‘It’s not just words’: Why Leeds charity StreetDoctors has changed the way it talks about knife violence

A charity which educates young people in Leeds about the medical consequences of knife violence is calling for more care around the language used to talk about the issue.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 6:00 am

StreetDoctors has changed the way it speaks about violence, switching from referring to ‘youth violence’ to talking about ‘young people who are affected by violence’.

Frances Breeveld, the charity’s communications and policy officer, said language has a profound effect on young people and urged charities, the media and communities to take care not to stereotype young people.

It comes as the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Saving Lives After Lockdown campaign is highlighting the effect of knife crime on communities across Leeds, looking at ways to prevent a spike in incidents when lockdown restrictions are eased.

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Street Doctors educates young people in Leeds about the medical consequences of knife violence

Frances told the YEP: “The term ‘youth violence’ suggests that young people are causing the problem and are part of it. Young people have hopes and dreams like the rest of us and it’s much more of a systematic problem.

“It was important for us not to use language that implicates them in the problem when StreetDoctors is all about young people becoming the solution.”

StreetDoctors volunteers teach young people in Leeds what to do if someone is stabbed and the vital training has helped to save lives.

Frances added: “People might wonder why language matters, that it’s just words. But headlines and images on social media really do affect how young people see themselves.

Frances Breeveld, the charity’s communications and policy officer, said language has a profound effect on young people

“A lot of young people tell us that using terms like youth violence can implicate them, and make them seem like they don’t have the power to change.

“If you talk about young people who are affected by violence, there’s a way out for them. There’s always been a way out. And we, as a society, need to create that.”

A survey of young people at risk of violence, carried out by StreetDoctors with charities Redthread and MAC-UK, found 39 per cent of respondents were actively involved with their communities in lockdown.

The Living Through Lockdown report found that many young people did shopping for others, became NHS responders or joined in with the NHS Clap for Carers.

StreetDoctors volunteers teach young people in Leeds what to do if someone is stabbed

Frances said: “We so often see stereotypes suggesting that young people don’t want to get involved in their communities. But we know they do.

“It’s really important that we - as a charity, as media and as organisations working with young people - take this as a positive lesson.

“Ultimately, you have to see beyond the behaviour. There’s a child behind the behaviour. It’s about providing them with the support and opportunities they need to get out of their situation.”

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The YEP's Saving Lives After Lockdown campaign is highlighting the impact of knife crime on communities across Leeds (Photo: PA Wire/Katie Collins)