In Australia around 2012 to 2014, national attention was brought to an issue of “king-hitting” or “sucker punching” in bars and clubs around the country: typically one boozed up young man punching another with a powerful, unseen hit that often knocks the victim out cold – potentially causing brain damage or as in number of cases; killing them. After a string of high profile cases resulting in deaths, this was getting a lot of air time nationally. About 90 fatal incidents had occurred between 2000 and mid-2014.
This morning while scanning my Facebook feed, I came across this post from the police in my hometown of Canberra, after another attack had hospitalised another young man and they were searching for the culprit. I noted the huge amount of revulsion and shaming in the comments, as well as what everyone was referring to the incident as: a coward punch. A quick search of other incidents revealed much of the same response elsewhere.
The knee-jerk reaction when these incidents achieve the limelight is to introduce tough new laws so the government of the day looks like it’s doing it’s job: restrictions on serving alcohol, tougher sentencing, etc, etc.
One thing the police and government did in 2014 that, in my opinion, was far more potent than any of the laws introduced was to call for these incidents to renamed a “coward punch”, rather than a “king hit”. At the time, I scoffed and hardly thought this would work, the name was a bit awkward and unwieldy.
Instead, it took off. With very little effort or spending, this act has been rebranded as barbaric and shameful with great effect.
Now 2 years on, coward punching is a subject of public vile and revulsion. Those who engage in it are publicly shamed as cowards. The actual yearly number of events occurring has been reported as halving and effectively disappeared from the national spotlight all together. That same report also questions the value of the laws introduced in terms of actually solving the problem. Which makes sense – people are always going to find ways to have a drink, especially in a drinking culture like the one Australia has. When you’re drunk, you don’t care about the long term prospects of prison. You do however care about what your mates nearby might think, and they might be more likely to stop you in the act.
There’s a lesson here: sometimes having the right message with the right brand for that image can be more important and effective than frivolous changes to the law. Harnessing public sentiment the right way can be incredibly powerful.
Now, if only we could have the same amount of success with other forms of domestic violence.