Mean streets

How far has street robbery and assault become a routine
occurrence for children? Young people tell Reva Klein what it’s
like to be on the receiving end of adolescent crime.

One in five children aged between 10 and 15 has been the victim
of crime, usually by someone their own age, according to a recent
survey commissioned by BBC Television’s Crimestoppers. Nearly half
know their assailant and boys under 15 are 7 per cent more likely
to be assaulted or robbed than girls.

Seventeen-year-old Sonny’s experience of a theft that occurred
when he was younger is a good example of the familiarity that so
often characterises youth crime. 

“Just before I turned 14 my parents bought me a mountain bike.
On the fifth day of having it, I was out riding on it and met
someone I’d known since primary school in the street. He was four
years older than me but we knew the same people and he started
chatting to me and asked if he could have a ride. So I let him and
was walking alongside him and the next thing I knew he said ‘I’ll
just see how fast it goes’ and I said ‘what?’ and then he shot off.
I tried to chase him but he disappeared. 

“I went and told my dad and we went to the boy’s house. His mum
said she didn’t ever know where he was. We went back a few times
over the next couple of weeks and then went to the police. It
turned out he had a rap sheet as long as his arm and was already in
custody for something else. The police told me the most I’d get
back from him if I pressed charges was £2 a week for the rest
of my life and so I didn’t go ahead with it and wound up with no
bike, miffed parents and a bruised ego.

“Because it was someone I knew, I felt embarrassed and upset.
It’s made me very cautious and I look at people twice now and am
not nearly as trusting as I used to be. Before, I thought I could
take people at face value, especially if I knew them, even vaguely.
Now I realise that even if they look familiar, I don’t really know
them and have to be much more careful.”

Paul, now 19, is philosophical about street crime; he has been
the victim of it many times since he was 12.

“One night, when I was 15, I went out at 10.30 to the local
shop. Two boys came in, older than me and looking like they were
looking for trouble. They followed me out of the shop. I thought
something felt wrong and I ran across the road. One of them asked
me why I was running and chased after me right in front of my house
and  hit me in the face ’til l fell to the ground. He kept hitting
me and kicking me. I passed out and when I woke up he was still
kicking me in the chest. The other boy was agitated and wanted to
go but this guy wouldn’t stop. Later, when I checked my pockets, he
had taken £5 from one pocket but had left a £50 note I
had in my other pocket.

“I staggered into the house and called my mate and he and his
mum came and took me to the hospital because my mum was out. I was

“Afterwards, I was ashamed that it happened right outside my
house and there were times when I felt anxious about walking around
that time of night but it didn’t stop me going out. I wasn’t at all
shocked that it had happened. I’d been held up at knifepoint with a
friend when I was 12 by six or seven older boys. They were
experienced and used clever tactics, trying to be friendly and
chatty. For them, robbery was a fashion  thing; people going around
in groups to prove themselves to each other. “They’re always
looking for vulnerability, for ‘rich’, middle class kids who aren’t
so confident in the streets. You always hear boys sitting in the
back of the bus showing off to each other about the things they’ve
done to people, proper disgraceful things.”

Patrick,13, had his second mobile phone stolen last year. 

“I was in the tube at about nine at night and these two guys
came up to me and asked me for my phone. I said I didn’t have one.
One of them opened his jacket so I could see his knife and then put
his hand in my pocket and took my phone. There were all these
people around but nobody saw or they pretended they didn’t see. The
guys got off at the next stop and warned me not to follow them. I
didn’t because I was scared.

“I couldn’t believe that everyone in the carriage ignored what
was happening. It made me feel bad. When I got home I burst into
tears when I told my mum. It’s made me feel more nervous when I’m
close to older boys.”

Girls, too, are vulnerable to random attacks. Fourteen-year-old
Sarah was walking with her friend Kelly in the park close to their
school during the lunch break when a group of girls approached

“They asked what school we went to and when we told them, they
asked if we knew a girl called Zoe. We said we did, and one of the
girls said ‘Tell her this from me’. Then she punched me in the face
and one of the others kicked Kelly. They kept hitting and kicking
us, then they left me alone and they were all beating up Kelly.
Then they ran away.

“When we got back to school the police were called, and Zoe told
them who she thought the girls were.”

A survey of more than 1,000 11 to 15 year olds by the Howard
League for Penal Reform concluded that crime has become a part of
growing up in London. And rather than seeing themselves as victims,
they feel resigned to it.

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