Written by Geneva Abdul
In an attempt to tackle domestic violence, the police in a British county came up with a startling plan: Replace the sharp knives in victims’ kitchens with blunt-tipped instruments to prevent their partners from stabbing them to death.
While the blunt-knives proposal was only one among many by the Nottingham City Council to tackle knife crime, it was immediately singled out for criticism by medical experts and advocates for domestic abuse survivors, who called it “ludicrous” and ill-conceived.
The proposal by the Nottinghamshire Police, in the East Midlands of England, comes as Britain struggles with an epidemic of knife crime outside the home, which some analysts say is fueled by reductions in the nation’s police forces under austerity and cuts to social service programs.
In Nottinghamshire, police say domestic abuse cases involving knives make up 17 per cent of all the county’s reported knife crimes. In an effort to address the issue, the Nottinghamshire police bought 100 knives specifically manufactured without points to replace kitchen knives in the homes of Britons who have been attacked or threatened with a knife, a police spokesman said.
The initiative was part of a larger strategy to tackle the level of knife-related episodes taking place in homes across the county, officials said. The knives would still be sharp enough to cut food, the police said, and the results of the small-scale trial would be evaluated at the end of the year.
“It is only one small part of the whole range of what is done to safeguard and protect domestic abuse survivors,” Superintendent Matt McFarlane, who leads the Nottinghamshire police’s knife crime strategy, said in an emailed statement Thursday.
The police also said they were uncertain if this was the first time such a program was seriously considered anywhere.
But at least one critic said the proposal betrayed a lack of understanding about domestic-abuse issues that was literally laughable. Jessica Eaton, a psychologist and founder of VictimFocus, a research consultancy in forensic psychology, feminism and mental health, said that when she first read of the proposal, she thought it had come from an article in The Onion, the satirical newspaper.
“The problem is not the sharpness of the knife,” she said. “The problem is male violence.”
She said in a phone interview Thursday, “The risk comes from the offender, not the knife. We know that blunt trauma can cause death. Just because a knife has been blunted doesn’t mean that it won’t pierce the skin or kill someone.”
Charlotte Kneer, the chief executive of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid, a refuge and charity based in Surrey, England, agreed that the Nottinghamshire police’s approach was ill-advised, further perpetuating the myth that domestic violence was a “crime of passion.”
“Domestic abuse is about control,” she said by phone. “Perpetrators know exactly what they’re doing.”
Kneer said she had been attacked with kitchen knives twice by a former partner. The second time, the attacker placed a plastic bag over her head.
“Do you want to ban all plastic bags?” she said. “It’s just not the answer.”
Samantha Billingham of the Survivors of Domestic Abuse support group, told the BBC, “I think it’s quite ludicrous. The blade of the knife is still there.”
But Paddy Tipping, the Nottinghamshire police and crime commissioner, told local news media, “It is an excellent initiative. Some research shows that women are attacked around 19 times before they leave their home.”
One domestic abuse survivor, Fiona McCulloch, 38, of Chilwell, England, also told The Nottinghamshire Post that the plan was “100% positive.” She added, “To have a blunt knife in my situation, it would have taken that risk away.”
This week, the Ministry of Justice said that the number of people caught carrying knives and other offensive weapons in England and Wales had reached a nine-year high. Offenses involving such weapons have risen by 34 per cent to 22,041, since 2015 — the highest number since 2010, according to the ministry.
The number of domestic abuse cases recorded by police in England and Wales has also increased, and reports estimate that 2 million adults across England and Wales ages 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse in the past year.
For years, social and domestic abuse has taken a hefty economic cost on society, experts say. In 2016, a report by the British government sought to quantify it. It put the estimated cost of domestic abuse in the year ending March 2017 at 66 billion pounds, or about $84 billion, in England and Wales.
This year, the British government published a landmark domestic abuse bill that advocates say has the potential to overhaul how the police and courts confront the issue head on. It would introduce a statutory definition of domestic abuse, establish a domestic abuse commissioner and ban the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in family courts.
A joint committee in Parliament was expected to publish a report on the draft legislation Friday, when members of Parliament will scrutinize its contents.
As the negative reaction grew on social media, the Nottinghamshire police began walking back the proposal, saying, “It’s just a very early idea and may not ever be rolled out.” None of the blunted knives had been handed out yet. If the program does go forward, authorities said, the knives would be placed in “appropriate high-risk domestic situations.”
Kneer said she doubted that the police plan would reduce knife-related domestic abuse crimes in the home, and that it would have no impact on knife crime in the streets.
She said the solution should not rely “on a blunt knife in the kitchen drawer.”