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Social Problem in Australia: Violence by the Young People

Sexual Assault and Youth Assault


Although a large body of research papers have explored the definition of social problem, a universal definition of the term is yet to be found. However, some researchers have arrived at a consensus on the criteria for defining a social problem. According to Chang et al. (2002) for a social problem to exist, the public, or a section of the public, must view the condition as a problem. Hence, social problem is viewed to exists when the public and particular objective condition describe it as problematic. To this end, a social problem denotes a condition where some members of the community of a group of people perceive to be undesirable. In which case, it is clear that the public would view crime, such as sexual assaults by the young people, as undesirable. In Australia, and like many other countries, criminal events can be found at different societal levels, such as the international, national, state and local levels. This paper argues that the ways in which the news-media portrays crime as a social problem generates multidimensional representations aimed at curtailing crime rate.

Social problem description and theories

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011), the issue of violence by the young people has become a perennial interest for the media, the community and the government as it adversely affects, education, health, loss of lives and reduced employment. According to Due (2013), great variations in the crime activities are unlimited and include sexual assault and youth assault. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011) defines the young people as individuals aged 25 and below. Analyses by the Australian Psychology Society (2013) show that violence by the young people has been on the rise in Australia over the last decade, with increased rates of sexual and youth assault relatively higher compared to other developed nations. This is indicated by the increase rate of arrests of violent offences by the young people Australia, aged between 15 and 24 years, were 711-800 per 100,000. This is comparatively higher than the US, which had 4-500 per 100,000. In addition, between 8 and 9 percent of the young people in Australia between the ages of 13 and 15 years had self-reported violent behaviour between 2002 and 2006 (Australian Psychology Society, 2013).

Any kind of news-making represents an institutional method of generating information available to an audience. Some sociologists contend that the news media becomes an invaluable tool for creating social meaning by shaping perceptions (Kumar, 2001; Dossetor and Davis, 2010). To this end, two theories can be drawn to analyse the social issues. The two include Symbolism functionalism and Conflict theory.

Symbolism functionalism views the society as a complex system, whose components coordinate towards promoting solidarity. It therefore calls on the collaborative efforts of the social structures and the social functions to shape the society, including the institutions, customs, traditions, and norms (Tsang, 2012). Hence, for sexual assault and violence among the young people to be prevented, the social structures and the social functions must coordinate as a whole to bring order. On this other hand, conflict theories contradicts functionalism as it is concerned with the power differentials in the society, such as class conflicts. The theory supports the idea that conflicting interests prevails in the society between particular members of a group and that the society is prone to constant changes. Hence, the social structure is vulnerable to constant change and degradation. Overall, conflict is bound to happen in the society because of differentials of power (Dahrendorf, 1968).

Media Content Analysis

An article published by The National showed that more and more Australian teenagers are engaging in crime activities such as sexual assault and youth assault. In the article, Scarr (2013) appeared to use harsh tone, based on the syntax, or words used in the article to express condemn the acts by the perpetrators. For instance, Scarr (2013) used the word “dangerous people” to portray the kind of fear the teenagers had caused the society. Creating a common meaning of fear related to symbolism interactions proposed that humans are influenced by the meaning and definitions that create and sustain interaction with others. Scarr (2013) article further used statistics as a way of showing the degree in which the teenagers were involved in crime. The article stated harshly that alcohol abuse and video games was a possible cause of the high crime rate among the young people. It is therefore possible to argue that by incorporating statistics, the media content was intended to influence the public into taking actions to prevent alcohol abuse among the teens. Scarr’s (2013) articles called on the collaborative efforts of the families, schools and the government to restrict the youth from alcohol abuse and to limit their consumption of the video games. This relates to symbolic functionalism, where groups or individuals with different interests find a solution to a social problem (Muschert & Carr 2006).

Indeed, cases of teenage violence are becoming commonplace in Australia. In an article by ABC News (2014), the media content was critical of teenage violence. In the article, a 17-year-old had speared another teenager in the head. The words used in the content portrayed the teenage offender as having conflicting interests to those of victim. Further, a description of how he threw bricks and steel from a roof of a shed to his perpetrator is intended to disapprove such acts in the society and to show socially unacceptable behaviour. This reflects the notion of Conflict Theory.

The media content used soft and digestible words to persuade the public and policy-makers to drop neo-prohibitions. This tendency of the media to bring congruence in divisive society depicts elements of the Conflict Theory.Conflict Theory.An article published in ABC News by Berg, (2014), appears to persuade the public into changing their perception about the correlation between alcohol abuse and violent crimes. While the arguments may be valid, it is convenient to argue that Berg’s (2014), article is a case of how the media distorts and misinterprets information. This is since a broad body of empirical researches have established a correlation between crime and drug abuse (Parker & Auerhahn1998; Parker& Auerhahn 1998). Such contrast reflects the

An article by SBW News (2014) indicated the decreased rate of violent crimes. The media content was clearly designed to express hope to the public about crime. For instance, it showed that sexual assault has greatly reduced. The statistics on reducing crime activities was used to persuade the public into taking the perception that violent criminal activities are on the decline. This media content is specifically useful to the women, elderly and less-educated people who Dossetor and Daviss (2010) study found that they tend to misconceive crime trends. This relates to the conflict theory, where the perceptions of individual within a society are shaped by authority, coercion and power.

However, in an article by the Sydney Morning Herald, Olding (2014) noted that drug use is correlated to youth assaults. The article indicated that some 75 percent young people who had been detained by Kings Cross police had been found to have drugs in their system. They were also found to be violent. The media content aimed to express concern for the drug-related crime specifically among men. In particular, the media content aimed to discourage the use of performance-enhancement drugs. To persuade the public into the severity of the social problem, the Olding (2014) used statistics that showed that Customs had detected over 500 percent case in less than six years. This is also based on Conflict Theory. The article portrayed drug use in a negative picture. It also blamed law-enforcement for its inefficiency.

In another article by ABC News, Menagh (2014) showed how the media content can be leveraged to discourage violent crime among the young people. In the article, a man, who is aged 20, had attacked a pub patron with a chainsaw in Western Australia. In the same way as the previous article, the writer describes the loathsome events to shape man’s perceptions into hating crime (Menagh, 2014). Hence, without mentioning directly, the society should act against crime, he used symbolism to explain the disgusting nature of crime. He further explained how chainsaw is a “dangerous material.”

A new article by ABC News, which was reported by Lowrey (2014), told of a story of how a 23-year-old man had raped a two-year-old step daughter. The media discouraged the act indirectly through the words used. For instance, the words “it is a difficult case,’’ was used. The media further described the pathetic conditions that the girl had been subjected to. By enabling the public to hate the perpetrators and his act, and for the public to pity the toddler’s condition, the effect is that the public’s perception on crime is shaped. In which case, as proposed by conflict theory, human interaction and action can only be understood through shared meaning, where those in authority (media) persuade the public. In another ABC News article, Marcus (2014) wrote a story on how a man who had been jailed for killing a partner’s baby had appealed against the ruling. As noted in the other articles, the media criticised the criminal acts indirectly and tactfully. For instance, they describe the merciless killing of a helpless child, which is intended to trigger the public into sympathising with the boy and condemning the crime.


This paper argues that the ways in which the news-media portrays crime as a social problem generates multidimensional representations aimed at curtailing crime rate. For instance in addition to discouraging crime activity, it is also instrumental in shaping the societal and individual response to crime. Overall, to a great extent, the tendency of the media to persuade the public into taking positive action because of its authority in information dissemination is based on the functionalism theory.


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