Protecting our young people from alcohol-related violence

UPDATED June 2020 – I received an email this week from Rehab 4 Addiction, with a link to their website. While not wishing to endorse the organisation directly, because I can’t speak for exactly what they do, I did think that the wealth of resources on their website was impressive, and – especially in this pandemic – I wanted to be of help. So, if you or someone you know are in need of advice on alcohol addiction, please look at this site 

It can often be tempting for schools to focus inwards – on the timetable, on academic examinations, and on practicalities associated with making sure that our students are well-organised and have everything lined up for them to take the next steps in their educational career. Good and great schools, of course, recognise that their responsibilities stretch far further, and we spend time focusing on the wider purpose of education, ensuring that our students understand that their role is to make a valuable and significant difference in their world and the world of others. In fact, I would argue that this is an incredibly important part of our vision for them.

Beneath this, however, lies an aspect of their education which schools must also not forget, and that is to teach our students – in partnership with their parents – to recognise and avoid the dangers they may encounter in their daily lives beyond the school gates. At the end of every term at Ascham, teachers reinforce with our Junior School girls what they should do when they are out and about, and how they can stay safe. Stay with parents, be aware … and if they are lost, turn for help to a police officer or (perhaps more realistically) a mother with other children. Through our personal development programs at school, we talk to the girls at every stage about keeping safe, looking out for one another, looking out for younger students, and being very, very aware of the dangers that exist, particularly those connected with alcohol and drugs.

Our role in schools is also one of advocacy, however, and we have a powerful responsibility – and platform – to make sure that we support and lead work that is being done to make a difference at a local, state, national and international level. I was reminded recently of this, and I was reinforced too in my commitment to seek to make differences in the world that will also protect them, as well as empower them.

In early August I was visited at school by the parents of Thomas Kelly, who was murdered in a central nightlife area of Sydney in 2012. Thomas, who was just 18, was killed as the result of an unprovoked alcohol-fuelled attack at around 10pm on 7th July 2012, which led to horrific and fatal injuries. His parents were forced to turn off his life support two days later. Since then, to honour their son and to prevent future tragedies, his parents have created a Foundation whose goal is to raise the issue of alcohol violence with Federal and State governments, and push for more proactive measures to make city streets safer.

Recent research reveals that each year in Australia, there are 70,000 victims of alcohol-related violence, 20,000 victims of alcohol-related child abuse, 14,000 alcohol-related hospitalizations and 367 deaths caused by the drinking of others. In the UK, research shows that an estimated 600,000 incidents of alcohol-related violence occur each year in and around licensed premises, and an estimated 19,000 alcohol-related sexual assaults occur each year in England and Wales. Very recent research conducted in NSW estimates the cost of alcohol abuse to be $3.87bn per annum. These figures are just a sprinkling of the figures available, and they focus not on the economic benefits of the consumption of alcohol, but rather on the human cost; but then, the human cost is what directly affects our children, and it is what we should be very, very concerned with as parents and as educators.

Mrs and Mrs Kelly have a mission: to tackle the alcohol-fuelled violence that has crept up into becoming the norm in our society. They are asking us all – individuals, communities, law-makers – to adopt zero tolerance for anti-social and violent behaviour. They are supporting education measures, preventative measures such as CCTVs, and legislative change around liquor licensing. Their personal tragedy has translated into a community mission, and their passion is inspiring. They are powerful advocates, with a simple message, and they have clearly made significant progress – progress which will help protect young people. I said that I would pass on details of what they are doing with their work, and this can be found on their website here. They are officially launching their Foundation on Wednesday 18th September 2013.

There are many people and organisations in our world working towards worthwhile and positive outcomes for others, and it would be impossible to support (or even list) them all. From time to time, however, there will be issues that we can and should share – and share widely. Our final year school students are amazing young people who have their futures ahead of them. We educate them, we give them boundaries; we can also stand up for their rights not to be exposed to danger.

As Mrs and Mrs Kelly put it, “The idea that a young man, with a bright future, could walk down a city street minding his own business and looking forward to a night out with some close friends and be dead from horrific head injuries two days later is simply not acceptable.”

They are quite right – and we need advocates for change.

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