Victims, offenders and victim-offender overlaps of knife crime: A social network analysis approach using police records

Laura Bailey, Vincent Harinam, Barak Ariel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Knife crime is a source of concern for the police in England and Wales, however little published research exists on this crime type. Who are the offenders who use knives to commit crime, when and why? Who are their victims, and is there a victim-offender overlap? What is the social network formation for people who are exposed to knife crime? Using a multidimensional approach, our aim is to answer these questions about one of England and Wales’ largest jurisdictions: Thames Valley. We first provide a state-of-the-art narrative review of the knife crime literature, followed by an analysis of population-level data on central tendency and dispersion of knife crimes reported to the police (2015–2019), on offences, offenders, victims, victim-offender overlaps and gang-related assaults. Social network analysis was used to explore the formations of offender-victim networks. Our findings show that knife crime represents a small proportion of crime (1.86%) and is associated largely with violence offenses. 16–34 year-old white males are at greatest risk of being the victims, offenders or victim-offenders of knife crime, with similar relative risks between these three categories. Both knife offenders and victims are likely to have a criminal record. Knife crimes are usually not gang-related (less than 20%), and experienced mostly between strangers, with the altercation often a non-retaliatory ‘one-off event’. Even gang-related knife crimes do not follow ‘tit-for-tat’ relationships—except when the individuals involved have extensive offending histories and then are likely to retaliate instantaneously. We conclude that while rare, an incident of knife crime remains predicable, as a substantial ratio of offenders and victims of future knife crime can be found in police records. Prevention strategies should not be focused on gang-related criminals, but on either prolific violent offenders or repeat victims who are known to the police—and therefore more susceptible to knife crime exposure.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere0242621
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12 December
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Bailey et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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