the rules of engagement are rather simple…

  1. RUN AWAY – if you can… run… run as fast as possible!
  2. FILL THE SPACE – the good thing about a knife is you can physically not get killed by such weapon from a distance exceeding approximately 5 feet. So, think very very carefully what you do to keep ‘that distance’. As soon as you see any edged weapon, blade, or knife, look for anything you can do to prevent the attacker from closing this gap. Your ability of securing this gap will most likely have a fundamental impact on your chance of survival. During a large scale attack in a city centre, I urge you to act fast. Consider throwing scorching hot water or drinks, or blistering hot oil from any café/bar/restaurant/take-away at the attacker, or any chairs, tables, plates, mugs, or glasses. The more of you there are… the more things you throw… the harder the things you are throwing… the better it is. Come together as a group and work together. You are so much more powerful as a unit. If time is on your side and you can see a fire extinguisher, then grab it and use it against the assailant. Not only can it make for a terrific way to distract and/or conceal, but it can also be used as an effective weapon to defend yourself. Most people would not think of using a fire extinguisher for self-defence, but both CO2 and dry chemical fire extinguishers make good non-lethal weapons, as they will highly likely and immediately incapacitate a person because they suffocate. The instructions are easy. Simply pull, aim, squeeze, and sweep. Tactics-wise, simply engage with your assailant, continue spraying, get closer and more personal (if necessary), and, if you believe it is necessary, strike him hard with the fire extinguisher, preferably just once. Even a shopping trolley can be used to ‘protect your personal space’ and so can be any large signage, advertising boards, cars or any other large solid object. Create a barrier between yourself and the attacker. In your home, this could be a large table, your kitchen island, or a room door you can lock behind you. Remember, a knife can only harm you if the attacker is within a few feet. Also… and that is critical to understand… the attacker is ultimately just another human being who will experience excruciating pain and bleed profusely when hit by hard objects, just like you and me. Bear this always in mind!
  3. PROTECT YOUR VITAL ORGANS AND ARTERIESstab resistant vests and slash resistant clothing would, without any question, be of great benefits, but the reality is you might not have that kit available when such incidents occurs, and you might have to deal with the situation as it is.
  4. DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO STOP THE ATTACKER – I will not go into the subject of ‘self-defence’ here, as I strongly believe to do so in just a couple of sentences would be extremely irresponsible. But, whatever you do, grabbing the person’s knife should NOT be your main objective and trying to disarm the person would NOT be my first choice neither. You have to pay attention to his current ‘ability’ to use that knife, and your single objective must be to turn this ‘ability’ into ‘inability’… whatever it takes. The level of viciousness, brutality, and clinical violence YOU will be required to display may well be in conflict with your current moral compass.

I often see and read comments online about knife attacks. Yes, most knife attacks are ambushes, but this is primarily the case when gang members aim to eliminate each other, psychopathic monsters decide to kill, or hateful individuals believe killing is the only way to reach their objectives.

In many cases your enhanced self-awareness, situational awareness, behavioural awareness, and environmental awareness, will be superb tools helping you to avoid and prevent such attack.

Robert Kaiser, CEO

PPSS Group

28 November 2018 | Updated 10 June 2024

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