Our front page story on Thursday made for some disturbing reading.
The headline: Assault victim issues warning. The story: Phil Surridge is warning people not to walk alone at night.
Really? Can this be right?
Evidently it is. Phil's an ordinary bloke, who by his account was walking to a taxi in downtown Timaru at 1am on Sunday. He came across four blokes, and one of them clocked him. Seemingly for no reason.
On its own this isn't necessarily a big deal (unless you're Phil). There have been fisticuffs between males ever since testosterone was added to their bodies. But the lack of a motive is a sign of modern times.
What's with that? Maybe it's a gang initiation thing, or peer pressure from mates, or the influence of overseas movies, music videos or games, or a general lack of respect. Certainly it's something that wasn't as evident when I was growing up.
A story like this 30 years ago would have been unheard of. Oh hang on, we had gang problems in Timaru back then. But still, if there was a beating, it wasn't random. There was history between the parties. Ordinary people felt like they could still walk the streets at night at the weekend. Even alone.
But like Phil, I'd hesitate to do that now.
The situation was reinforced by local police boss Dave Gaskin. In the last two months there have been about 35 assaults in public places in the Mid South Canterbury area, which includes Timaru and Ashburton.
Thirty-five. That sounds like a lot to me. And that's just the ones the police know about. How many others have there been?
I'm not sure what the answer is here but staying home shouldn't have to be one of them.
Mr Gaskin says alcohol is a significant factor, and the latest liquor laws will give local councils more power over pub opening hours and number of outlets.
That's not the real problem though, and I don't envy publicans the task of monitoring every drink every patron has, even though the law says they should.
The real problem is the attitude of the perpetrators.
Aside from arresting them and dealing with them through the courts, there's not much else individuals can do.
Except stop being individuals at night, and have others around you.
That's a sad indictment on towns the size of ours.
- © Fairfax NZ News