Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll (Image: AAP/Darren England)

This article discusses sexual assault.

Are we now numb to even the most heinous crime? Immune to the tragedy and trauma that envelops a community each time a murder or rape is committed?

Are evidenced-based trends on juvenile crime, or drug-fuelled crime, or gang-related crime even being considered in policies as politicians respond to crime levels with reckless law-and-order auctions?

Twenty years ago a murder was horrendous. It stopped us in our tracks and led to weighty debates about the defendants and victims, security, police, court and policymakers. Now, with a few notable exceptions where community outrage demands it, a murder passes almost without comment. That’s what’s happened in Brisbane in the past couple of weeks when two middle-aged men were slain in their own homes.

And are we so indifferent to violence in our communities in 2021 that we allow the alleged gang rape of two young girls by up to 10 men to pass without a skerrick of debate?

Missed it? You’re forgiven. In short, four men have so far been charged with dozens of offences, including multiple counts of rape. Police are still investigating the alleged crime that Queensland police commissioner Katarina Carroll has described as “absolutely sickening’’.

“All I can say — it was just horrific to think what has occurred with two young girls, with a number of men, an extraordinary amount of offences. There will be more people charged I am confident over the next few days,” she said.

Legal impediments restrict some commentary, but what about a similar discussion to that which enveloped the nation after the rape and murder of Jill Meagher? Good debate can change policy, change communities, change laws.

Is it because Brisbane has fewer media outlets than other states that an alleged gang rape does not become an issue of national debate? Or that Queensland news rarely travels interstate? Or that sufficient information prohibits discussion about how two 15-year-old girls could end up allegedly drugged and gang raped by more than a car load of young men in a public suburban park?

Or perhaps it’s because policymakers and police and politicians are at a loss to advocate what might truly work to stem some crime.

They’ve said as much in relation to a parallel rash of juvenile crime offences in the past week. Indeed Queensland’s politicians are asking for suggestions — and police are working on plans which they say they will hand to the government.

Meanwhile debate is muted by populist cries demanding night curfews and mandatory sentencing, the end of bail and a revamp of the courts that hand it out.

Most of it is being waged, without evidence, and on the back of an Australia Day tragedy where Kate Leadbetter, Matt Fields and their unborn son Miles died after a hit-and-run. A teen is facing murder charges.

In the north of the state, Townsville has become an epicentre for police frustration over juvenile crime. This week a police officer was injured after a stolen car — filled with children — allegedly drove at police and the public at high speed.

Frustrated police are blaming parents, saying children as young as eight are wandering the streets, all night, without supervision.

Once the architect of youth bail houses, the Labor government abandoned that policy last year and is fighting claims it is soft on crime. An opposition call for juvenile curfews was rebuffed before last year’s election.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says she wants answers as much as the next person. Some argue young offenders should be sent west to work on the land. Others want mandatory sentencing for some young criminals. Some demand that repeat juvenile offenders be named. Others say the age of criminal liability should be lifted.

The grip ice has on youth in some rural communities in the state is possibly the only issue not disputed.

But in the mish-mash of claims and counter-claims and political argy-bargy, there is little informed debate, and no big-picture plan to genuinely find a solution.

Forget politics. This is an issue at least as important as opening and closing borders. The accusations of two teen girls, who could be yours or my daughters, should be a sharp and very public reminder of that.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

Peter Fray

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