Much has been made in the media lately of Australia being in the grip of an ‘African youth crime wave’. But is this really the case?
- Statistics show Australians born in Sudan make up 0.1 per cent of Victoria’s total population, and constitute 1% of alleged offenders in Victoria.1
- While there is an overrepresentation of Sudanese-born in Victorian crime statistics, including serious assault, these offenders account for a minority of the actual proportion of crime experienced by Australians. You are, in fact, more than 25 times more likely to be seriously assaulted by someone born in Australia or New Zealand than someone born in Sudan or Kenya.
- Rather than Australia being in the grip of an ‘African Youth crime wave’, statistics indicate we are actually safer than we have been in over a decade. In 2017, Victoria experienced its biggest crime drop in 12 years, where the total crime rate fell by 6.2 per cent. Crime perpetrated by youth in Victoria (under 25 years of age) has also fallen from half of all incidents in 2007-2008 to 40 per cent in 2015-2016.
Why do we hear talk about there being out of control African gangs in the Australian community?
In short, the answer is selective media coverage of ethnicity in Australian crime reporting, according to an analysis by the Australian Police Accountability Project.
- Ethnicity is not typically discussed in media coverage of crimes involving Caucasian people – the suspect’s ethnic background is deemed irrelevant. However, where similar crimes involve those of an African background, the media hones in on the ethnicity of the suspect and calls on community leaders to comment.
- This pattern of coverage is not unique to Australia. The Australian Police Accountability Project found US based journalists tend to cover stories that involve crimes that have a black suspect or perpetrator and a white victim. As they point out, these stories get more prominence, larger headlines, use more exasperated language (e.g. thugs, predators) and more racialised language than typical crime reporting. For instance, black youth are more likely to be described as a ‘gang’ than a group of white youth. These studies established that newsworthiness is a product of its ability to be “scripted using stereotypes grounded in racism”, rather than representation of a crime.
What contributes to the over-representation of Sudanese-born Australians in crime statistics?
A number of factors contribute to these statistics, all of which tend to be overlooked by media when reporting on crime undertaken by Sudanese Australians. These factors include the younger profile of the Sudanese-Australian population and the social disadvantage and disengagement of this part of our population – disadvantage and disengagement arising in large part from racial profiling and targeted policing and racism experienced at school and at work.
A Younger Population
Fifty per cent of the Victorian Sudanese population is under the age of 25, compared to 33 per cent of the general Australian population. The Police Accountability Project states that where suburbs experience a ‘baby boom’, in 15 years there tends to be a corresponding increase in youth crime in that area, as when young people reach 14-15 years of age usually their risk taking behaviour increases.
A 2015 report on racial bias in Victoria police found that young people with African backgrounds, such as Sudanese and Somalian, were routinely stopped by police. Victorian police have since acknowledged this issue and are seeking to address this through newly introduced policies against racial profiling and ensuring their leadership avoids racist rhetoric.
Racism at School
Racism at school has a serious impact on students’ wellbeing and participation, and is one of the key causes of school disengagement and early school-leaving and dropout for young South Sudanese people.2
Racism at Work
Racism at work also contributes to social disadvantage and disengagement. A recent study of the ACT South Sudanese community revealed that 42 per cent of the participants had tertiary qualifications, yet 96 per cent were seeking employment. Many of this group were unemployed or underemployed, working in casual and part-time jobs despite their qualifications. The study also revealed that 89 per cent of the participants in the process of seeking a job experienced racism. These experiences included discrimination based on race, having an African background, skin colour, having an accent, and not having a Caucasian name. Many of the participants had applied for upwards of 1,000 jobs. Research such as this goes a long way in explaining the considerably higher unemployment rate in the Australian South Sudanese community (28.6 per cent) compared to the national average of 5.7 per cent.
As Ahmed Hassan from the Youth Activating Youth Program, an organisation helping marginalised young people, points out:
"We seemingly don't have an African gang problem — what we do have is young people who are disadvantaged, who are disengaged, a young cohort who are coming together that are causing this mischievous activity".
What’s the impact?
Media and political discourse around South Sudanese and African-heritage people has been divisive. Implications of this very public conversation around a fear of “African gangs” will have serious long-standing effects on the South Sudanese community across Australia, and the social cohesion of the broader Australian community.
