At a time of Brexit induced policy paralysis, it seems that only one matter can break through the news headlines. Daily reports of murders and injuries caused by rising knife crime in London and the other cities in the UK have galvanised a call for action against violence on the nation’s streets.  The media have called for us to adopt a public health approach to solve the crisis. Many column inches of print and characters on social media have been expended, but there is still confusion about what the “public health approach” means in practice.
It is now 17 years since the World Health Organization (WHO) published its Global report on Violence and Health—a document that remains the key reference point for subsequent work.  In the foreword Nelson Mandela stated that the twentieth century would be remembered as a century marked by violence with its burden of mass destruction and violence never seen, or possible, before in human history. But as Mandela pointed out “Less visible, but even more widespread is the legacy of day to day individual suffering. It is the pain of children abused by people who should protect them, women injured or humiliated by violent partners, elderly persons maltreated by their caregivers, youths who are bullied by other youths, and people who inflict violence on themselves.” The current focus on knife crime and other street violence is the latest manifestation of the dark side of human nature, in which the most dangerous place for a woman is in the home and for a young man on the street.