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Stolen Lives

The project aims to address the causes and consequences of weapon crime by working with young people to identify key safety and prevention messages that THEY think will influence their peers in promoting personal safety and instigating behavioural change in some of those involved with carrying/using weapons.


There are three stages to the project:


Stage 1: Facilitated Workshops
The workshops address personal experiences of weapon crime, reasons why young people carry weapons, implications for the wider community and the desire for change. In effect, we want to know what is going on in the community (personal experiences) why they think young people are carrying weapons (reasons) how they view weapon crime (wider community) and how/if we can reduce it (desire for change).


The project aims to engage around 100 young people from each borough aged 12-18. The research data will be used for three purposes:


*To inform a composite research project representing the views of around 800 young people across London as part of Operation Blunt.


*To inform the design of resource materials to address specific and generic issues relating to each borough.


*To inform local policing and educational strategies for addressing weapon crime.


Stage 2: Resource Design
Working with a smaller group of young people from the workshop groups who have expressed an interest in taking their involvement in the project further, we design a film that addresses the main discussion points of the research.


The film is backed by PHSE lesson plans that draw out further detailed discussion. A typical film will be backed up with 6 –10 separate lesson plans to deliver the project in a modular format over a school term. The film is aimed at 12-16 age groups.


A poster competition is developed once the film is complete. The posters highlight and reinforce the key messages from the films. The competition element invites all schools to take part in designing the posters and there are prizes for both individuals and schools attached to respective categories of entry.


The film and posters are aimed at secondary schools. Primary school children will receive a children’s workbook, which has a cartoon style story and lots of learning activities to help parents and teachers address the issues in an age appropriate manner.


Stage 3: Delivery
Every secondary school will receive copies of the film, lesson plans and posters. A training session for teachers and other professionals involved in using the resource will be held in each borough. Every key stage 2 (primary) child in the borough will receive their own workbook.


Checks and Balances
Stolen Lives is a peer education programme. The purpose is to tap into the information that young people think will influence their peers to help them keep safe and change behaviour.


All the materials need to be signed off by a Police representative, a PHSE lead for Education and the young people themselves.


London Borough (Example)
Six workshops held with young people aged 12-18.
These included:
2 x school sessions
1 x Police Cadets
1 x YOT
1 x Victims Group
1 x Community project


The workshops involved 106 young people.


Personal experiences – varied as you would expect with the YOT group having the most but every session included at least one personal account. The account below provides an example of the type of thing young people have said:


“This happened in school when I was in year 8. Two of my friends were arguing about postcodes and it turned from a sort of joke into a more serious thing. None of the rest of the class could believe that they were getting so heavy about it. It was the last period and straight after the class it carried on. When we got outside it was obvious that there was going to be a fight. It didn’t last long because one of them got a knife out and stabbed the other in the arse. He didn’t realise that he had been stabbed and thought that he’d been kicked. He tried to fight back but ended up falling down.
I thought the other boy would stab him again, but he just walked off. I felt really scared after that because it was the first time I’d seen anything like that close up.”


Reasons why – wide range of responses but by far the most common were “respect” and ” self defence.” Hardly any young people made reference to wanting to harm anyone else. The vast majority seem to carry weapons because they are either afraid not to (because it makes them look weak and vulnerable), or they think it gives them status with their peers.


Wider Community – interesting findings here. Very strong view that carrying weapons is no big deal and just an every day part of life. Some actually viewed a ” shanking ” as less of an offence than a bald tyre or a burglary. There is a moral code but its not necessarily the same as you would expect from an adult. Fore xample, it was alright for two boys to fight using knives or even one boy to assault another when one is armed and the other isn’t but it’s not acceptable for boys to attack girls in any situation.


Desire for change – a definite yes .Young people do not want to live in a society where they are threatened but there was a strong feeling that change is unlikely and they feel resigned to having to live like this. They want change but they need to feel that it is possible and that people will listen to them.


There was a lot more detail about the actual locality but the basic messages were that at least one person in each group had had a direct experience of knife crime (as a victim, perpetrator or witness) and virtually everyone knew of someone who had been a victim, carrying weapons seems to be more about respect and fashion than wanting to hurt others, carrying a weapon is an every day part of life and not seen as particularly serious in its self and, young people want things to change but many hold out little hope of the situation improving.


The Film Script


The challenge to a group of 12 young people selected from the workshops was to develop a film that draws out discussion around the points outlined above. Film formats will vary from Documentary to Vox Pop etc. In this instance the young people wanted to produce a short fictional story based around two sets of brothers.


