Oxford’s streets might look less safe after separate attacks in which a man was slashed and a student stabbed on Cowley Road this past week. In fact crime rates in Oxford remain relatively low. But other recent incidents here may be part of a violent, nationwide trend of a humiliating -and potentially deadly- form of assault where the victims’ buttocks are stabbed in a practice known as ‘bagging’.
Three male teenage victims have sustained stab-wounds to the buttocks since last November in Oxford, including a 16-year-old who was stabbed nine times outside the Blackbird Leys Community centre in February. This last incident is particularly characteristic of the phenomenon of‘bagging’ that has been increasingly occurring throughout Britain in the last ten years. Police charged three other teenagers, the youngest also 16 years old, with the attack.
Student researchers at Brunel University have been using NHS reports, hospital records and data from the Serious Organised Crime Agency to map the ‘bagging’ trend backwards towards its centre, hoping to understand the relationship between this crime and the prevalence of a drugs-related gang presence within cities.
Their research shows that significant levels of ‘bagging’ – that is, which have been recorded in Glasglow, Manchester, Liverpool and London correlate with gang activity.
Police say ‘bagging’ is still an extremely rare occurrence in Oxford.
But in many of Britain’s major cities, gluteal stabbings are now the third most common form of penetrating stab wound recorded by hospitals, after chest and abdominal.
The primary damage caused by gluteal stabbings is to the soft tissue of the buttocks. Depending on the length of knife used and the severity of the stab wounds, further consequences can include the onset of peritonitis, a potentially life-threatening infection which can be caused by perforation of the bowel; perforation of the rectal cavity itself; damage to the internal muscles and nerves controlling bowel movements and urination; and shock as a result of damage to blood vessels in the bowel, which can result in organ failure and death.
‘Bagging’ victims are frequently treated with a colostomy bag and catheter for an extended period. It is this additional indignity suffered by victims of the buttock-stabbing that has led to the term ‘bagging’, which implies the intention of these attacks is to demoralise and humiliate the victim.
For some young people, this news merely confirms a familiar picture of gang violence.
Paul is a 16-year-old student from North-West London, now attending an Oxford sixth-form following his family’s move to the city. His previous school was one of the first in the outer-London area to have metal-detectors installed as a security measure, at the request of students concerned for their safety, after a 14-year-old student was fatally stabbed outside the school gates in 2006.
Paul describes the drugs and gang problems of his London school as originating in a student intake from council estates with a history of conflict. He struggles to identify the source of his knowledge regarding ‘bagging’:
“People just know about it, everybody knows…it’s just what happens. You tend not to get bagged, though, unless you really make ‘em hate you. I mean, there’s…a lot they can do first, you know?”
Metal detectors made an enormous difference, he says. Before they were installed, knives were commonplace.
The previous Labour government doubled the maximum jail sentence for knife-possession from two to four years, while a 2007 amendment to the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act restricted the sale of blades to those under 18. But knives remain available and under the Criminal Justice Act certain knives of less than three inches are legal.
“Anyone can get a knife,” Paul says. “They’re everywhere. I suppose they get them from home, or whatever. From the kitchen. They like the ones with just little blades – they’re easier to hide and explain. No one gets in proper trouble like that.”
The NHS has introduced rules in the past two years that demand police be notified of stab wounds in the same way that for many years they have been with gunshot wounds. This initiative, prompted by the police, has been controversial: critics say the procedure places the often young victim under stress, places them at high risk of retaliation and, in gang-associated cases, implies a level of guilt on their part.
But campaigners against knife-crime, citing low rates of successful conviction – so far in 2010, six percent of youths aged ten to seventeen charged with knife-possession were given jail sentences, while 62 percent of all stabbings in Britain involve a person between the ages of 13 and 22 in some capacity – have praised the NHS stance.
Last year there were there were 2084 street-violence incidents in Oxford recorded by the South Central Ambulance service, but only 1370 of those cases resulted in arrests.
Violent crime and drugs-related attacks in Oxford are by no means on par, statistically, with the cities in which ‘bagging’ has been categorised as a ‘significant’ occurrence by the Brunel students’ research project. Nor indeed is crime here comparable with cities such as Nottingham, Bradford and Leicester, in which ‘bagging’ is approaching significant levels against a backdrop of rising drugs problems.
There are 4.5 recorded drug offences per thousand people in Oxford, compared to an English average of 7.1, while there are 16.8 ‘violence against the person’ offences, significantly lower than the English average of 29.9, according to figures from Oxford City Council.
Thames Valley Police report a 4.7 percent decrease in crime in central Oxford since 2009, although crime in Cowley and East Oxford has risen by 5.1 percent.
Oxford has seen charges brought against a series of teenagers in relation to knife-crime offences in the past year, including the
charging of a 16 year old for stabbing to death a young father outside Que Pasa restaurant in central Oxford.
Upon hearing about the recent baggings and stabbings in Oxford, Paul expressed a measure of disappointment. “I guess I had a kind of image in my mind of what Oxford would be like. I guess it’s stupid really – nowhere’s going to be properly safe, I guess any drugs-type stuff gets everywhere. Still, it is better: it’s not the same.”