One of the biggest news stories for the UK in 2017 centred around the rise of acid attacks. Police have now revealed that the “UK has one of the highest rates of acid attacks in the world”, with more than 400 attacks since April. That is an average of two a day. Putting this in perspective, the number of acid attack related incidents between April 2014 and March 2015, was 186. It rose to 397 in the same period in 2016-2017. These attacks gained a strong media spotlight, with many people asking for changes in laws, both in terms of purchasing acids over-the-counter, and increasing the punishments for those convicted.
Other areas of crime have also continued to rise in the UK. It was revealed earlier this year that an increase of 23% of firearm offences occurred between 2015-2016. This hasn’t received a huge media spotlight compared to other crime stats, however looking across the pond to America, with the continuation of mass shootings over there, this increase in gun crime here, is a worrying trend.
From guns to grooming, this month, it was revealed that a London ‘grooming gang’ has been exposed as police warn of ‘abuse happening across Britain’. Four girls between the age of 13 and 15 reported being raped by a group ‘based around a McDonald’s in Stratford’. This information has triggered a ‘crackdown’ that has so far identified 30 potential victims. Sexual exploitation is an issue we cannot ignore. 420 men, every month are arrested over child sexual exploitation, across England and Wales, and the number continues to grow.
One of the main issues for this growing number of arrests, is the lack of awareness. Charly Adams, a specialist in child sexual exploitation at the Children’s Society says that “We’re doing better but we could be doing more.” Training needs to be put in place that emphasises the warning signs of child sexual exploitation. This means interventions can take place before sexual harassment and rape take place.
Onto slavery now. I bet you thought that had been abolished a long time ago, right? Wrong. ‘Modern day slavery’ has been pushed into the media spotlight again this year following the conviction of 11 members of a Lincolnshire family jailed for “violently exploiting at least 18 victims”. The victims were kept in caravans, without basic living commodities such as running water, heating, or toilet facilities. Working 7 days a week, rarely with a break, and only being provided food and drink on occasion, it left these victims living, what many might think, a living nightmare.
It was revealed that the gang targeted men who were “homeless, alcoholic or with mental health problems, often picking them off the streets outside hostels or night shelters.” The victims were aged between 18 and 63 “lured with promises of work, money, shelter and food.”
David Attenborough. I think we can all say that he is one of our national treasures. This year, he returned to our screens narrating the breathtaking Blue Planet II. The programme explored ocean life around the world, in ways that we had never been able to witness before. However, this awe of our ocean was, quite rightly, overshadowed by the warning messages Mr. Attenborough delivered. These new ways of witnessing the ocean, meant we saw new ways of witnessing how our plastic waste is destroying our oceans.
The digital content creator in me can’t help but comment on the fact it was a perfect balance between the beauty of our ocean, juxtaposed with the destruction we are causing to it. It acted as a cold reminder that the time difference between Blue Planet I and Blue Planet II, was over 10 years. If we continue to pollute our oceans, at the rate we are doing, Blue Planet III might not happen.
History will decide but personally, I think 2017 was the year when men and women who has suffered harassment and abuse in the past found their voice and spoke out. These were women and men who years after alleged incidents, spoke out against the rich and powerful who have abused their positions at a point in history. It also opened up one of the biggest social debates about our behaviour in the workplace.
Half way through 2017, Harvey Weinstein dominated the front pages following allegations of sexual harassment and assault from women on several continents - many who are household names. Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual harassment by Anthony Rapp, an actor on Star Trek: Discovery. He spoke out and accused Spacey of making ‘a pass’ at him when he was just 14-years-old.
For several months it was not uncommon to hear about a new actor, director or celebrity who had either been a victim, or the offender of a sexual harassment case. It led to people everywhere asking what was right and wrong in 2017. Is it sexual harassment to touch a person's knee? What passes as a lewd comment in the workplace? and so on.
Before these sexual harassments came to light, campaigns were being developed to help with this serious issue. One particular initiative that gained nationwide recognition was a campaign local to us here in Lincoln. Titled ‘Ask for Angela’ this campaign encourages people who find themselves in a difficult situation, for example, on a date that ‘isn’t working out’, meeting someone on a date who are different from their online dating profiles, or generally feeling unsafe, to ask the bar staff ‘for Angela’.
This is a code phrase that the bar staff will understand and instantly recognise that you need help to get out of a situation you don’t feel comfortable in. They will then either call you a taxi, contact your friends and family or request that the individual causing you discomfort leaves the venue.
The #MeToo social media activist campaign also gained rapid popularity after the high profile sexual harassment scandals came to light. It encouraged everyone to come forward and share their experiences with sexual harassment, to raise awareness of the issue and to abolish the stigma towards sexual harassment, particularly in the case of males being the victims of sexual harassment.
It was, and still is, a fantastic social media activist movement that has brought together people from across the world and changed the way we perceive and discuss sexual harassment. Both the #MeToo campaign and Ask For Angela campaign, have changed the world in a great way
Do you remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Everyone challenged each other on social media to throw buckets of ice cold water over themselves. The reason? To raise money for ALS research.
The fantastic news is, thanks to the money raised from the Ice Bucket Challenge, this year saw research progress further towards understanding more about the disease. Thanks to the combined efforts of everyone on social media who took part, we are now one big step closer to abolishing this cruel disease.
But this was not the only success story. Another scientific breakthrough for burn victims in 2017. I myself can relate to a burn victim in a small way. When I was younger I fell onto a bonfire and received 3rd degree burns on both my hands. However, I was lucky. My hands healed over time, the skin regrew and the scars are non-existent. Other burn victims are not so lucky…until now. 2017 saw scientists invent a spray gun that ‘shoots stem cells’ onto burn victims to regrow their skin without scars. Go google ‘The SkinGun’…It looks like something out of a futuristic sci-fi movie (my inner geek is loving this development!). On a serious note however, this development could possibly give burn victims their self confidence back, which is nothing short of amazing.
We have a popular saying in this office here at Social Change UK. Every day is a learning day. It doesn’t matter how much, or how little you learn each day, you are always learning.
However, there isn’t much point in learning if we don’t apply it to our future experiences. We know there are some growing issues that we, as a nation, need to pull together and help remedy, for example the rising gun crime and child sexual exploitation. We are beginning to see the consequences of a 'throwaway culture' through documentaries like Blue Planet II, which are acting as a big wake up call for all of us.
What do you think were the big issues and breakthroughs of 2017? Did we miss anything off our list? Comment below... We would love to hear from you.