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Byron Shire
March 1, 2021

The language of violence and why it matters

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mannequin-violenceThe assault that killed Daniel Christie has sparked a debate on the terminology of violence and alcohol in Australia.

The 18-year-old was in a coma after being punched in the head at Kings Cross on New Years Eve.

After a string of similar incidents, such as the death of Thomas Kelly in almost the exact same spot in July 2012, there are now calls to change the term king hit to coward punch.

‘We don’t agree with the popular term king hit,’ Daniel Christie’s family said via a statement.

‘We have heard it referred to as a ‘coward punch’, which seems to be more appropriate. We have all been affected so much by this tragedy, and our clear focus remains with our son and brother during this difficult time.’

NSW police minister Mike Gallacher has agreed, telling reporters the only people who wouldn’t back this change are ‘cowards that would punch people indiscriminately in such a way’.

Gallacher says the community should use coward punch to help embarrass and shame offenders.

But Dr Paul Gruba, a senior lecturer in linguistics at Melbourne University, says changing a popular phrase such as king hit is not so simple.

‘The crowd that is going to have to change are the ones pulling the king hits,’ he told Crikey.

‘It’s going to have take government advertising and media support. And whether young males are going to change their discourse to shame one of their mates is a far-flung proposition.’

Gruba says the term would first have to find its way into the style guides of the mainstream press, but that would not be enough by itself to change the cultural argot.

He points to the example of the term sex worker instead of prostitute, along with the way the media shape their coverage of people with mental illness and those living with disabilities.

Gruba says the media are using sex work over prostitution in order to ‘make the individual more comfortable’. But he says even if the media began using coward punch, the general public would not necessarily do the same.

‘I don’t know how powerful the media are any more,’ he said.

‘It took years to change with feminism. The most successful cultural change was when George Bush decided not to call it global warming but climate change and he had the power to do it.’

Gruba says any change in the language of violence would have to come from the street.

‘Violence on the street is a discourse of war; there are winners and losers.

‘It’s about changing discourse to say there are no winners when someone is hit, there is no king. Maybe they [the perpetrators] still see society in terms of winners and losers, the hunter and hunted,’ he said.

Dr Jennifer Pilgrim, from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, agrees the community needs to change the way it views violence.

But for her, changing society’s attitude towards alcohol and its misuse is more pressing than changing a two-word phrase.

‘To curb alcohol-fuelled violence, we need to alter the drinking culture in Australia, particularly among young people,’ she said.

‘Education campaigns, limitations on sponsorship and advertising of alcohol, and more research to support and guide prevention campaigns are key to a healthier future for Australia.’

Pilgrim is the lead author of a report published in December that found alcohol was to blame in the majority of single-punch fatalities. According to the research, single-punch assaults have resulted in 90 deaths since 2000.

The NSW government is currently considering tougher legislation around alcohol-fuelled violence.

A proposed ‘one-punch’ law would carry a maximum penalty of 20 years, double the penalty imposed in Western Australia for a similar offence.

The proposed law would also remove the requirement to prove perpetrators knew the punch would be fatal.

A change.org petition calling for NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence has more than 132,000 signatures.

 


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4 COMMENTS

  1. If you are attacked by surprise and I kill you its murder whether I use my fist, head, foot or any other weapon!
    (A professional fighters feet and hands are deadly weapons) and so are everyone else’s if you are attacked without warning, if you have no opportunity to respond it has to be murder
    There is no grey area you are 100% guilty – alcohol, drugs and mental health cannot excuse Murder they should add to the sentence not reduce it.

  2. Yes, and its alcohol drugs causing murder & mayhem here..as we see..unless one is blind to fact. Who cares? We all should! Better restrictions on alcohol drugs are seriously needed, including hours of sale for alcohol drugs.

  3. This is typical of looking at irrelavent solutions, just change the words and everything will be fine. Why did not this happen 40-50 years ago,or, was extremely rare? Why have people who drink too much suddenly become so violent? Is n’t it because society has become more violent and far less altruristic and compassionate, just witness all those new laws and regulations like New Start. Is it any wonder that people who lose their inhibitions express that anger in a violent way? More police, riot squats, heavy sentences etc. has that ever stopped anything, except creating more angry people and make society more violent by example. Maybe we should look at the solution of creating more kindness and compassion.

  4. I’d get rid of the concept of ‘manslaughter’ in such situations, giving the attacker the easier option of a lesser sentence. If you go armed, with your martial arts skills, and tanked up on grog and ice, then you’re a reckless killer when you king hit some poor guy who never saw the punch coming

    On topic, someone was pointing out that there were more drivers registering drug use in recent RBTs than alcohol. I think we’re chasing the wrong horse by just demonising alcohol. Put booze and ice together and you have an exceptionally potent mixture for violence.

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