Lewisham Safe Havens

The Guardian reports on a project to create "safe havens" on Lewisham's streets, for young people to use if they feel in danger. Lewisham is one of three boroughs that are piloting the scheme with charity CitySafe:

Safe havens for teenagers conjure up images of terrified teens being chased by territory obsessed, knife-wielding gang members. Yet the initiative's goals are far broader: by getting local schoolchildren to select potential venues and approach shopkeepers, it aims to build valuable links between youths and local businesses that enhance community life. 

Shops that sign up must pledge to report 100% of crime and antisocial behaviour, even if delayed police responses have previously left them frustrated. In return, community organisers will help broker closer relationships with the police so shopkeepers' concerns are addressed...

Of the young people who had stopped in a haven, 23% said it was because they were being followed, 6% because they were escaping a fight and 2% after an attack. Another 68% simply put it down to "anxiety or fear". 

Jay's Budgens in Crofton Park is among the borough's safe havens and one user is quoted:

Michelle Lindvall, 12, says: "When I joined CitySafe I felt so much safer going out with my friends for the day. Before I knew about it, I hardly went out because I was scared something might happen. You could get beaten up by a gang or anything." 

This is an undeniably noble project and it's great to see local businesses taking their responsibilities to the community seriously.

However, there is a fine balance to be achieved to stop it from being counter-productive, by increasing the fear of crime. Crime in Lewisham fell last year, including a big drop in violence against the person from 6,757 to 6,067. Crofton Park generally enjoys some of the lowest violent crime figures in the borough.

That is not to say that the risks should be ignored, but that if you tell young people that some shops are safe zones, you may, by implication, be sending a message that the streets are not safe. That message may in turn normalise and entrench behaviours which make the problem worse.

As Daniel Finkelstein argues in The Times:

What do you think happens when you announce that teens are all out on the street binge drinking? More binge drinking. You are normalising a behaviour you should be isolating. What happens when you announce that there is an obesity epidemic and that everyone is getting fatter? That’s right. People learn that if they put on weight they are far from alone. Jamie Oliver’s school dinners television programme lambasted Turkey Twizzlers, making them infamous. Sales promptly rose by 32 per cent.

Thanks to Monkeyboy for spotting the story.