There are four main characters. Vrai (19) and Ben (14) and Spica (19) and AJ (14).


Vrai and Spica are gang olders and well respected in the “endz.” AJ and Ben are the younger brothers. In the film Vrai has been serving time in jail for possession of a firearm and is just about to be released. Vrai has found prison tough and after having time to reflect has decided that he wants to leave the manor taking his younger brother Ben with him. However, on his release he is immediately met by Spica, AJ and Ben who welcome him back as a hero.


Spica is very much part of the gang scene and expects Vrai to just carry on where he left off. AJ (Spica’s younger brother) is desperate to gain his brother’s respect but has a more timid personality and is constantly being put down by Spica who holds him in poor regard. Ben (Vrai’s young brother) has a talent for film-making and has recently won a local competition.While Vrai has been in jail Spica has taken care of Ben, introducing him more and more to the gang world which Ben has been filming.


The story follows Spica tasking one of the youngers to carry out a revenge attack on a rival gang. After a few twists and turns AJ tries to step up and ends up “shanking” a youth in the arm. The Youth and AJ are portrayed as being terrified by the situation as both victim and perpetrator. After the assault the youths run off in various directions until Ben is caught and fatally stabbed.


Vrai is distraught and left with three options; to seek revenge on the attacker and/or Spica for putting him in harms way, to leave the manor as he originally planned or to stay and try and change things. Vrai chooses to stay. In a previous sequence Vrai meets the mother of a murdered gang victim who aggressively blames Vrai and others like him for the waste of her son’s life. Vrai tries to apologise but she mocks him that it’s ” just words, don’t mean nothing.”


The end of the film see’s Vrai walking into a school where the mother is talking to the assembly about weapon crime and the waste of her son’s life. Vrai joins the mother on stage in the final emotional sequence to support her plea for the violence to end.


Although the film features two stabbings (one fatal) the images are implied rather than direct. There is no swearing and we will seek a film censor grading before we make the resource available to schools.


Issues Addressed:
The issue of younger’s being influenced by olders is very important. Youngers feel that they have to earn the respect of older siblings and the rest of the gang. AJ is not naturally violent but gets involved in a violent situation through the desire to impress.


The characters are shown as scared by the situation. When the boy gets stabbed in the arm he shouts out in pain, it hurts! The boy is frightened and the attacker can’t really believe he is holding a knife to someone – the reality of what carrying a weapon can lead to against the fashion statement.


Ben has talent as many young people do but this talent ends up wasted. What could have happened to Ben if he’d gone to film school?


The mother is portrayed as grieving but strong. Many victims mothers end up as campaigners and at the end of this film an actual victims mother will endorse the film and add her own real life story.


Vrai has not enjoyed prison. His girlfriend has left him and he feels as if his life has been on hold. It’s been a boring frustrating experience and he doesn’t want to go back. He’s also had time to think about the cycle of violence he has become involved in and wants to change. However, it’s not easy to leave – something many young people have said.


A positive ending. The general lack of hope expressed by many young people contrasted against the many real life examples of positive action to tackle weapon crime almost demanded a positive ending. In the film there is a sliding doors scenario where following his younger brothers death Vrai has the option to seek revenge, leave the neighbourhood or stay and try to support change. Vrai decides to change and work for change.


Lesson Plans will be developed at various key stages to focus on discussion points such as:


Peer Pressure and Respect e.g. the society pressures placed on each of the four main characters are different as are their personalities but all have been drawn into gang culture and carrying weapons.


Consequences e.g. AJ does not really want to carry a knife and Ben’s main interest is in making films. Through peer pressure and the need to gain respect both of these young boys have to face the consequences of an action they did not really want to take part in. Their lives are ruined and yet the instigator (Spica) suffers no consequences from the actions.


Cycle of Violence e.g. The violence in the film is all portrayed as being motivated by a desire for revenge. A mother character is introduced to reinforce the point that one act of violence simply leads to another and that revenge attacks just perpetuate the cycle.


Vrai’s final choice to stay and stand up against the violence is used to introduce the concept that if enough young people say no then it can be beaten.


Personal Safety e.g. Important to remember that most young people are not involved in gangs and do not carry weapons. However, they are still affected by weapon crime and open to peer pressure to become involved. AJ and Ben’s stories both have cut off points when if they had made a different choice the outcome would have been different.


For further information contact us.