The rise of knife crime is now an international issue and reports of stabbings in the news increases fear and worry in communities. But, there is nothing new about knife crime: sharp objects, blades and knives have been used as weapons for thousands of years. But why is knife crime around the world rising again?
I was 18 years old when I carried my first knife, I was 19 years old when I first used a knife and I was 20 years old when I looked at the first dead human body, whose life was ended by another type of edged weapon… a broken bottle. Then, I guess, I ultimately arrived at that ‘T-junction’ in life where you either turn left and continue on your path, or you turn right and make significant changes in your life.
The following two decades I spent learning and studying the use of knives and more importantly the defence from such weapon, and as part of this journey I ended up training hundreds of frontline professionals in understanding the precise risks and detailed physical aspects and consequences of an ‘edged weapon attack’. In 2009 I decided to set up PPSS Group, a dedicated company, engineering and supplying specialised PPE, with the aim to protect frontline professionals further 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 Steve Collins, a man who established PS5 in 1986, now an internationally recognised consultancy, providing training to the law enforcement, defence and the security sectors in countries around the world.
Collins 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!”
A brief, simple, yet awesome video, was produced by an American soldier on YouTube recently:
The simplicity of both, Steve Collins’ statement and this brief video clip is precisely where I stand when it comes to the question “what is the best knife defence”.
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!
Moving on from that, we do however also need to understand that running away is not always possible. This fact will most likely be dictated by two factors, one being your profession and the other being your environment.
The following will highlight the extreme global problem edged weapon represent. I remember the many conversations I had with others many years ago. People used to be of the opinion that only guns kill, and knives don’t play a role in multiple/mass killings. History has proven these people wrong I guess. Let me highlight just a few headlines and dates of some rather horrendous violent incidents involving edged weapons from around the world, helping us to understand that it is a global issue, not limited to a certain belief, language, culture or country (although we have to accept that certain Central American countries have been leading the table of ‘homicide per capita’ for several years now).
But let’s start with one country we don’t hear too much about in our local media in terms of knife crime/violence, China!
- 2014 – 33 people were killed and 130 more were injured when a group of men coordinated a terror attack using knives at a train station in southwest China’s Yunnan Province.
- 2015 – 50 workers at a Chinese coal mine were killed in a coordinated knife attack. Fifty more workers were injured.
- 2016 – a man killed 15 people and injured 45 in a facility for the disabled, then later surrendered himself to police.
- 2016 – a man in the southern province of Hainan stabbed 10 children before killing himself.
- 2017 – 18 people walking down a city street were injured when a man attacked them with a knife
- 2017 – 13 people were seriously injured by a knife-wielding assailant at a shopping mall in Beijing. One woman died from her injuries.
But let’s not pick on the Chinese and establish that other countries share this new global risk/threat:
- In 2016, two soldiers were attacked by a man with a knife in Belgium, and a few months ago, a prisoner on a day holiday stabbed two police officers before taking their guns and shooting them. On the 20th November this year (2018) a police officer attacked by knife-wielding man outside police station in Brussels.
- Germany: Newspapers also reported about a serious increase in knife crime, telling us that “…more than 1,600 knife-related crimes were reported in Germany during just the first five months of 2017, an average of 300 each month, or 10 each day.” On the 20th July this year (2018), at least 14 people have reportedly been wounded, two of them seriously, in a knife attack on a bus in Lubeck, Germany.
- United Kingdom: The 250th fatal stabbing in the UK was recorded on the 7th November when a 16 years young male lost his life. On the 24th November, the day I started to further edit my article, a police officer has been stabbed in an “unprovoked attack” outside a train station in east London. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the 14,987 knife crimes in the year until the end of June was a 15 percent rise compared to the previous 12 months. According to different sources the total number of offences involving a knife or bladed instrument that have been recorded by cops in the year to March 2018 rose to 40,147, a seven-year-high.
- Canada: In 2016 a University professor was stabbed and killed while out for an evening walk. A woman was knifed to death in an underground Shoppers Drug Mart, and two soldiers were slashed and injured at a military recruitment centre. In September 2017 a grandfather was viciously stabbed almost 100 times by a knife-wielding stranger on the street in broad daylight. At least five people took videos of the horrifying sight.
- France: On the 13th May of this year, four people were injured and one was killed when a knife-wielding assailant shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ attacked them in Paris. Another incident that made the news in France was when seven people were injured, by a man wielding a knife and an iron bar.
- Australia: On the 9th November, a man set a car on fire and stabbed three people in Melbourne, one fatally. He died in hospital after being shot by police.
- Israel: Only a very few days ago, on the 14th November, a terrorist wounds seven police officers in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem.
During the process of me writing this article, this list has been shortened again, again and again. The original version I had created was substantially longer.
