Ice and domestic violence: when we consider each of these issues in isolation, it’s clear that Australia has a job on its hands.
But taken together, the issues become even more complex and difficult to address. Recent statistics indicate that ice addiction and domestic violence are increasingly linked in a tragic cycle of abuse.
Just recently in the sleepy rural town of Brewarrina, 18-year-old Melita Hart was killed by her ice-addicted boyfriend. Devastated locals say that the incident highlights the impact of cutbacks to drug and alcohol services in the region.
With 34 women killed at the hands of partners this year alone – and Australia’s ice problem being declared an ‘epidemic’ – many are questioning what should be done to tackle these issues.
Recently released statistics from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research indicate that the highly addictive and destructive drug ‘ice’ is of great concern to our society.
Last year, 30,000 people were arrested for ice-related offences, but Bureau Director Dr Don Weatherburn believes that this is ‘just the tip of a very large iceberg,’ as many users ‘went undetected.’
Meanwhile, domestic violence remains a huge issue, with 16,171 domestic violence assaults recorded in Sydney in the year to September 2014 – an increase of almost 2,000 since 2011.
Victorian statistics indicate that ice addiction increasingly contributes towards domestic and family incidents. In 2013-2014, drugs are said to have played a part in 6,482 family violence incidents, up from 2,468 in 2010-2011.
While some experts have stated that the rise in domestic violence statistics could be attributed to increased reporting by victims due to better community awareness, experts have cautioned that they still do not account for the thousands of domestic violence incidents that go unreported.
A Complex Problem
Community service workers may agree that ice addiction is ‘not the root cause’ of domestic violence, but suggest that it has become increasingly reported and contributes to the ‘severity of attacks.’
Workers from the Child and Family Services Violence Intervention team have reported an increase in the number of family violence cases where the perpetrator is suffering from an ice addiction.
Methamphetamines such as ice are stimulant drugs, which can cause a user to experience paranoia, hallucinations and psychotic episodes – which can trigger violent or aggressive behaviour.
It is said that just one or two ‘casual’ experiences with ice can quickly spiral into a destructive cycle of abuse, due to its highly addictive properties.
Those who become hooked on the drug can also experience depression and anxiety when they are not high, which can also cause them to become hostile towards others. Victims and experts report that ice abuse can make abusive behaviour ‘unpredictable’ and attacks ‘more severe.’ Financial constraints can also exacerbate violent behaviour, with some users turning to crime to fund their drug habits.
The consequences can become even more tragic when children are in the picture. The Australian Institute of Family Studies has identified substance abuse as one ‘key risk factor’ for child abuse and neglect, making it difficult for parents to undertake household tasks such as cooking and cleaning, and to adequately supervise their children. Ice addicted parents may also turn to physical punishment as a quick means of disciplining children, and may experience emotional detachment from their kids.
In one particularly serious case, an ice-addicted Tasmanian man, along with two women, were found to have sexually abused five children aged between three and 14 whilst under the influence of the drug. The Tasmanian Supreme Court also heard that the man had given the children ice in order to ‘keep them awake’ during the abuse.
While police, politicians and community workers agree that Australia has significant issues when it comes to ice addiction and domestic violence, not all agree on how the issues should be addressed.
We recently reported on the Baird government’s proposals to tackle ice addiction in NSW, which mainly focuses on heavier policing and tougher penalties for drug suppliers.
Last month, a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting resulted in $30 million being earmarked for a public awareness campaign to curb family and domestic violence. The campaign will be complemented by a National Ice Taskforce to be led by former Victorian police commissioner Ken Ley, which will involve an expensive advertising campaign aimed at young people who may be at risk of using the drug.
But some have warned that the ice campaign could be nothing more than a waste of taxpayer money, with experts cautioning that mass advertising could even encourage youngsters to rebel and use the drug.
Community organisations have warned the Prime Minister that young people do not necessarily make rational assessments of risk, and that advertising that highlights the dangers of using ice will likely fail to have any positive impact.
Rather, experts agree that funding would be better directed towards community support programs, such as rehabilitation facilities and shelters, which can assist people to overcome their addictions and get back on their feet.
And youth workers have suggested that educational campaigns implemented in schools by specialist organisations such as the Ted Noffs Foundation may be more effective than simple advertising.
Sadly, these organisations, along with shelters and rehabilitation centres, had their funding slashed as a result of last year’s controversial budget. But more recently, community groups have applauded the Baird government’s proposal to invest $7 million back into drug treatment programs around the state.
Despite the partial back-flip, many are questioning whether enough is being done to support drugs users to beat their addictions – saying that more emphasis should be placed on targeted education and social support, rather than increased penalties and enforcement.