Prof John Langley
The rate of serious assaults in New Zealand has been
steadily rising, throwing into doubt claims in recent years
that society is becoming less violent, the lead author of a
University of Otago study says.
The study, published in the New Zealand Medical
Journal today, found that between 2000 and 2009 there
were 8006 serious non-fatal assaults, with 76% of all victims
men (6335). From 2003 to 2008, the rate of serious assaults a
year increased by 50%.
The study's lead author, Emeritus Prof John Langley, of the
university's Injury Prevention Research Unit, said it threw
into serious doubt claims based on police and judicial
statistics that New Zealand was becoming a less violent
"Police statistics are just not a reliable source for
reporting trends, because they are influenced by changes in
reporting behaviour and changes in recording behaviour," Prof
Langley told the Otago Daily Times.
For example, after a domestic violence campaign, the number
of cases reported to police could go up, while the number of
actual instances remained the same.
The statistics used in the study were reliable as they were
based on hospital admissions in cases where people had a 6%
or greater chance of dying.
The study showed that among women, the serious assault level
had fluctuated over the nine-year period, but for men,
particularly in the 15-24 age-group, the numbers had risen -
particularly between 2004 and 2009.
The most common method of injury was bodily force, followed
by use of a blunt object, then use of a sharp object or
knife. Head injuries accounted for 72.6% of all serious
The most common location of serious assaults for men - where
the location of the incident was known - was on streets and
highways (1397), while the most common location for women was
in the home (855).
Maori accounted for 48% of women victims in serious non-fatal
assaults and 32% of male victims.
In total, the serious assaults from 2000 to 2009 required
35,186 hospital bed days.
Writing in the Medical Journal, Prof Langley said the
trend was concerning, "especially since there is no evidence
of any recent abatement".
A large proportion of serious assaults involved young to
middle-aged men assaulting men in the same age bracket.
Despite this, historically, the prevention focus had been on
"While this mismatch between the burden and prevention is
starting to be addressed, I question the adequacy of our
prevention responses," he said.
One way to address the problem was to target excessive
alcohol consumption, which was a common factor in many
It was concerning the Government had indicated it did not
intend to restrict alcohol advertising, or introduce higher
taxes on alcohol, which could have a "significant and
relatively rapid" effect on the number of assaults.