SOS Project Founder Junior Smart explains why victims are at the heart of the work and how the line between victim/perpetrator is not always as clear as it seems
Our work at St Giles Trust’s is all about the victims of crime. We are a charity working mainly with ex-offenders so this might seem like a paradox. However, every person we stop from re-offending prevents a future victim.
When I first established the SOS Project supporting young people in gangs, I had always been acutely aware that many of the young people who were unfortunately racking up multiple convictions were also those who were repeated victims. The line between victim and perpetrator – especially in the violent, exploitative world of gangs – is not clear cut. However, young people being controlled by fear do not report things to the police so these victims are often unseen until it is sadly too late.
And then there are those who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 2008 I met Grace Idowu whose son 14 year old son David had been the innocent victim of a senseless stabbing by another young person. Grace is inspirational. She has used this terrible loss to campaign against knife crime and street violence. Over the years, I have worked closely with Grace to help support the message she gives.
The voice of the victim is powerful and often overlooked. However, it can play an important role in reconciliation and prevention.
Figures tell us that if you live in a deprived community you are at in increased risk of becoming a victim as well as getting involved in criminality. This fosters an environment of vulnerability, poverty and lack of opportunity. Last year saw the largest number of young people killed through knife crime in the capital since 2011. Sadly, as I write this we are only 20 days in 2017 and already two young people have been killed.
We operate on the ground in these communities. We work hard to support the whole family as well as the young person who needs SOS’s help. That young person has often been the victim of a robbery which led him to carry a knife for protection. His family might be grieving the loss of the eldest son who was fatally stabbed. Sending people to prison in such situations is sticking a flimsy plaster on what are more fundamental issues.
SOS is working hard to give the victim a voice through inviting those who have lost loved ones to speak to young people at risk though our SOS+ sessions. Luckily the voice of the victim is starting to be heard.
Where it is given a platform, it can unite with those who have committed crime but want to turn their back on this life. Grace and many others like her – Ray and Vi Donovan and Estella and John ap Rhys Pryce – can give us a message of real hope.