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Society can’t just shrug off social violence

Recently released statistics tell us that male victims of physical violence don’t view their assault as a crime, rather as something that ‘just happens’. What does that say about the way we raise boys and young men? What are we teaching them about their value and worth if they think that physical violence against them isn’t a crime, that it’s an inevitable thing that just happens?

These statistics come from the latest national Personal Safety Survey, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which measures people’s experience of violence, emotional abuse and sexual harassment.

The data includes information on social violence – physical violence between strangers, acquaintances and friends – and paints a picture of the brawls, one-punch assaults and fights that don’t make the news or get reported to police.

In their lifetime, one in four men experience social violence. If you have not been directly affected by social violence, chances are you know someone who has. And the truth is, they’re lucky to be alive.

When it comes to social violence, there is no way to predict how the punch will land or how the person will fall. What separates men from getting a fine or jail time is a game of inches and suddenly, a ‘good bloke’ can become a criminal overnight.

While there has been an overall reduction in physical violence between men over the last decade, the scale of the problem continues to be unacceptably high. Men are still more likely to be victims and perpetrators of violence and are three times more likely than women to be assaulted by a stranger.

These statistics reinforce what we already know – that men’s safety in social and public places is most threatened by other men. Most reported assaults occurred in an entertainment or recreation venue (28%) or another outside location (28%). Young people should be out having the time of their lives, not fighting for it in emergency wards.

Social violence is happening everyday across the country with almost 600 incidents of physical violence per week. We cannot accept this level of violence as inevitable because any fight could end someone’s life or change it forever.

The statistics tell the stories of social violence that don’t end in the loss of a young life, like it did for Patrick Cronin, Jaiden Walker and too many others to name. Step Back Think, a charity that aims to prevent these deaths, has identified at least 20 deaths from social violence in 2017.

When someone dies there is a huge outpouring of grief and anger, and rightly so – it is a tragedy. But where is the grief and anger for the assaults where the victim gets up again?

Why are we only angry about social violence when there is a fatality or a brain injury? Where is the outrage for the one in four boys and men who will be assaulted at least once in their life by another man?

No wonder 31% of victims of physical assault perceive their assault as something that ‘just happens’ or as wrong but not a crime (26%). Most men do not report their assault to police; approximately seven out of ten incidents of physical assault were not reported. Society is telling them to get up, dust themselves off and get on with life.

What is clear is that we have an attitude problem when it comes to social violence and these statistics speak directly to the heart of the broader issue – the collective shoulder shrug. We’ve seen a huge shift in the way that the community views and responds to family violence. We need to see the same shift with social violence and it shouldn’t take another tragedy to ignite that change.

Step Back Think has been working to prevent social violence for nearly a decade through education, research and awareness initiatives. Over the years, we’ve heard familiar stories from grieving parents trying to make sense of the senseless. Sometimes, the enormity of the task seems too great. Can we really put an end to this violence? The short answer is yes.

Sure, violence is complex, but it is preventable. We can no longer afford to toss social violence into the ‘too hard basket’. It’s not inevitable or something that ‘just happens’ when boys are being boys. It is a behaviour that is taught and learnt – and we can change the script but first we need to recognise it.

It’s the violence that doesn’t end in tragedy that we need to talk about or our silence will be deadly.

Learn more about Step Back Think’s education program here.


Anna O’Halloran is a public health professional and the CEO of Step Back Think. This article was originally published in the Herald Sun.