Examining the overlap of young people’s early contact with the police as a person of interest and victim or witness

Mrs Ulrika Athanassiou1, Dr Tyson Whitten2,1, Dr Stacy Tzoumakis3, Dr Gabrielle Hindmarsh1, Associate Professor  Kristin R.  Laurens4,1, Ms Felicity  Harris1, Professor Vaughan J.  Carr5,6,1, Professor Melissa J.  Green1,6, Professor Kimberlie  Dean1,7

1University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
2University of Adelaide , Adelaide, Australia
3Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia
4Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
5Monash University , Melbourne, Australia
6Neuroscience Research , Sydney, Australia
7Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network, NSW, Sydney, Australia

There is known to be considerable overlap among the victims and perpetrators of crime. However, the extent of this overlap early in life among children and young adolescents is not clear. We examined the sociodemographic profiles of young people who had early contact with police regarding a criminal incident as a person of interest, victim and/or witness, as well as the patterns of multiple police contact types from birth to 13 years of age. Data were drawn from a longitudinal, population-based sample of 91,631 young people from New South Wales, Australia. Among the 10.6% (n=9,677) of young people who had contact with police, 14.4% (n=1,393) had contact as a person of interest and as a victim and/or witness on two or more separate occasions. The most common first contact type was as a victim/witness but those children with a first contact as a person of interest were most likely to have at least one further contact. Young people with both types of police contact were younger at first police contact, were more likely to reside in a socioeconomically disadvantaged area, and to be recorded as having an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background. Our findings demonstrate that, by 13 years of age, one in ten young people had been in early contact with police and that a minority have contact with the police as both a person of interest and a victim/witness. These young people may represent a particularly disadvantaged group in the community who are likely to be at risk of future adversity, including repeated contact with the criminal justice system.


Ulrika Athanassiou completed her Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice (Honours) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 2017. She is currently a Scientia PhD Candidate in the School of Psychiatry at UNSW. Her PhD project utilises population data from the NSW Child Development Study, to investigate the profiles of children and young people who have early contact with the police (from birth to 13 years of age). Ulrika’s research interests include developmental and life-course criminology, youth offending and sexual offending.


Dec 08 2021