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.”
Well, there is no question about it, we do live in a society where individuals care far less for each other than they used to, and one can also identify a lack of compassion in parts of today’s world.
Every time somebody commits a murder or assault, by making bodily contact, by choking, beating or in these cases by stabbing others to death, it always speaks of a level of rage and sometimes even a personal connection to the victim, but it most certainly also reflects an incredible lack of compassion.
When you are stabbing someone, it’s close and in your face. The experience is extremely graphic; it somehow tells an emotional story of hate or rage, and I do believe that more and more people are becoming more and more angry and frustrated with life in general (and somehow that brings them that bit closer to the stage of ‘rage’ from the offset)… rightly or wrongly. I look at humans and see them as ‘pressure cookers’. Many people in today’s society are under pressure, financially, emotionally, mentally or physically. A person can however only take x amount of pressure (some can of course take more than others) but ultimately many/most humans can ‘blow up’ if they haven’t learned to ‘let steam off’ in a controlled manner and in an environment where no harm can be done, or by finding a more balanced and satisfying life style in the first place.
Many of those individuals have ‘exploded’ and taken action ignited by additional anger, hate, disappointment or frustration. They were unable to control themselves or simply chose not to. This is not an argument about right or wrong. It is just about finding answers to ‘why does it happen?’
Personally, I believe that five things in particular are a massive contributing factor to the increase of violent crimes involving edged weapons.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 most countries guns are illegal. Selling or buying firearms, exporting or importing firearms, carrying or transporting them comes with a real risk these days. Due to the threat of global terrorism, Intelligence Services and Law Enforcement Agencies around the world keeping a very close eyes on everything metal that fires rounds aiming to kill people. The risk of being arrested during the purchase/sales/transport of firearms is just too high for most terrorists, criminals or ‘pressure cookers’.
However, one of these individuals just needs to go home grab a kitchen knife and return to the place of anger and hate, in order to deal with others in the only way he/she believes is right at that moment in time.
This ‘grab a kitchen knife’ point is also of great relevance in terms of the recent rise of global terrorism utilising edged weapon. Due to the stringent firearm controls in Europe and other regions, and the low planning required to conduct a knife attack whether against an individual or mass group), knives have recently become the weapon of choice for many so called “lone-wolf” attackers.
Knives are commonly available, and this is not going to change, no matter what the law says or will say in the future. We cannot stop people from walking into the kitchen or the local hardware store, grabbing a knife (or screwdriver) and randomly stab other human beings. If one has the intentions to cause harm to others using a knife or edged weapon, then Intelligence Services and Law Enforcement Agencies will always struggle to prevent such atrocity.
Knives are also much more concealable. The desire of people to want to conceal their weapon is based on the fact that it is a crime in many countries to carry an offensive weapon and they wish to avoid detection an arrest. A knife is easier to conceal than a firearm, hence more criminals move from carrying firearms to carrying knives. The desire for certain military or government personnel to carry a concealed weapon e.g. knife is of course of a different nature.
A further reason why more and more people chose the knife over a gun when killing another human is a rather simple one. They couldn’t get a gun! It is very difficult to get a gun in most countries, and even if you live in a country where guns are available… the chance of purchasing a firearm if you have a criminal record is close to zero or certainly not ‘risk free’.
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 the 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 likely kill that person (subject to the point of entry or 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.
Defending against a knife attack
I had and have no intentions to turn this article into a ‘self-defence’ article, but in regard to the defence of 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.
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…
- RUN AWAY – if you can… run… run as fast as possible!
- FILL THE SPACE – the good thing about a knife is you cannot get killed by such weapon from a certain distance. So, think very very carefully what you do to keep ‘that distance’. Anything you can do to prevent the attacker from closing this gap is a positive. It certainly will give you time, potentially enough time allowing others to assist you. Your ability of securing this gap will most likely have a fundamental impact on your chance of survival. Consider throwing things at the attacker (during a large scale attack in a city centre… scorching hot water from any café/bar/restaurant can be an extremely powerful weapon in that moment). The recent knife incident in Melbourne highlighted that even a shopping trolley can be used to ‘protect that gap’.
- PROTECT YOUR VITAL ORGANS AND ARTERIES – stab 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.
- 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 shouldn’t be your main objective and trying to disarm the person wouldn’t 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!
Robert Kaiser is the CEO of PPSS Group, an international firm, specialised in the design, manufacturing and supply of high performance stab resistant vests and slash resistant clothing. His company’s mission statement is “protecting frontline professionals from human threats”. Robert’s own experience and understanding of real operational risks and threats, and his desire to further improve the personal safety of homeland security agents is respected around the world. He is a consultant, expert speaker and author working with some of the industry leading homeland security publications, associations and conferences.