In terms of prevention, we should start with the worst crimes, the most abhorrent crimes… If we could prevent all crime, catch the motivation for committing a crime before a crime is committed, what would our world look like? A world without child trafficking, drug cartels, gang culture, prostitution, child porn, gun rampages. All are awful, created by someone in trauma or with an underlying motivation that’s beyond the understanding of most, crimes initiated with tragic consequences.
If we look at economic theory, capitalism and entrepreneurship are motivated by the thought of reward. Usually a monetary reward. What if we apply economic theory to the commitment of crimes? What is the reward for any criminal? Money. Sex. Power. Temporary, transitory or ongoing excitement of some sort. Or is it simply the reward of community, a peer group of friends, albeit bonded in doing something destructive rather than constructive. Why would anyone choose to have blood on their hands, unless they felt they had no choice?
So what can we do to prevent these crimes? If crime is actually caused by market forces, similar to the economy, then what could transition these market forces to create positive behaviours that support community instead of destroying it, victim by victim? How can every individual perpetrator be rewarded for changing their intention from crime to contribution?
My belief is that most crimes, therefore most criminals, are motivated by lack. Lack of opportunity, lack of gratification, lack of positive support. Initially I thought, remove the reward, remove the crime. But this is not the only cause, the reward is only part of the cause. The deeper cause is, well, deeper. It stems from inequality in our society, in regional deprivation, in discrimination and inherent bias.
For the moment though, let’s stick to the supply chain of crime; client – seller – supplier – source. What is the motivation to manufacture illegal products? What’s the profit margin versus the risk versus the potential impact within the group involved? If a manufacturer or supplier has an alternative to supplying drugs, would they take it? What else could a cocaine or heroine supplier supply? Coffee, cocoa, sugar, palm oil… are these as profitable and sustainable, and what could inspire the transition to a more ethical business? Is there another motive for growing drugs? Peer pressure, power, bribery, threats? I am not involved, thankfully, in these pursuits but I would hope the police, victim support organisations, prison and probation officers will know these circumstances, motives and alternatives inside out. I would hope they could get together and establish the ‘workflows’, the causes and diversions that cause people to enter into these ‘professions’ instead of becoming law- abiding citizens. There’s got to be a reason, right!
I would like to see the pathways that people take to enter this criminal marketplace. I would like to understand what deprivation, trauma, or judgement leads to a teenager growing into a criminal career. What doesn’t happen in their life? What does? Who do they meet, or not? What support do they get, or not? What are their experiences and why do they lead to the choice to break the law? With drug supply, their seems to be a cartel of related businesses like prostitution, porn, gang warfare, gun supply, mafia behaviour and bribes. How do these fit together, why do they form and how do they co-exist?
Let’s start with prostitution. It’s not the ‘Pretty Woman‘ fairy tale, nowhere close. It’s sordid, abusive, high risk and denigrating. So how do women, men, sometimes children end up being prostitutes? Why would they choose this course, unless it’s the only apparent choice? Is it purely economic, survival based and seemingly simple to take money for sex? Is it related to sexual abuse as a child? Is it a result of false promises, domestic abuse or related to gang culture, coercion or loan sharks offering an alternative to repayment?
I was thinking about the power of the masses, thinking that if a group of prostitutes acted as a unit, to become independent, would they be able to find a way out of their profession, get an education and a new career? How could this network be built to avoid discovery and prosecution of the members? What’s the risk of this kind of collective activity and would men need a different route to prevent the ‘pimp’ infiltrating the group? If there’s an escape route that actually suits the circumstances of the individual, then there’s another option for the survival of that individual. It’s not just about removal of the men, perhaps women, that pay for sex; it’s removal of the supply of the sex worker.
Presumably the sex worker uses drugs; drugs to escape, drugs to numb the pain, drugs to make a dreadful night seem exciting. Presumably the ‘sex buyers’ purchase the same drugs to enhance their experience. Is this why prostitution and drug cartels are linked? Or is it just another business opportunity as people tumble into the underground world? I’d like to understand this relationship better. To understand is to offer new solutions, offer new pathways to individuals in the sex trade, and reduce the supply while also looking at the cause of demand. I suspect ‘demand’ for prostitutes is increasing with the growth in production of and access to porn. What expectations of sex will teenagers have when they’ve grown up with pictures and videos of sexual activity that is far from the norm? The bizarre trend of anal bleaching, next to the ‘perfect’ image of the perfect naked woman or man, seen through photographic filters and staged sexual activity that most would not choose to be involved in were they behaving naturally. What level of pressure will our young people feel, may already feel, when they sleep with a new partner for the first time? What might they agree to due to the presentation of a no boundary sexual horizon, sexual activity which is totally beyond their comfort zone? Going outside your comfort zone in an outdoor challenge or business goal is one thing, but it’s a theory not to be applied in bed. Only do what you feel comfortable doing, whatever your partner requests. If they won’t tolerate the word ‘no’, don’t tolerate a relationship with them.
Violence is the next crime in my list to tackle. Knife crime seems the biggest issue in the UK. Why would a child carry a knife (they’re not that difficult to get hold of, not really)? Fear, wanting to look cool, needing greater feelings of power, not understanding the risk, simple defence against the bully. It’s unlikely that a young person sets out with a knife in their pocket looking to kill someone, but ultimately even the presence of a knife increases the likelihood of this happening.
If knife ownership is related to being powerful, how could we change this image to being a negative one especially for this age group? Is it a phenomenon of the inner cities or in the countryside as well? What demographics does knife crime relate to? Is carrying a knife related to familial income, gender, age, education level? Could we say that gun crime in the US is equivalent to knife crime in the UK? Is knife ownership an entry point for youths, progressing to gang culture and moving on to gun crime? Are there other potential rewards, like becoming a leader in these groups and increasing status by having better weapons than others?
In the times of the Knights of the Round Table and in Edwardian times, duelling was the order of the day! Could knife crime now have similar origins, something like a snarling dog where the bark indicates the strength of the bite? In the same way as ‘keeping up with the Jones’, human nature is always to show a better face that your opponent, demonstrate strength, minimise weakness. I was so impressed at a library conference to hear about the impact Prison libraries have on any inmates who are illiterate, offering opportunities for intellectual escape inside as well as opportunities to choose an different life on the outside. Could an individual who has not yet used their knife, once identified, be offered a form of education which reflects their needs, history, ability and life expectations? Could it operate like an advance warning Victim Support system, where teens get to talk to people affected by knife crime caused by others?
I know I’m asking many questions in this blog, and not providing many answers. I don’t have them. However, I would like to talk to people who understand the causes and effects. I would like to understand in order to create new options and opportunities for people drawn into crime. I would like to mitigate the discrimination and judgement that having a criminal record attracts; everyone deserves a second chance. Everyone deserves the chance to choose another path, to be supported into a new life, to be advised by people who know to enter a life where they’ll live happily. My friend is CEO of the charity A Band of Brothers, who do this really well through mentoring and peer support; I hope that others in a difficult situation can have the same support in changing their life for the better, whatever that looks like for them.
Thanks for thinking about a difficult subject. Let’s hope we can move nearer to a world without crime.
Love Ruth x