“Many of these people never regain consciousness,” Professor Jennifer Pilgrim said at the It’s Not Cool To Be A Tool public safety campaign launch hosted by Shoalhaven City Council on Wednesday.
The overarching message was that a single vicious act could have unimaginable consequences.
Professor Pilgrim spoke about her research into “one-punch deaths” between 2000 and 2012 which examined 90 deaths, the vast majority of which involved alcohol.
Because the research did not look at cases still moving through the justice system this number is an underestimation of the true number of fatalities in the last decade.
Her research has uncovered the need to treat the underlying problems of Australia’s toxic drinking culture, particularly among men who make up most of the perpetrators and victims.
“I think people are in denial about the risks of alcohol,” said Professor Pilgrim.
“Despite what people think, it’s overwhelmingly alcohol alone involved in these incidents, not other drugs.”
While the destructive effects of alcohol are becoming better known this research has uncovered that the average age of victims is 33, challenging the perception of alcohol related violence as a youth issue.
“Quite often alcohol issues are seen as related to young people, but it affects the whole community,” said youth development officer Donna Corbyn.
NSW has introduced new legislation to remove a legal loophole that has allowed perpetrators to reduce their sentences by arguing they could not know their attacks were lethal.
It’s Not Cool To Be A Tool aims to eradicate this defence from another direction by educating licensed venues and drinkers about the risks of violence. A new training program for clubs, pubs and security companies in the Shoalhaven has raised awareness of their legal and community obligations to manage violence.
The campaign will also distribute thousands of stubbies, coasters, posters and T-shirts to licensed venues, aiming to create constant visible reminders of the consequences of violence.
The warnings go out not only to young bucks seeking to prove their manliness but also to bystanders who might not understand the dangers of a given situation.
Co-ordinator for community development Alan Blackshaw said the message “isn’t about blaming the victim”.
“As people drink they lose control of their reasoning…your awareness of what’s around you is decreased.
“You think everyone’s your mate and there might be someone who’s holding onto anger from something totally unrelated or someone who wants to prove himself to be masculine.”
Shoalhaven City Council has partnered with Shoalhaven Liquor Accord and the Safer Community Action Team for the campaign.