A need to step back and think

boys street violence

Everyday lately we hear more about the increase in street violence and the shocking injuries and death of young men. Now in Sydney there are calls to raise the legal drinking age to 20 or 21 or take other measures to cut back opening hours of venues. But I think we are missing the point with the focus on alcohol. It is really about young men learning that violence is not on and developing new ways to settle disputes with others.

There is little doubt that we live in a more violent world, on TV, in movies, games, with bullying at school, elder abuse and intimate partner abuse and violence on the increase. Popular culture elevates violence and young men and women are being raised in a community that wants them to be more assertive but dangerously lauds in its own way different kinds of aggression and violence. We need a cultural change to address the violence in our society and we need to educate people to engage in non-aggressive resolution of problems. We need to treat the cause of violence, not symptoms like trying to restrict alcohol to young people or limiting opening hours of licensed premises – these are band aid measures only. Many young people drink at home before they go out. We need to consider social inclusion and youth unemployment as many overseas studies show that the most marginalised young men and women are those most likely to engage in street violence.

A recent Deakin University study suggests that alcohol fuelled aggression amongst young men is linked to abusive fathers. The study explored a connection between father-son relationships and barroom violence between men. There results indicated that young men who had an abusive relationship with their father could turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism and when they did drink they consumed substantial amounts of alcohol, enough to impair their judgement leading to misinterpreting situations and increasing their likelihood of being involved in violence. For many other young men growing up in Australia today there are very few male role models for them, as many are raised in single parent families largely headed up by women. With less males in teaching, youthwork and other “helping professions” in Australia many young men do not develop a set of logical knowledge and skills around how to behaviour when some conflict with others arises and how to walk away or avoid escalating the situation to one of violence.

Some degree of street violence has always been part of Australian culture but is clearly changing is the rules of engagement. There appear to be no rules, no restraint and use of greater violence that causes permanent damage to the victim or death. Situations escalate quickly and mates can be summoned by mobile phones for a bigger all in brawl. Once no one kicked a man when he was down – that rule doesn’t hold now. Young men people need to be taught to have more concern for the greater wellbeing of the community and learn new skills in how to shoe compassion for others beyond their immediate circle of friends.

I recently looked for educational programs for boys and young men around preventing street violence in Australia and found there are very few. There are a quite a number of programs for young males on preventing domestic or intimate partner violence, but very few dealing with violent behaviour in general, including street violence.  But one excellent program is the Step Back Think campaign that was formed in Victoria in the wake of the horrific injuries sustained by James Macready-Bryan in 2006. James was assaulted in the Melbourne CBD on his 20th birthday on October 13th, 2006. A single punch knocked James to the ground where his head smashed against the pavement, resulting in catastrophic brain damage from which he will never recover.The sole mission of Step Back Think is to educate people on the catastrophic consequences one punch can have, and from this, reduce levels of street violence. Over the past three years Step Back Think has garnered support from former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Victorian Premier John Brumby, Eddie McGuire, Neil Mitchell, Steve Bracks and Peter Costello. They are doing a great job and their website describes them as “a team of students and professionals, doers and thinkers, young and… less young. Since 2008 we’ve tried to encourage young people to step back and think of the consequences of throwing a punch, in hopes of overhauling their attitudes towards street violence.” They are a great example of what we need to do here in NSW.

Greg Millan, Men’s Health Consultant & President Men’s Health Forum NSW Inc. | Published Newcastle Herald January 15 2014

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