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Knife Crime in Australia

Media Release

18 May 2011

Knives have risen as weapon of choice during assaults and robberies over the past decade, and a new report from the Australian Institute of Criminology has found that juvenile males are the most common carriers and users of knives, and this pattern can start as early as the pre-teens.
The AIC has released both a Trends and Issues, and Technical Background Paper on the recent data on the carriage and use of knives in Australia, based on research conducted on behalf of the Criminology Research Council.

AIC senior researcher Lorana Bartels said that research had shown the most common age at which older respondents to a recent survey reported beginning to carry a knife was 13–14 years and a smaller but substantial number admitted carrying them between five and 12 years. “This latter finding is of particular relevance given the recent finding in Scotland that the strongest influence on carrying a knife at 16 years of age was carrying a knife at 13 years of age,” Dr Bartels said.

Earlier analysis of Drug Use Monitoring Australia (DUMA) program data found that of the 138 detainees interviewed in police watchhouses or remand centres who reported having owned a knife as a weapon in the previous 12 months, the typical profile was of a man (84%); aged 30 years and under (78%); who had been arrested in the previous 12 months (73%).

More recent analysis of the DUMA data indicates that the most common justification for owning or possessing a knife as a weapon was self-defence. Use in criminal activity was cited as the main reason by only 4–5 percent of respondents. “These finding support suggestions that crime prevention programs that enhance perceptions of safety may have a significant role to play” Dr Bartels said.

The data also showed that only 22 percent of respondents said they had used, or threatened to use, a knife in the previous 12 months. The main source of knives was retail sale, followed by getting the knife from a family member or friend. “These findings have implications for legislation on the sale and carriage of knives, as well as amnesties for knife possession,” Dr Bartels said.

The most recent analysis of the AIC’s National Armed Robbery Monitoring Program data finds that knives were the most commonly used weapon, accounting for 47% of armed robberies (down from 53% in 2006). In particular, women aged 40 to 44 years were victims of robberies where knives were used more often than any other age category (65%).

Dr Bartels said that a better understanding of how and why knives are used in crime is vital when developing policies, such as knife amnesties and education campaigns, and legislative measures such as stop and search powers and increased prison sentences.

“The limited information available on the extent, motivation and possible growth of knife carriage highlights the need for improved data collection, along with the development of clearer evidence for what works to reduce knife carrying and knife

AIC media contact: Colin Campbell 02 6260 9244 / 0418 159 525