By Blake O’Connor and Ugur Nedim
There is a new craze sweeping the world that has made its way to Australia, and it has police and professional clowns hopping mad. Even McDonalds’ main man, the one and only Ronald, has been forced into hiding.
The craze has people dressing up as clowns and roaming the streets to shock men, women and children.
No laughing matter
However, many of the incidents go way beyond an innocent practical joke, and have authorities have warning people to exercise extreme caution.
One man in Victoria was recently arrested after he allegedly terrorised a woman in a McDonalds drive through whilst dressed up as a clown and armed with an axe.
And at least four teenagers dressed in clown costumes were seen outside Elsternwick Primary School trying to scare children, with one reportedly in possession of a baseball bat.
Vigilante clown hunters
The craze has resulted in the formation of ‘clown hunting groups’, which aim to locate and perform citizens’ arrests upon would-be attackers.
Queensland Police Minister Bill Byrne has condemned the craze as ‘disgraceful’, publicly declaring that police will exercise a zero tolerance approach towards the conduct.
The craze reportedly originated in South Carolina, United States as clowns were reportedly spotted attempting to lure children into the woods. The reports led to hundreds of students at Pennsylvania State University swarming surrounding campus streets to carry out a mass clown hunt.
The events have had an impact upon the professional clown community, with the owner of Melbourne-based clown hire business, Comedy Clowns, stating:
“This craze has been the worst publicity for clowns I have ever seen. As soon as I saw the first video of the clown with the knife, I thought I’d have to hang up my costumes”.
A criminal offence?
Section 61 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) contains the offence of ‘common assault’, which is any deliberate or reckless act that causes another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful personal violence.
Importantly, a person does not need to touch another to be guilty – causing them to fear immediate violence is enough. The offence would normally capture the act of approaching another person, whether disguised or not, and causing them to fear for their safety.
The maximum penalty is two years’ imprisonment.
In addition, section 114(1)(c) of the Act states that:
“Any person who has his or her face blackened or otherwise disguised, or has in his or her possession the means of blacking or otherwise disguising his or her face, with intent to commit an indictable offence … shall be liable to imprisonment for a period of seven years”
A person will normally be guilty if the prosecution is able to prove they intended to commit a serious offence, such as a larceny (stealing) or robbery.
So while dressing up in a clown costume to scare members of the public may seem harmless to some, it can carry serious consequences under the criminal law.