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Heather du Plessis-Allan: Alcohol isn't violent - people are

Author
Heather du Plessis-Allan ,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Sunday, 30 July 2017, 9:04AM

I spent all of yesterday afternoon sitting with my husband and other family in a hospital room. The reason we were there? A young man in my husband’s family had been stabbed on Friday night.

It started like a usual Friday night: after-work drinks in Wellington, then catching up with a few mates down at Courtenay Place. The night went on. The drinks kept flowing.  Eventually everyone went home except for this young man.

So, probably around 3am, he decided to leave. He was walking out the bar when he got into a bit of an argument with another guy.

Next thing he knew, he was bleeding from his arm.

The guy had stabbed him in the forearm.  I’m no professional, but it looks like he saw the knife coming and put his arm up to stop the blow.  If he hadn’t done that, the knife could’ve hit him somewhere else and it could’ve been a lot worse.

The public rushed to help, the police arrested the other guy and this young man was rushed to hospital.

That’s the part of an attack that we hear about in the media: the drama. What we don’t hear about is the hours that young man had to spend yesterday without food or drink, waiting for surgery.  At 7pm the surgery was postponed for the day. Maybe he’ll be operated on today.

What we also don’t hear about is the anxiety in the room when suddenly his wound starts bleeding again. A lot. The pillows, the bandages, his gown are covered in blood.  It happens again later that night.

What we also don’t hear much about is the six months it’ll take him to recover from just one stupid action.  In that six months he’ll find out if all his fingers will work again, he won’t be able to write, and he won’t be able to do his job.

It’s too easy to blame this on rising violence. There is no rising violence in New Zealand.  I left the hospital room to call criminologist Jarrod Gilbert who told me violent crime is actually decreasing and has been since the seventies.

It’s also too easy to blame this on our "drinking culture". Alcohol doesn’t make people violent. People either are or are not violent. If they already are violent, alcohol just reduces their ability to control themselves. And if you don’t believe that, then consider this: why was the stabber carrying a knife? He took the knife with him to town. Alcohol didn’t take the knife to town. The knife proves violence was already a possibility.

In fact, I’m quite tired of alcohol being blamed for bad behaviour.  We have a history in this country of wowserism.  As far back as you can go in our colonial history, you’ll find temperance movements.

People blame all kinds of carry-on on alcohol, which means the rest of us lose privileges like being able to buy wine in the central city at a certain time of night. I don't know about about you, but I had a drink last night and didn’t stab anyone. Alcohol is not the problem. Violent people are.