This week’s episode of Insight is called “Punch Drunk” and looks at the issue of street violence.
It is hosted by Anton Enus.
While Australian crime rates have fallen over the past decade, assault numbers have remained stubbornly high.
Alcohol is a huge factor in street aggression.
Incidents can escalate quickly and often with extreme consequences.
Emergency and trauma physicians are worried about the cases of severe head injuries coming to Emergency. Some say that although assault numbers might be stable, the attacks are more intense and the injuries more serious.
Some experts think a change of culture is what’s needed, but others believe legislative deterrents are the answer.
Insight looks at the nature of street aggression and assault in Australia, and how to tackle it.
Chris, 18, admits to being in a few fights over the years, usually in situations where he felt the need to defend his mates. However, he says he would never go out deliberately looking for trouble. Chris lost the sight in one eye after being stabbed during a stoush in Kings Cross earlier this year. The fight started after a stranger racially abused Chris on the street. Chris partly blames himself for reacting to the slur.
Amee’s husband Brett was killed in an assault in a nightclub in Katherine, Northern Territory, on New Year’s Day, 2010. The 39-year-old father of three died from traumatic injuries to the head when his head hit the floor after a king hit. The person who attacked Brett was found guilty of manslaughter and received a sentence of five years in prison. However, Amee believes the threshold for proving manslaughter in the NT is too difficult, and is campaigning to introduce a specific crime of “one-punch homicide”.
Andrew says his son James now has no quality of life after suffering serious brain injuries during an assault in Melbourne’s CBD in 2006. James was out on his 20th birthday when a verbal altercation on the street sparked the attack. The attackers chased James and his friend through the streets, until eventually cornering them in a dead-end alley. Andrew says that alcohol does play a role in random street violence, but he says the most important thing is a change in culture.
Dave was at a Melbourne nightclub in 2008 when he was king hit from behind and had his head stomped on as he lay unconscious. He suffered brain damage and had to relearn basic language and bodily functions. He suffered post-traumatic amnesia and, at one point, didn’t recognise his parents or know his own name. He is now part of Step Back Think, which urges people to think twice before throwing a punch and getting involved in a fight.
John is a trauma surgeon at Sydney’s Liverpool Hospital and Deputy Chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. He says alcohol is a huge factor in night time assaults in clubbing areas, resulting in severe injuries. He says Liverpool hospital gets at least three deaths a year from assault-related head injuries and, for every death, about 10 more serious injuries requiring extensive rehabilitation.
Superintendent Rod Wilson commands Melbourne’s North West area. Despite strategic policing operations every weekend, Rod says Melbourne’s CBD still deals with up to 300 street assaults a month. He says the problem is the density of venues which has risen from 1200 in 2004 to 1800 today. He says you can’t simply arrest the city out of the problem – young people, parents and licensees need to take responsibility.
Tuesday 21 August 8.30pm on SBS ONE.