Concern over rise of 'happy slapping' craze
Fad of filming violent attacks on mobile phones spreads
London Guardian | April 26, 2005
By Mark Honigsbaum
In one video clip, labelled Bitch Slap, a youth approaches a woman at a bus stop and punches her in the face. In another, Knockout Punch, a group of boys wearing uniforms are shown leading another boy across an unidentified school playground before flooring him with a single blow to the head.
In a third, Bank Job, a teenager is seen assaulting a hole-in-the-wall customer while another youth grabs the money he has just withdrawn from the cash machine.
Welcome to the disturbing world of the "happy slappers" - a youth craze in which groups of teenagers armed with camera phones slap or mug unsuspecting children or passersby while capturing the attacks on 3g technology.
According to police and anti-bullying organisations, the fad, which began as a craze on the UK garage music scene before catching on in school playgrounds across the capital last autumn, is now a nationwide phenomenon.
And as the craze has spread from London to the home counties to the north of England, so the attacks have become more menacing, with increasing numbers of violent assaults and adult victims.
In London, British Transport police have investigated 200 happy slapping incidents in the past six months, with eight people charged with attacks at south London stations and bus stops in January alone.
The Metropolitan police have no overall figures but recorded a number of attacks in London boroughs earlier this year.
Following a spate of random attacks last December on pupils at Godolphin and Latymer girls' school in Hammersmith, west London, police posted extra officers in the area as a deterrent.
But as police have become more vigilant, so the gangs have become more sophisticated, seeking victims in parks or public areas where their crimes are unlikely to be spotted by the authorities or captured on CCTV.
Liz Carnell, the director of Bullying Online, a Yorkshire-based charity set up to combat bullying in schools, said that since the start of the year she has heard of increasing attacks both on children and on adults. But she fears many incidents are not reported.
"In most cases the worst that happens is a minor scratch or a bruised ego," she said.
"What the people behind these attacks have to understand is that technically they are committing an assault. And if they then upload the images on to the internet or a phone system they could be prosecuted for harassment."
What makes the attacks all the more bewildering is that many victims do not realise they have been happy slapped until after the event.
Earlier this month James Silver, 34, a freelance journalist, was attacked while jogging on the South Bank in London. While one youth blocked his path, another hit him with a rolled-up magazine.
When he spun around another teenager - who had been hiding behind nearby scaffolding - leapt out and hit him hard in the head. When he staggered to his feet he noticed the rest of the gang were jeering and pointing their mobile phones at him.
Silver admits that while the attack left his "ego smarting" he did not think it worth reporting. "At the end of the day I was unharmed but it was pretty shocking at the time," he said. "The worry is that while the bulk of the attacks are trivial, some of these youths could be carrying knives."
Earlier this year, schools in Lewisham, south London, and St Albans banned camera phones because of worries that the fad was leading to an increase in playground bullying.
In a comment recently posted on a London community web forum, "Happyslapper2" described the craze as a "joke", writing: "If you feel bored wen ur about an u got a video phone den bitch slap sum norman, innit."
However, in a sign of a gathering backlash, other forum members disagreed. "It's hardly a joke ... it's fuckin rude and pea-brained," wrote "slappersidiots".
"If this happy slapping fad continues it will only be a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt," predicted another.