- Melanie Baak, Convenor of the Migration and Refugee Research Network, University of South Australia, has commented that when politicians and journalists support a discourse of ‘othering’ and a community that is scared to go out at night, there will be “increased exclusion, fear and contempt”. This is contrary to what is necessary for successful community integration, “a sense of belonging and inclusion”.
- The Police Accountability Project states that, “Misguided and inaccurate associations between ethnicity and crime are leading directly to increasing forms of discrimination, including employment discrimination, racial profiling, hate-motivated violence and has well-established psychological harms and social exclusion impacts upon the community itself”.
A constructive approach
A more constructive approach for reporting on and addressing crime undertaken by Sudanese-Australian youth is required. This could involve more responsible reporting, continued investment in police/community engagement, and addressing racism in schools and at work. Of particular relevance to DCA is the leading work its members have done around creating culturally diverse and inclusive workplaces.
Responsible reporting is key to the media’s role to keep the public informed on current issues. By showing sensitivity in reporting on issues that concern minority groups who are the subject of public debate, the media has the uniquely powerful position to unite, rather than divide.
Police and community partnerships are fundamental for societal crime prevention and fostering a conducive society. Victoria Police have acknowledged the over-representation of Africa youth offenders compared to their population, and in 2016 began allocating extra resources and collaborative work with the African community.
The Victorian Sudanese Community have also addressed the need for community engagement. Due to the cross-cultural differences of parenting and discipline, the community have recommended the development of community-based recreational activities for young people to assist with the risks of disengagement. The media and the wider Australian community must support the implementation of such initiatives to allow engagement with youth.
Addressing Racism in Schools & Workplaces
There is a need to show that our schools, workplaces, and society value cultural diversity by providing safe, inclusive, and discrimination free environments. Education, training and fostering an inclusive culture are vital for addressing issues of discrimination and racism.
To prevent disengagement and early school leaving, school curriculum must be discriminatory free and inclusive of all cultural backgrounds. Stressing this, teaching resource Racism No Way outlines that education programs in schools based on the assumption that the cultural practices of the dominant group in society are the best and only way to operate have the effect of marginalising students from minority groups and of diminishing their participation.
Creating safe, discriminatory free workplaces requires a collaborative commitment from everyone – most especially organisations. This should involve outward public commitment to fighting discrimination, and organisational initiatives to drive support this commitment. For example:
- In 2012 the Australian Human Rights Commission launched their Racism. It Stops with Me campaign, which saw over 400 organisations pledging their commitment to anti-racism.
- CBA’s cultural diversity employee network, MOSAIC, provides training for employees on cultural inclusion and the impact of bias, racism and stereotypes in the workplace. To date, more than 2,000 employees have engaged in the training.
- ANZ has partnered with the Brotherhood of St. Laurence in the delivery of the Given the Chance work placement program. Since 2007, the program has supported more than 180 people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds into paid job placements at ANZ. Many of these participants have progressed into permanent roles with the bank at the end of their placement. Through this initiative, ANZ supports economic and social inclusion of refugees, builds workforce diversity and enables their people to gain an understanding of and experience with a range of cultures and perspectives.
To read more about these case studies and cultural diversity read our Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing your business in the 21st Century report and other DCA research on cultural diversity.
It is not a recent revelation that we need to address the racism present in our schools and workplaces. Leading companies understand that diversity is not enough, it must be accompanied by inclusion through an organisational culture that genuinely welcomes, values and leverages the advantages of diversity. This is not through assimilation but enabling differences to engage, flourish, complement each other and be put to work.
Recent media and political discourse around South Sudanese and African-heritage people, has however been divisive. A more constructive approach to reporting on and addressing crime undertaken by Sudanese-Australian youth is sorely needed.
- 1. Alleged offenders include individuals that the police have linked to crimes, although they may not necessarily have been found guilty or been charged .
- 2. A 2016 study of young refugees (more than 60 per cent African heritage) found that school completion rates for refugee students are significantly lower (62 per cent) than for other Australians (86 per cent). Despite these early obstacles and an over-representation in crime statistics, those with a Sudanese heritage are actually overrepresented amongst high achievers. A recent study has found that African migrants are more likely to go to university than non-migrants.