Are some teenagers a safety threat?

By David Amaya

Sebastian Restrepo and Jose Otalora are two international students who always felt safe when walking in the centre of Melbourne at any time.

However, that feeling changed when the Columbian students were attacked by a group of around 15 teenagers the night of Friday, August 17.

They used to consider a footpath next to Yarra River close to the corner of Flinders and Exhibition streets as the “quietest place” in the CBD.

But that night at 10.20 pm, two girls clearly under 18, approached them to ask for cigarettes. Meanwhile, other two young guys came over and threatened them with a broken glass and demanded one of their bags.

The students were victims of an attempted armed robbery, an uncommon offence in the centre of one of the most liveable cities in the world.

But this is becoming common and the age of the aggressors is a matter of concern. Most of the attackers appeared to be under 18.

“All of them looked very young and that’s why, at the beginning, we didn’t think that our lives or belongings could be on risk,” Mr Restrepo said.

According to the figures provided by the Crime Statistics Agency, between January and September of 2017 there were 13 attempts of armed robbery, four more than in the same period of 2016.  Between January and March of this year, only five cases of this type of offence were registered.

However, the agency established that the number of minors and youths involved in robberies, assaults and related offences is remarkable.

Youths between 10 and 19-years-old committed the highest number of robberies in the city precinct between January to September last year, with 76 cases reported. They also took part of 10 robberies between January and March of 2018.

In regard to assaults, youngsters committed 92 offences between January and September of 2017 and 26 more between January and March of this year. People aged between 20 and 29-years-old committed the highest number of assaults.

During this particular offence, Mr Restrepo suffered a cut in one of his hands. Then, he fell to the ground and suffered multiple minor injuries after the other members of the group joined the principal aggressors in kicking and hitting him.

Mr Otalora who initially ran to avoid the fighting, came back to support his friend and then both ran away to preserve their lives.

“We came back to Flinders St to ask for help and it took around 30 minutes to get police assistance,” Mr Restrepo said.

At the time of going to press, police had identified a 15-year-old boy as one of the aggressors. They say he has previously committed other offences.

But although Mr Restrepo thinks the police response – at least during the investigation process – has been efficient, what is been done to discourage teenagers and youths to join riots and more serious offences?  Local police did not respond to CBD News’s questions.

Meanwhile, Messrs Restrepo and Otalora are recovering from the physical and psychological damage they suffered. They also will think twice before going again to the “quiet place” in the CBD where they used to breathe clear air after work on Fridays.

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