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Byron Shire
December 2, 2023

Challenging youth violence and finding a way forward

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A recent youth-violence issue currently being heard at the Mullumbimby Children’s Court took place at a party in a train tunnel in Yelgun. Photo Tree Faerie.

Marg Touchwood

Many in our community have been personally affected by youth violence and crime. My heart goes out to the parents and young people who have been affected by the awful threats and violence being perpetrated.

In the long run no-one benefits from a cycle of violence, not the victims or the troubled boys. I hear that there are now some people who are thinking of going to our local primary schools to attempt to intervene early and prevent children from becoming involved in crime. If the school contacts you about your son or daughter, please swallow your pride and hear them out, for they are only trying to help our young ones get on the right track.

What can be done about youth crime?

I have been doing some homework and understand that under the Youth Offenders Act 1997 a youth liason officer (YLO) is assigned to each Local Area Police Command. Investigating officials determine whether a child should be dealt with by way of a YOA (Youth Offenders Act) warning or caution before issuing an infringement notice.

An on-the-spot warning may be given for a summary offence covered by the YOA if the circumstances of the offence do not involve violence and the investigating official considers it appropriate. A young person is not entitled to be dealt with by caution in relation to an offence if the young person has been dealt with by caution on three or more occasions. Under the Act they can also apply and enforce curfews and make recommendations for issuing youth curfews, an infringement notice or filing charges.

Statement v Report

In order to act in his role the youth liason officer requires reports of crimes being committed. It seems clear from my inquiries that in the past few years many of the crimes committed by local youth have not been reported to police, or witnesses have had casual discussions with police but did not get an event ID to ensure that a report was filed in the system. 

It is very important that people understand the distinction between a report and a statement. A formal statement is usually filed by a complainant – or alleged victim – and means police will investigate the matter and charge the perpetrator if sufficient evidence can be established. In some cases when a video of the crime is available the police will choose to charge the perpetrator without a statement from the complainant.

Many believe that in criminal cases it is the complainant who presses the charges and decides whether the proceedings will continue. But in Australia, the state presses and makes decisions about criminal charges – the complainant is merely a witness in the proceedings.

In some cases the person who witnessed the crime feels threatened by an individual or a group and wants to maintain their anonymity. It is possible to tell police that you want to remain anonymous and ask them to file a report in the system. This involves phoning police with information about the crime. This can done in person or by phoning 131 444. Citizens should only use this number to report crimes if it is not an emergency. Each report is afforded an event ID and that this ID can be used whenever referring to the matter. If you receive an event ID rest assured that the report has made it to the system and particularly if specific youths are named that it will be useful to the YLO in his or her role. Be aware that reporting false information to the police is a very serious crime.These reports are essential to our YLO to plan his or her activities within our local area.  

We can all make a difference to make our Shire safe again. If you witness a crime take a video or phone police on 131 444.

Do not be afraid to file a report with police and get an event ID. If we choose to do nothing then the problem will simply continue. If police don’t know what is happening, they can’t investigate or take action.

It is also important for people to be aware that the police lay charges, and with those charges bail conditions can be applied that protect victims and restrict offending behaviour.

I’d encourage people to report crimes.

I am not afraid to speak out to help this place return to the place of peace and kindness that I once knew.

♦ Marg Touchwood is a pseudonym as the author’s family have been affected by youth violence.

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