Violence in Schools and the Age of criminal responsibility
An 11-year-old girl was recently arrested and charged after a violent assault on another school student in Perth’s northern suburbs.
It is reported that the girl who is alleged to have started the attack has been recommended for expulsion. A number of other students allegedly involved have also been temporarily suspended.
Apparently, the teenage victim was not badly injured, despite allegedly being pushed to the ground, and punched in the head and hip and ribs. She has returned to school. It's also reported that the teen is now being bullied online for reporting the attack to the police.
Parents are worried
Understandably, parents are on high alert after a number of violent incidents across the state in the past several months. Perhaps one of the most concerning features of these incidents is that bystanders (or sometimes those involved) film the incident and upload it to social media, rather than intervening and trying to stop the assault from continuing.
While video footage can be powerful evidence in matters that go through the courts, this is a disturbing trend.
The ‘Bystander Effect’
The ‘Bystander Effect’ is not new. It’s a social psychological theory that suggests people are less likely to offer help to a victim in the presence of other people.
The theory was first proposed in 1964 in the United States after the murder of a woman called Kitty Genovese, a young New Yorker who, in 1964, was stalked, stabbed, and killed outside her Queens apartment building while dozens of people stood by and watched.
There are a number of myths about this particular incident. Some people did help though. A couple called the police, and one woman held the victim as she lay dying. The majority did nothing.
Nevertheless, apathy in preference to intervening is not a new phenomenon – a downside to social media culture. It is, according to some experts, part of the human condition. And as we all know, teens, more so than adults, are more likely to do as their peers do, rather than stand out from the crowd.
Undoubtedly, some of these young people will be investigated by police in the coming weeks, and some may be called to give witness testimony if the alleged attacker is prosecuted through the courts, which appears likely. Police have not released the list of charges against the alleged offender.
Age of culpability
In Western Australia, children and young people aged 10 to 17 years can be charged with criminal offences. And while the Children’s Court will apply the principles of juvenile justice in regard to sentencing, young people who commit violent offences, such as serious assault, or residential burglary/theft do frequently end up in juvenile detention.
The ‘age of culpability’ is also being raised in the ACT.
A recent joint media release noted that the ACT Government will introduce a bill into the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility – making the ACT the first Australian jurisdiction to legislate an increase to 14 years. The Justice (Age of Criminal Responsibility) Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 will raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years on commencement, and to 14 years by 1 July 2025.
ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said “This is a significant reform to justice in the ACT that recognises the evidence around young people who engage in anti-social behaviours. In the ACT we will seek to address the factors that cause young people to offend – like trauma, abuse, neglect or unmet health needs - and to help young people rather than criminalise them.”
Throughout different Australian jurisdictions, there has been significant debate over raising the age of criminal responsibility. Many psychology experts and human rights champions believe that the age should be raised to at least 14, as it is in countries, such as Germany, Italy, and Spain. In Scandinavian countries, it is 15 years of age.
Teachers and students have a right to be safe
The other very serious issue here, of course, is that young people, teachers, and school staff have a right to be safe within the school environment. And with these violent incidents appearing to be steadily on the rise, this is something that the Western Australian Education Department is going to have to consider seriously.
And there are no clear answers. In New York City more than 80 schools have metal detectors to stop weapons from coming into school grounds. A Sydney school implemented fingerprint access to toilets last year – as part of a strategy to crack down on vandalism and track student movements – and came under fire by privacy advocates who said the technology was “unreasonable and disproportionate.”
It’s difficult to believe that one day metal detectors and the like may be introduced in schools in Western Australia, however only time will tell.
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