White Ribbon Day, the 25th of November, is the international day for the elimination of violence against women. Family violence is a serious issue in all areas of our society but it is an issue of particular concern in Indigenous communities. Here are some straightforward answers to some questions you might have about Indigenous Australians and family violence.
What is family violence?
Family violence is when a victim of abuse has a family relationship with the offender. This can be an immediate family relationship like parent and child or husband and wife or a relationship between extended family members. Family violence is a crime.
Are family violence and sexual abuse part of Indigenous culture?
Neither family violence nor sexual abuse are part of traditional Indigenous culture or customary law. Traditionally, many Indigenous groups had systems of physical punishment for breaking customary laws, but abuse and family violence have never been accepted.
Is there more family violence among Indigenous Australians than non-Indigenous Australians?
Levels of family violence are higher among Australia’s Indigenous population. A recent study found that one in four Indigenous Australians aged over 15 reported having been a victim of physical or threatened violence in the last year. Both Indigenous men and women are twice as likely as other Australians to report that they have experienced or been threatened with violence.
Many of the factors that contribute to family violence are the same for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, but are more common in Indigenous communities. They include poverty, unemployment, low household income, low education levels, lack of proper services, poor housing and overcrowding. An additional factor affecting Indigenous people is their history of horrific dispossession and discrimination which increases their overall vulnerability to being both victims and perpetrators of family violence.
Why are there always stories in the news about violence and abuse in Indigenous communities?
There have been a number of recent, high profile investigations of sexual abuse and family violence in Indigenous communities, including the Little Children are Sacred Report which influenced the former Australian Government to implement the Northern Territory Emergency Response. These investigations and Governments’ responses to them have attracted a lot of media attention focused on the problems facing remote Indigenous communities.
Media coverage has focussed attention on serious problems but, in some cases, it has maintained damaging myths and stereotypes about Indigenous people. The Little Children are Sacred Report commented that some media reports had reinforced an incorrect impression that Aboriginal law and culture encourage family violence and that Aboriginal men are naturally violent.
Why is there so much violence in remote Indigenous communities?
Over a 12 month period, Indigenous Australians who reported being victims of violence were equally spread over urban, regional and remote areas - the highest proportion lived in cities. Remote communities, where the majority of the population is Indigenous, tend to attract more attention, particularly from the media. There are many problems facing remote Indigenous communities which can contribute to higher levels of family violence such as poor housing, inadequate health services, few jobs, poverty and lack of educational opportunities. Many communities don’t have the kinds of services needed to help prevent family violence like police, safe houses, and substance abuse and mediation programmes.
How do we prevent violence in Indigenous families?
Reducing family violence in Indigenous communities needs both immediate and long term efforts. People’s safety has got to be the first priority. However if we want to solve problems in the long term, we need to address Indigenous disadvantage in general – all of the factors that contribute to family violence. The only way to ensure these measures, both immediate and long term, are effective is to develop them in partnership with Indigenous communities themselves.