Another teenager is fighting for his life in an intensive care unit after being assaulted in Kings Cross.
If news broadcasts are anything to go by, it seems hardly a day goes by without someone being seriously assaulted in Sydney's CBD.
Kings Cross, George Street, The Rocks and Oxford Street are all hot spots for assault. It's not hard to understand why. The licensed premises and entertainment venues in these locations are a magnet for young men, many of whom have low impulse control when sober, let alone when under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics crime victim survey indicates about six in every 100 Australian males aged between 15 and 24 were physically assaulted in the preceding 12 months.
The annual risk of assault in NSW for those aged between 15 and 24 is more than double that for people aged between 35 and 44 and more than three times higher than for those aged between 55 and 64. Most assaults on young people are committed by people under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
Most of these assaults do not require hospital treatment but many do. An assault doesn't have to be serious to result in serious injury. A question of obvious importance is whether the problem is getting worse. Most people seem to think it is but impressions can be very misleading.
Because people tend to drink and socialise more in summer than in winter, alcohol-related violence is much more common in summer than in winter.
Police record between 700 and 1000 more assaults in December than they do in June. We are in the peak period for assault right now.
If we remove the seasonal variation and look at the underlying trend in police-recorded assaults, the picture looks quite different. In the period between 2000 and 2008, the recorded rate of assault was rising. In 2008 it started to fall and has been falling ever since.
In the first nine months of 2008, police recorded an average of 3513 non-domestic assaults a month. In the first nine months of last year they recorded an average of 2777 non-domestic assaults a month. That's a 21 per cent decline.
The trend in police-recorded incidents of non-domestic assault in Kings Cross is also down. In the first nine months of 2008, police in Kings Cross recorded an average of 26 assaults a month. In the first nine months of last year, the monthly average was down to 19 assaults.
The trend in police-recorded incidents of non-domestic assault in Oxford Street is also down; from an average of 29 assaults a month in the first nine months of 2008 to an average of 12 assaults a month in the first nine months of last year.
All this is very encouraging, but these figures need to be treated with care.
The state government has taken a hard line with licensed premises that are repeatedly the site of alcohol-related violence. Pubs that consistently breach liquor laws are at risk of losing their licences or of having restrictions placed in their trading hours.
This is as it should be, but the potential loss of a liquor licence can create a strong commercial incentive not to report assaults to police. We need to be sure the fall in assault is not just a case of greater reluctance by owners and managers of licensed premises to report assaults to police.
One way to check this is to have a look at the trend in who is reporting assaults to police.
If the owners and managers of licensed premises are more reluctant now than in the past to report assaults, we should see a fall in the percentage of reports emanating from these owners and managers.
The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has conducted two studies of this type and so far found no change in the percentage of reports of assault emanating from licensed premises themselves.
This is reassuring but other checks are needed as well.
It is possible the overall number of assaults is down but the number of very serious (for example, life-threatening) assaults is up.
The only way to check this is to examine the records of people admitted to hospital emergency departments with assault-related injuries. We hope to undertake research of this kind early this year.
Dr Don Weatherburn is director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.