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The problem of violence, and the non-solutions

July 20, 2009

Violence is everybody’s problem, according to the Editorial page in Saturday’s Age. Violence might be “everybody’s problem”, but the bigger problem is that the government is currently spinning “everybody’s problem” to mean “everybody’s responsibility” and, in doing so, is avoiding taking any steps to counter it.

The full article is here; below are some items of particular interest to me.

“Street violence is not a new phenomenon here, but neither is it one that most, or even many, people risk encountering every day.” Actually, street violence is something people risk encountering everyday.  Yesterday morning there was a brawl in the street outside.  Injury was only avoided because the combatants’ efforts to trade blows were thwarted by their extreme drunkedness.

“Two acts of senseless violence in a short space of time do not make a trend, but for those who want statistical evidence the trend is there.” Of course two acts of senseless violence don’t make a trend; many, many other acts of violence were perpetrated over the past week and went unreported.

“The binge drinking once thought to be a product of restrictive licensing has continued, and the availability of other drugs that increase aggression as alcohol lowers inhibitions, has fuelled much of the rising street violence.” Good to see that there is acknowledgement of the role of factors other than alcohol, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to undertake some real analysis of what’s changed, rather than just knee-jerk reference to the Nieuwenhuysen report? Maybe factor in the increased number of sex clubs in high traffic nightlife areas?

“The Premier has urged parents, friends and workmates to send a message to young men that violence is “anti-Victorian”.” Exactly when was I meant to convey my belief that violence is “anti-Victorian” to the young man who assaulted my partner? Given that I didn’t even see him until he’d knocked my partner to the ground, was I supposed to overcome my shock and fear that the other three would start in and make my statement then? I would have thought that going about our lives in non-aggressive, law-abiding ways might have been enough to keep us from being victims of violent thugs. Perhaps Mr Brumby is going to provide Victorians with colourful wrist bands with anti-violence slogans to wear as a talisman against random attacks.

“If the perpetrators of the violence are susceptible young men, however, long prison terms in the company of hardened criminals are unlikely to influence their conduct for the better. Insofar as the courts can address the problem, community-based orders that force offenders to reflect on the consequences of their actions would be a wiser course.” Okay, for a start, why characterise violent men as “susceptible young men”?  This is nonsense. As for the suggested solution, how would a community-based order “force” offenders to “reflect on the consequences of their actions” when the consequences of their actions are… a community-based order to reflect on the consequences of their actions. Surely even the most blunted intelligence would conclude from their reflections that their actions have no consequences and further conclude that there is no reason, therefore, to modify their behaviour.

“It is a problem generated by all of us, because it is, as Mr Overland says, the result of a deterioration of public standards. “ No, it most emphatically is not a problem generated by all of us. There is no point in trying to spread the responsibility to all when it is not a responsibility shared by all. Put the responsibility with the perpetrators. Street violence has become my problem, but it is not my fault and I will not accept responsibility for it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2009 6:12 pm

    I always get suspicious when people start ranting that something is “anti-[insert demonym here]”. When the Premier says violence is “anti-Victorian”, what are we supposed to infer from that? It’s anti-Victorian but pro-NSW? Pro-SA? Pro-Tasmania? What? And then if the term is expanded and we decide violence is “un-Australian” now, does that mean that it is part of somewhere else? That violence is actually very normal and socially acceptable in most parts of the world, but Australia is a special place where it isn’t?

    The idea that a violent criminal can and may get away with a sentence of community service seems obscene to me. I’m not convinced that imprisonment is a suitable blanket penalty, but cleaning walls and stuff isn’t much of a punishment and yes, sentencing people to do it reinforces the message that you can do whatever you want, short of kill someone, and there will be no consequences. I think most violence is probably drug- or alcohol-fuelled, and if there was a reliable mechanism through which those at risk of violent behaviour could be prevented from accessing such substances, it’s possible that they could actually be useful members of society. Try as I might I can’t think of what that mechanism might be, though. Anyway, if that was possible, that would be good. I guess counselling might also be helpful for a lot of these people. And yes, imprisonment for the unrepentant ones who would otherwise attack yet more people.

    Evidently something has to be done, and the government has to do it — individuals don’t have the authority, nor the ability, to run around hauling thugs off the streets. I really don’t think reminding people how “anti-Victorian” they’re being every time they resort to violence will help matters. I’m not sure what will, though.

    • injera permalink*
      July 20, 2009 7:06 pm

      Oh, the anti-(insert state/national identity here) reaction is incredibly annoying! Interesting that Brumby is using the “anti” prefix instead of the usual “un”. Perhaps he feels that unVictorian isn’t strong enough; he’s upping the ante with… anti.

      I’m also infuriated that the police response seems to have been along the lines of “well, we can only work with the resources we’ve got”. A more sensitive government might take that as a hint to increase or review police resources, but I think this government will need a much more direct approach.

      One of our local shops has a chalkboard outside and they put a daily quote (they would probably call it a “witticism”, however it isn’t reliably witty). Last week the board read: A liberal is just a conservative who hasn’t been mugged yet. Clearly there are far greater differences between liberals and conservatives than experiences as victims of violence, but… it did make me feel uncomfortable.

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