Assault: advocate says parents at fault

Constable Phil Vink says a "mob mentality" was developing in Wanaka among some young people...
Constable Phil Vink says a "mob mentality" was developing in Wanaka among some young people before last October's vicious assault. Photo supplied.

On any normal day, the footpath outside the Doughbin Bakery in lakeside Ardmore St, Wanaka, is an unremarkable thoroughfare, frequented mostly by tourists and locals looking for lunch, dinner or a drink.

Nothing to see here but a planter, a couple of rubbish bins and a view of the lake beyond the car park and the willows.

But here it was, in the heart of white, middle-class Wanaka, that a group of the town's teenagers almost killed a tourist in what has been described as a "frenzied" attack.

Constable Phil Vink says a "mob mentality" was developing in Wanaka among some young people...
Constable Phil Vink says a "mob mentality" was developing in Wanaka among some young people before last October's vicious assault. Photo supplied.
The victim has returned to England and declined an Otago Daily Times invitation to discuss how the assault has affected him, an event his advocate says is too painful for him to revisit.

And parents of the youths involved have also declined to discuss the matter.

At least one family has left Wanaka.

Youth aid officer Constable Phil Vink was one of the first on the scene that night, although it was all over by the time police were called.

What he knows of the assault he has picked up from months of dealing with the offenders, four who went through the Youth Court and the rest who were dealt with in other ways through the youth justice system.

He believes before the assault, a culture had been developing - "a mob mentality" - among some young people in Wanaka, led by a small core of individuals who considered "having a fight" was acceptable.

But the assault and its judicial aftermath has changed that.

Const Vink says the members of the "core group" have lost the respect of their peers.

"Those individuals are very much shunned.

"The core group that created that whole situation don't have the mana or the respect of those individuals any more so therefore that whole, if you like, the development of that culture was very much stomped out as a result of this incident."

Const Vink said in his experience it was not uncommon for groups of teenagers to follow the lead of a few individuals but it was "probably a bit unusual" in Wanaka.

"Most kids don't get dragged down that low.

"I haven't seen a bunch of young people getting dragged to that level of assault and viciousness.

"Most kids don't want a bar of that sort of thing.

"So I think a lot of them were in shock themselves that that had happened."

The advocate for the main victim says the man was deeply affected and suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The advocate was not allowed to discuss with the Otago Daily Times what went on in the family group conferences that followed the assault, but said he came away with the view that the problem arose because the parents lacked control over their teenagers.

"The parents might as well be the ones who throw the first punch. It's not really the kids' fault because they will do what kids do."

While uncomfortable comparing the teenagers to dangerous dogs, he considered society's attitudes to dogs and dog owners might well be applied to parents and their teenagers.

"Nobody attributes the blame to the dogs that worry the sheep. They say it's the owners. The onus is on the owners.

"And that's how I feel a little bit about these poor kids. They get let off the lead and then they get in trouble."

A number of offenders were pupils at Mt Aspiring College.

Principal Wayne Bosley said this week the return to the school of those involved in the assault was carefully managed to ensure the safety of pupils and staff as well as the offenders themselves.

"They weren't vilified and they weren't held up as social heroes either.

"I think there was a very responsible response that proved that the students were pretty disappointed in the actions of those kids."

The school required each pupil involved in the assault to sign a contract and Mr Bosley said that had proven to be a "very successful" measure.

He agreed with Const Vink that the main offenders had lost their mana and he was not aware of any violent incidents inside or outside the school in the last year.

"The culture of the students ... is an improved one."

However, he believed it would be "pretty naive" to think pupils were no longer drinking.

Const Vink believes many of the teenagers made poor choices on October 30 last year, consuming alcohol and then following others to become a party to the assault.

But he says the mix of influences at play that night were "a potentially frenzied effect" where people got carried away; and fear, "where people are too scared to walk away for fear of, I guess, they don't feel they can stand up against the worst offenders and therefore they become more spectators and seem to allow something to happen.

"That's quite hard in itself but it's just human nature, I guess, isn't it?''


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