Knife crime imagery and messaging

Effective intervention tools or ineffective sensitisers?

Policy Briefing



Knife images and messaging about knives are abundant in everyday media and are commonly used in anti-knife crime interventions. However, little is known about their impacts on young people’s perceptions and attitudes around knife crime. This three-part study, carried out by Sheffield Hallam University, in collaboration with the University of Sheffield, South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit and Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit, used an experiment to test the impacts of knife imagery and messaging on 458 Year 10 pupils in South Yorkshire and Thames Valley using ratings of perceptions and attitudes to capture conscious responses. Part 2 used an Implicit Association Test on a subset of 156 pupils to assess implicit responses. Part 3 used the initial experiment and added an eye-tracking assessment of 13 young people.

Key findings

No differences were found between the different knife messaging or image types on perceptions of knife crime or worries about knife crime.

Young people are more likely to feel scared than feel excited in response to seeing images of real knives, but not for stylised knives.

The type of anti-knife messaging used affects how young people view knife crime policing, with messaging about police anti-knife activity generating more positive perceptions.

Girls are more worried about knife crime than boys and see it as a more serious issue, affecting where they go in their local areas.

The perceived normality of knife carrying differs by ethnicity, with young black people rating knife carrying as more normal than young people of other ethnicities.

Eye-tracking showed reduced reading time of policing messages than other types of messaging.

The research was conducted by Charlotte Coleman and Kate Whitfield (Sheffield Hallam University), with the support of the South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit and the Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit. 

Report date: 28/11/2022.

For further information please contact Charlotte Coleman by email (