Melbourne: youth workers report knife-carrying trend

July 16, 2007, ABC News:

It is usually alcohol that has parents worried when they allow their teenage children to go to parties on a weekend. Now knives have become a common threat.

In Melbourne on Friday night, a 15-year-old boy ended up in hospital with stab wounds when a party descended into a violent brawl. And last weekend, seven people were hurt when gatecrashers armed with knives and machetes barged into a birthday party at a soccer club.

Officially, police say there is no evidence the problem is getting worse, but that is a line contradicted by youth workers and officers on the beat.

Melbourne mother Rosanna Loretta was half asleep on the couch last weekend when one of her son's friends called to tell her to get to the hospital. Her 17-year-old son had been dancing at a party in Melbourne's west when gatecrashers broke in.

"He heard a scream as he turned, he copped the first machete blow to his head," she said.

"He came down, he tried to get up and then kept knocking him down. He was surrounded at one stage by 10 young boys, all slamming into him with baseball bats, iron bars and machetes."

Ms Loretta told Southern Cross Radio that one of those machete blows cracked her son's skull.

"He got a full-on whack with a baseball bat in his left eye, and at this point it will be months before we know whether he will keep that eye," she said.

Also on the weekend, this time in Melbourne's outer east, a 15-year-old boy was stabbed in his stomach and arm during a brawl that broke out after gatecrashers invaded a party at a suburban house ...

Youth worker Les Twentyman says in places, 80 per cent of young people now carry knives.

"I've been working on the streets for almost 30 years, and this is as bad as I've ever seen it," he said.

"If you couple the fact that more and more young people don't feel confident ... about the day's existence without being armed, and also the type of drugs that are out on the street at the moment, particularly amphetamines and ice, which just makes them paranoid, it's extremely dangerous on the street." ...

But Victoria Police is keen to stamp out that suggestion. Detective Superintendent Jack Blayney says the recent cases are spikes that do not reflect overall trends ...

But former deputy police commissioner Bob Falconer says he is no longer obliged to stick to the official line.

"It is worse, without a doubt," he said.

He says carrying knives is ostensibly for self-defence ...

Doctors and social workers are saying that the evidence is there and the problem is getting worse, but Mr Falconer says he is unsure why the police seem to disagree with that ...

"But there are many, many incidents occurring with knives and the carriage of them and the use of them that don't necessarily come to the attention of the police.

"There's no requirement for a medical practitioner at a major hospital to report the fact somebody has been slashed or hit over the head with a machete."

Mr Falconer says all around the country, more teenagers are carrying knives.

"I spoke recently, earlier this year to a group of people who are from education departments, security units, in every state and territory," he said.

"I then posed the question to the group - remembering, they're from every state in Australia - 'How big a problem is gangs and knives in schools?' That was the most animated I saw them all morning. Huge problem."

Mr Falconer says police and governments are afraid to publicly identify the problem because of a misguided sense of political correctness.

"Because there's often an ethnicity factor getting involved, particularly where there's gangs and weapons combined, I think there's a lot of political correctness and super-sensitivity about whether or not by nominating gangs and weapons in the same breath, and then being asked were they any particular groups involved, and then you start talking about specific ethnic groups," he said.

"I think they're frightened of it. The first way to deal with the problem is to acknowledge there is a problem, and they're not doing it."

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