Dr Junior Smart, Founder of St Giles Trust’s SOS Project, has been at the forefront of campaigning for support for young people who are involved in and victims of gang exploitation and serious violence. Here he explains why he is backing a public health approach to tackling the devastating rise in knife crime.
“At time of writing, there have already been 119 murders in the capital so far this year. With seven weeks to go until 2019, this year’s figure looks set to exceed the 123 people tragically killed in 2017. Every killing is heartbreaking – a human being with hopes, loves and aspirations. It is simply wrong for a parent to bury their child from such violence.
Much has been said about lack of policing on our streets but the solution does not simply lie with increasing police numbers. Like us, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has embraced a public health approach to tackling violent crime which deals with root causes. He has also rightly highlighted that it will take many years to bring about real change in much the same way that it takes many years to tackle deep rooted issues such as racism and gender inequality. The scars of the recent waves of violence will be with us for many years as communities and individuals come to terms with their losses.
Here is where our work can make a real difference in helping young people realise aspirations and ambitions beyond crime, violence and exploitation. This is tough work given the context in which the violence is taking place. Austerity has meant a generation of disadvantaged young people feel that mainstream opportunities are inaccessible and so they are creating their own. The myths put out on social media glamourising drugs and violence offer an alluring but deadly alternative. Our role is to expose these lies and help them realise positive opportunities. Research from the Royal London Hospital, where we work with young patients admitted as a result of serious violence, has shown that victims are getting younger. This tragic finding makes the need for action and solutions even more critical.
Behind the bravado and posturing, young people are very scared. Growing up in a culture of terror could mean a generation of traumatised, angry adults. Our team of professionally trained individuals who themselves have had experience of this life can reach the most excluded young people and share their expertise with other professionals. We have a real opportunity to draw a line under the tragedies and create peace on our streets. For all our sakes, let’s seize this and let young people grow up in an environment where they have a long and happy future ahead.”
Dr Junior Smart
Founder, SOS Project