I was grateful to read the Margaret Touchwood article you printed and I am also grateful to those brave souls, including Mandy Nolan, who hosted the recent forum on the topic, which I was unfortunately unable to attend. While I was aware that there were some issues of assaults and theft from a few groups of young men being referred to collectively by local young people as ‘Eshays’ (a term which apparently comes from a gang in Sydney’s inner west), I have only recently heard about the extent of their criminal activity; vicious assaults – one in Mullumbimby in broad daylight in front of Santos – people being threatened with knives.
When a relative of mine witnessed a friend being violently assaulted in Mullumbimby a few weeks ago, they rang the local police and were asked to come in and file the report in person. This contradicts the info in the very helpful Marg Touchwood article. But I now understand that they could have reported the incident and remained anonymous by either phoning 131 444 or using the website at http://www1.police.nsw.gov.au/cs.aspx. I have heard that in many cases the Youth Offenders Act is unwieldy and hampers police efforts to be effective in keeping our community safe.
After talking to three local men of various ages, it seems to me that very serious responses are needed in the local public primary and high schools, as well as a community response. I am no expert on these matters, but it seems to me a crisis like this arises when boys do not have strong enough positive connections in their family and community, nor enough positive things to do. So they seek connection and meaning through association with a group, thus creating a group identity, which they reinforce by thuggery and mischief.
Without behaviour boundaries being made apparent in our community, this can quickly morph into violence, intimidation and other criminal activity. But disaffected boys are much more likely to become good men with the help of older wiser good men. In some cases there is a limit to what women can do. While this is a community issue, it is also primarily men’s business. The boys need men to make the boundaries clear, give real consequences and then caring engagement. A suggestion was that the former local Eshay boys, some of whom have grown older and wiser, could be brought together with the younger ones to share their insights and perhaps influence them to adjust their course. They may also have good ideas on preventive measures and maybe even consequences.
What women can do is support the men to take leadership, and resist being overly protective towards the boys in question. A challenging task. It’s scary, but scarier still is living in an unsafe community and doing nothing to prevent these boys from pursuing careers in crime. Yet most people are so busy paying the rent! Who has the skills, resources, and courage to deal with such a complex problem, with risks attached?
More funding for local community services is a start, but is it enough? Gentrification is also fuelling this fire, so it would be great if any well-heeled, new locals could help support this effort, as we are all ultimately affected. I can imagine the resentment of disadvantaged boys who see some people living in luxury, while knowing so many others find it hard to just pay the rent. Those who choose to stay, to be close to friends and family, not only have to share houses, but now some apparently even have to share rooms, which adds to the pressure in the Byron Shire pressure cooker and the sense of injustice these boys may well have.
I am not a counsellor or social worker, just a concerned and bewildered community member sharing thoughts, hoping to contribute constructively to the community thinking on the topic.