Thursday, 15 August 2013

Alcohol-related violence and young people

This evening I had the great pleasure of sharing a stage with two amazingly brave people. Ralph and Kathy Kelly are a couple who have found themselves in a position that no parent should ever have to experience - they lost their 18 year-old son, Thomas, due a senseless act of alcohol-related violence. Thomas Kelly was walking through Sydney's King Cross on a night out with his girlfriend on July 7 2012 when he was king hit in an unprovoked and cowardly attack.

Since that evening, the couple have displayed great strength and dignity and found themselves trying to grapple with why their first born son, known affectionately as TK, was taken from them in such an horrific way. Hearing Kathy describe the night her son was killed was heartbreaking and she did so in such an honest and frank way it was extremely difficult to imagine there wasn't one person in the audience who didn't want to reach out and let her know how much they felt for her. Once she had finished telling her story, her husband Ralph talked about what had happened since their son had died - how the media camped at the door and his eventual escape from the family home for a period of time to avoid the more than 30 media calls he was receiving daily from journalists across the country. He then discussed the establishment of the Thomas Kelly Foundation, set up to help curb the kind of alcohol-fuelled violence that robbed Thomas of his life. For the past year the Kellys have met Federal and State politicians, researchers, doctors and a range of other 'experts' to try to make sure that Thomas' death was not in vain. They are truly inspiring ...

When I was talking to Ralph I told him a story about a boy I met about a month ago that just added to the concerns that he has about what is happening in this country.

James is 15 years old. He is still a boy and very young for his age. He had never been to a 'gathering' before, in fact he was so young, he still called them parties! He had never drunk alcohol (and had no interest in doing so) and was so excited to be able to go to his first night-time event. As far as he was aware there was no alcohol provided at the party but there were some older boys who seemed to be acting a little bit strange and were possibly intoxicated, although he really wasn't too sure. He assured me that there was no warning to the attack that followed and he didn't even know who the young man was who approached him but all of a sudden he was shoved across a room and felt a stinging pain in his cheek. An intoxicated young man had shoved a broken bottle into his cheek and turned it, grinding it into his face. There appeared to be no reason for the violent act and the assailant quickly left the party. James is now left with a horrible scar on his face and great anxiety about attending any social activity, regardless of whether alcohol is present or not.

I have now had countless young men who have approached me to tell me about their experiences with alcohol-related violence at teenage parties. Teenage boys who have been glassed, slashed and bladed simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and a drunken lout wanted to lash out at anyone who just happened to be in the vicinity. Anyone who believes that this won't happen to their son (or daughter) when they go to a teenage party where alcohol is tolerated has their head firmly implanted in the sand!

So how do we make a change in this area?

Sadly, we have weak goverments who have made it very clear that they are not going to challenge the alcohol or the hotel industries in this area. The NSW Government, in particular, should be totally ashamed of itself in the way they have buckled to industry pressure and not implemented some simple strategies to keep our cities (and our children) safer. When we continue to have alcohol that is cheaper than bottled water (thank you Woolworths and Coles) and 24 hour day availability of a product that we know contributes to great harm it is not surprising that tragedies continue to occur. It is obvious that the Kellys have now realized that change is not going to be led by government and our politicians (the lobby groups are just too powerful), it is going to have to come from the community itself.

Please take a minute to look at the Thomas Kelly Foundation website. They are asking for donations and hope that they can make a real difference with the money they raise. I have always said that Thomas would become the 'face' of alcohol-related violence in this country - let's hope that his tragic death will lead to some social change in this area and provide at least a little comfort to this incredibly brave family.

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