As It Happens

U.K. police under fire for plan to give blunt knives to domestic abuse survivors

The Nottinghamshire Police is working with victims of domestic abuse or those at risk to replace the sharp knives in their kitchens with blunt-tipped ones in hopes of reducing violent attacks.

'It could be a knife, it could be a plastic bag, it could be his fists — it could be anything'

Seized knives at New Scotland Yard in London in May 2008. Police in the East Midlands of England are replacing pointed knives with blunt ones for some domestic abuse victims or people deemed to be at high risk. (Andy Rain/EPA)

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When Charlotte Kneer first learned her county's police department was giving out blunt kitchen knives to curb domestic violence, she thought it was a joke. 

The Nottinghamshire Police, which serves the East Midlands of England, is working with victims of domestic abuse or those at risk to replace the sharp knives in their kitchens with blunt-tipped ones.

The police force says knife crime in the county is on the rise and 17 per cent of all reported violent knife crimes are domestic.

"We are trialling it to see if it makes a difference," Supt. Matt McFarlane, the department's knife crime strategy manager, told the Nottingham Post. "Anything that stops someone being seriously injured is a good idea."

Some people who have experienced domestic abuse have welcomed the initiative, but Kneer — herself a victim of domestic knife violence and the CEO of Reigate and Banstead Women's Aid shelter — says it's "not going to solve the problem."

Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

What did you think when you first heard that police in Nottinghamshire were looking into whether blunt knives can make a difference when it comes to domestic abuse?

I got a telephone call asking what I thought about the idea and I actually had to ask the person that called me to repeat it because I just couldn't believe what I was hearing.

I think that it's a well-intentioned idea ... but there are just so many other issues that go along with it. I don't think it's the answer.

I think you said [in the New York Times] that you thought that it was something from the satirical review called The Onion.

It was a colleague of mine that said that, but yes, it is something along those lines that I just thought this is actually a really crazy idea for so many reasons.

For example, if the perpetrator realized the police had given you a blunt knife ... that could actually cause lots of problems for the victim because the perpetrator would be like, you know, "Why have you been in touch with the police?"

Charlotte Kneer is a survivor of domestic partner abuse and the CEO of Reigate and Banstead Women's Aid refuge in the U.K. (Submitted by Charlotte Kneer )

As far as how it is proposed to work, I guess police would switch up knives that had points on them with no-point knives, so it could still slice food but you can't stab anyone, right?

I'm a victim myself and actually my ex-husband twice took a sharp knife out of the kitchen drawer. And the first time he attempted to stab me, I had to grab the blade. And the second time, he actually tried to make me stab him. So you might think that that would make me somebody that was in favour of this, but I just don't think it's the answer. 

On one occasion before he'd taken the knife out of the drawer, he'd actually put a plastic bag over my head and tried to suffocate me. So it's just not solving anything. It could be a knife, it could be a plastic bag, it could be his fists — it could be anything. It doesn't really change the issue.

Domestic abuse is all about control. It's not about a crime of passion. And what concerned me about this trial was that it's almost kind of feeding into the myth that domestic abuse is a momentary loss of control on the part of the perpetrator — and it isn't.

Given that domestic abuse cases involving knives are about 17 per cent of reported knife crimes in this county, doesn't it at least make sense that they remove the weapons as part of a larger plan?

It may help in some cases if it were part of a bigger scheme to protect that victim.

But it is part of a larger knife violence strategy, is it not? 

What it will do is it will shift that violence away from knives, but it won't shift the violence away full stop. It will just mean that the perpetrator is unable to stab that victim, so they'll probably do something else.

So it might help them statistically in terms of their knife crime figures, but it's not going to change the issue — which is that two women a week in the U.K. are murdered as a result of domestic abuse.

What are you telling police that they should be doing?

I think that there needs to be far greater involvement from agencies in dealing with the perpetrator to keep that victim safe.

There are various police schemes throughout the U.K. that are using a targeted approach to known perpetrators. So what they'll try and do is actually interrupt that perpetrator's activity by, you know, stopping them if they're speeding or trying to arrest them for as many different things as they can to actually remove that perpetrator and put him in prison.  And I think those kinds of schemes where, you know, there's a much more sort of targeted element to stopping the perpetrator offending, that sounds like a very good idea to me.

I think there also needs to be much more support put in place for victims. And as you'll probably be aware, in the U.K. we've been under sort of austerity measures for some years now ... which has meant that support for victims and shelters like the shelters I run have sustained massive financial cuts.

That's what we need to be looking at doing is shoring up services for victims so that there is the support that they can get away from the relationship.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.