Editorial: Are we more violent now?

22:42, Jul 11 2013

There's a chilling description in a story today about an assault which saw a fisherman facing sentence yesterday in the Timaru District Court.

It talks about him picking up a stick, in response to the victim kicking his car, hitting the man in the back of the head and the back, causing him to fall to the ground. After that, he kicked the prone victim until he lost consciousness, resulting in him spending time in hospital, where he was treated for a head injury.

In sentencing him, Judge Maze pointed out that the case highlighted a disturbing new trend. Whereas fights once used to end when one participant fell to the ground, now that's often the signal for the kicking to start, with the party on the ground in an acutely vulnerable position.

As she said, there is the danger of exceedingly serious and even fatal consequences in those circumstances. Which isn't difficult to verify. There have certainly been situations in New Zealand, and right here in Timaru, where people have suffered serious ongoing injuries, or died, as a result of such naked aggression.

There was a time when that sort of escalation simply wouldn't have happened, where kicking was out, and especially of a vulnerable part of a person's anatomy, like the head. Not in every case, clearly, but most often.

Which is not condoning brawling, simply pointing out that there was a time when people knew when to stop. Whereas accounts like the aforementioned one are on the increase now. Yesterday was certainly not the first time this year that Judge Maze has been moved to comment on someone aiming blows at the head of a victim.


So what's changed? Why are we seemingly more violent now?

Is it television or movies, which feature more graphic violence these days? I can remember turning away during one scene in the 1990s movie Trainspotting, which featured a sustained and brutal assault by a crazed character who had lost all self-control, because I simply couldn't watch anymore.

Is it alcohol or drug use? Has that been a factor in removing the last vestiges of self-control for some people? Almost certainly, in my view, though the extent of its influence is hard to quantify.

Is the violence we see on the sports field a factor? That's a question that won't please sporting bodies, I'm sure, but it's a valid one, I believe. I've never seen an extreme assault in a sporting encounter, but does the sometimes violent behaviour of athletes make violence generally more acceptable?

Whatever it is, it's a problem that needs sorting urgently.

The Timaru Herald