Youth forum - The impact of violence on young people
Ask any young person about violence and chances are they have experienced it or know someone who has. Whether it's in schools, on the streets, in bars and clubs, or in the workplace, the many forms of violence are a serious problem that the Australian Government is looking to reduce.
Hearing directly from young people
An inquiry into the impact of violence on young Australians is being conducted by a group of ten Members of Parliament (MPs), known as the Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth. On Monday 15 February 2010, a youth forum was conducted to gather information directly from young people about how violence affects their lives, and to suggest ways to reduce it.
MP Annette Ellis explained that this was a chance for the government to hear directly from young people. The government has previously heard about the issue of violence from experts and community leaders, but not directly from young people.
I was lucky enough to attend and meet the diverse range of young people at the forum, who included those from different cultural, national, and religious backgrounds. Young people of differing sexual orientation and disabilities also attended. Some of the young people were still in high school, and some were out of school, working or pursuing tertiary education.
It was really interesting and quite moving to hear the experiences of so many different young people. Despite their diversity, they all had experienced violence or bullying in some way or another. They were all passionate about finding a way to reduce it, and the forum was their chance to have their voices heard.
It's time to have a discussion about violence
Over the course of an hour the young people broke up into groups to discuss the issue of violence and how it affected them. A facilitator sat with each group to guide the discussion and to make sure everyone got a chance to talk. The discussions were divided into three areas.
- What does violence mean to you?
- Perceptions and experiences of violence occurring among young people.
- What can be done by the Australian Government to reduce violence among young people?
After the discussion, each group presented their summary. The presentations were recorded as public record to be used in the Committee's report.
Most of the young people at the forum defined violence as being any mental or physical anguish inflicted on another person, including bullying. They identified various forms of violence and bullying as occurring in schools, on the streets, in bars and clubs, and in workplaces.
There was a very strong perception among the young people that violence was increasing. The facilitators stated that in fact while number of violent attacks was decreasing, those attacks that did occur had a tendency to be more ferocious and severe than previously.
The perception that violence was increasing was attributed to increased media coverage. Additionally, the use of the internet and mobile phones meant that young people were more exposed to and aware of violent attacks, such as those recorded and sent to friends or posted online.
Alcohol was considered to be a major influence of violent attacks that occurred outside of schools.
What can be done?
Most importantly, there were many ideas about what could be done to reduce violence among young people. They suggested teaching students as young as primary school how to handle anger or difficult situations. They believed it would be better for children to develop the skills at a young age than to wait until high school to learn.
A novel idea was to create a Learner-to-P-plate system for drinking alcohol. This would allow young people to learn how alcohol specifically affected them and to set personal limits. It could include learning about how to manage potential violent situations.
Many of the discussion groups believed that an increased police presence in troubled areas would deter violent attacks, as would harsher penalties for attackers. Some of the young people commented that violence and bullying in schools could be reduced if teachers took more time to mediate problems between students.
What happens from here?
The recorded presentations from each group of young people will be put onto the Committee's website (new window) for anyone to read. They will help the Committee to gain a better understanding of the effects of violence on young Australians, and potential solutions to the issue.
The Committee will use the information from the youth forum to make recommendations in a written report to the government about how it can reduce violence and its effects on young people. The report will be completed by mid-2010 and will be available on the Committee's website (new window).
To find out more about the Impact of Violence on Young Australians inquiry you can visit its webpage at www.aph.gov.au/youthviolence (new window).
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