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The weapon everyone has access to: Sydney’s horror week of stabbings puts spotlight on knife crime

(ABC) -- Four days, five unrelated stabbing attacks across Sydney. Seven people dead.
Six of those died at the hands of Joel Cauchi, the 40-year-old Queenslander who stormed a busy shopping centre in Bondi Junction on a Saturday afternoon and began indiscriminately stabbing shoppers, mostly women, before he was shot dead by a police officer.

A place for people to pay tribute to the victims of the Westfield Bondi Junction stabbing attack has been set up in the centre.--ABC News Jak Rowland

This sort of thing didn’t happen in Sydney, the shell-shocked people gathered outside the Westfield said on Sunday morning. But it had, and it would again, in very different circumstances two days later on the other side of the city.
This time the scene was a church in Wakeley, a suburb in Western Sydney. Only a small congregation was present at the time of the attack, in which controversial Assyrian Orthodox preacher Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel suffered lacerations to his head, but the sermon was being live-streamed, sending hoards of people to the church in its wake. No one was killed.
Both attacks were the subject of rolling media coverage.
Elsewhere in Sydney another three stabbings passed with less attention yet were more indicative of the knife crime that happens under the radar on any given week.
An attack on a woman, who escaped with injuries, near Bondi Beach the day before the Bondi Junction attack; the stabbing of two people in Doonside that same night, which left one person dead and the other hospitalised; and a day later, another stabbing at a house party in the city’s south-west that landed two teenagers in hospital.
The culmination of the attacks over such a short period of time, while entirely unrelated, left the city reeling — and the impact was felt across the country.
For many, going to church or the local shopping centre suddenly became something to be feared. The sense of safety that many say they feel living in Australia was shattered.
In response, experts moved to reassure the public that the spate of incidents isn’t indicative of a deadly crime wave — in fact, violent knife crime has been trending downwards for decades.
But look beneath the top-line statistics and a more complicated picture emerges.
“Certainly amongst some groups, especially young people, we’re seeing the carrying and use of knives increasing,” said University of Newcastle criminologist Dr Xanthé Mallett. “And that’s particularly concerning because we’re talking about people as young as 12 carrying weapons.”
After two high-profile attacks in the same city within days of each other, it was almost inevitable that people would start to ask: does Australia have a knife problem?
“People are saying to me ‘I’m afraid to go out’,” Mallett said. “That vicarious fear that’s caused by multiple attacks, even with very different motivations, different offender profiles, victim profiles, it causes that underlying vicarious trauma through the population.”
On Thursday, NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb said that knife crime has long been a problem. “Knife crime is an issue that has been on the agenda across Australia and New Zealand for many months and years now,” she told journalists. “It’s not new.”
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the use of knives in homicide and related crimes (including murder, attempted murder and manslaughter), sexual assault, kidnapping and abduction remained relatively steady across the country between 2010 and 2022. Robbery with a knife as a weapon was up slightly in 2022, compared to the previous year — from 2,089 to 2,232 — but it was still lower than in 2010.
In New South Wales, where the most recent data includes 2023, it’s a similar picture: assaults and robberies where a knife was recorded by police are all at 20-year lows. The trend for murder and attempted murder with a knife is less clear given the small number of recorded offences, but rates have also remained relatively low.


(Latest Update April 22, 2024)

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