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Taking ignorance by the Horn

Just over four years ago, the founding members of Step Back Think could say what Jonathan Horn said in The Age today, “I don't know anybody who has been assaulted in the city and I'm yet to see a brawl in a CBD pub or bar”.

If we could go back to those days and undo the punch that sealed James Macready-Bryan’s fate and derailed his family’s lives, then of course, that’s what we’d all like to do. If James had instead been whacked over the head with a tambourine – Horn’s colourful stab at the fear of being assaulted – perhaps today he would still be able to walk, talk, see and hear. Unfortunately instead, James was punched in the head in a violent and vicious attack rendering him catastrophically brain damaged with a zero per cent chance of recovery.

To refute Horn’s “anecdotal evidence” - just because you don’t see something, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

While Horn may consider attempts to raise awareness as akin to conjuring up “apocalyptic images of debauchery and thuggery”, Step Back Think believes that without first creating awareness, there will be no platform from which to build further education on the issue.

The picture of a lawless society that Horn paints in his article is far removed from reality, and it was never suggested by anyone (shock jocks included) that Melbourne was overrun with violent youths glassing, bashing and terrorising the city’s inhabitants.

Rather, attention is focused on the issue in hope of raising awareness of the dangers of street violence, so that we can move towards a future where fewer lives are destroyed by a punch thrown in the heat of the moment.

The article quotes a statistic that shows a 14 per cent decrease in assaults in the CBD over the past 12 months. No other statistical evidence is offered to support the view that Melburnians’ fears are the products of the media’s imaginative fear mongering.

Instead perhaps let a few bits of information with more credible foundations in fact than Horn’s colourful anecdotes, influence your opinion.

A 2008 study conducted by Australia 21 on the precursors and triggers of antisocial behaviour (the first comprehensive study of the issue) revealed evidence to the contrary of Horn’s opinion that reports of increasing violence are fictional.

The Melbourne metropolitan ambulance records showed assaults have almost doubled since 1999 and police data similarly revealed that assaults in the public domain had increased by more than 20 per cent in the five years preceding the study.

Police statistics also show that rates of violent crime are higher today than the rising rates recorded in the 1970s and 1980s. This doesn’t exactly correlate with Horn’s suggestion “that spikes in the rate of violent assault in the past decade are pretty much in line with the rate of population growth”.

For argument’s sake, even if this were true…does that make violence ok? Is Horn suggesting we should just tolerate people punching each other in the head because he sees it occurring at a statistically stable rate?

Unfortunately, however, it’s not. Violent assaults in areas beyond the CBD are increasing and more disturbing is the developing severity of these assaults as hospitals treat more victims of glassing and knife attacks.

The Australia 21 report revealed that police, hospitals, courts, ambulance services and education departments were all in agreement that incidences of violence had significantly increased.

The reasons for the increase are extremely difficult to explain. To understand it, we must first acknowledge that a complex combination of factors – social, economic, psychological, biological and cultural – are influencing and affecting young people’s attitudes and behaviours in totally new ways, due to recent developments in media, technology and social communications. The complexity of the changing social-scape and its effect on social behaviours is real, and an increase in violent behaviour has been a consequent result. To say that violence is not more of an issue today than it was in the past is dangerously naïve and inaccurate.

We must continue to acknowledge the issue and maintain a rational level of concern, while simultaneously searching for solutions. To effectively address the issue requires a cooperative effort across multiple departments – government, businesses, medical cheap online pharmacy services, educators, the media and young people – to figure out how t ochange the direction we’re heading in with our acceptance of violence as normal, inconsequential behaviour.

Without an investment in education aimed at long-term change, people will continue to throw punches, under the impression that when your head hits the concrete, you can get up and dust yourself off, like in the movies. If the issue remains topical, this will provide opportunities for Step Back Think and like-minded organisations to teach people that the brain is like a delicate jelly that can tear and bruise as it ricochets around the skull from the force of hitting the pavement. The damage from a single punch can be irreversible, catastrophic or fatal and this is something too few people know.

Jonathan Horn tells us he spent “a chunk” of his 20s living elsewhere. Shannon McCormack and Matt McEvoy’s 20s were cut short. There will be no opportunities for them to spend a chunk of theirs in London or Berlin. Justin Galligan and Cameron Lowe never even reached their 20s. Their families and friends may have been able to say at one time “I don't know anybody who has been assaulted in the city”, but all it takes is a split second for that to change and it is the ignorance of thinking it cannot happen to you - or that it doesn’t happen just because you haven’t personally experienced it – as expressed in Horn’s article, that highlights just how desperately we need to keep talking about it.

Melbourne is a truly great city and that was never in contention. To make that the issue illustrates a complete lack of understanding about the far more complex social issue of street violence.

A week on from the death of a 17-year-old boy who was punched in the head and later suffocated in his sleep as the result of his swelling brain blocking his body’s supply of oxygen …it’s truly disturbing to be told to “harden up and chill out” by someone who’s been blissfully unaffected by an issue he knows nothing about.