Domestic and family violence
As an Aboriginal woman you are 45 times more likely to experience domestic violence than a white woman.
Violence patterns are passed on from parents to their children. It takes police up to two years to respond to cases of domestic violence and take victims seriously.
- Times an Aboriginal youth is more likely to be a victim of domestic violence than their white peer .
- Times an Aboriginal child under 5 years is more likely to die as a result of assaults than their white peer .
- Times an Indigenous baby is more likely to be neglected or abused .
- Percentage Indigenous children make up of all hospital admissions in the age group 0 to 4 who are admitted for assault .
- Number of people admitted to Alice Springs hospital between 1998 and 2005 with stab wounds. In 2007 Alice Springs was said to have the highest number of stabbings in the world . Most stab wounds were in the thigh due to cultural practices.
- Estimated cost of all domestic violence against women and their children to the Australian economy in 2008-9 .
- Percentage of criminal cases where the offender was known to the victim. Percentage of these cases where the offender was the spouse: 69% .
- Percentage of Aboriginal children aged to 17 who were under care and protection orders in 2010. Same figure for non-Aboriginal children: 0.5% .
- Percentage of women experiencing violence from a current partner and reporting the last incident to police .
- Times an Aboriginal women living in rural and remote areas is more likely to experience domestic violence than their white peers .
- Times Aboriginal women are more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence . Other sources report a figure of 23 times .
- Average number of women per day seeking treatment for domestic violence related injuries in Alice Springs (between 2000 and 2006) .
- Percentage of surveyed Aboriginal respondents who believe domestic violence is a crime. 98% of non-Indigenous respondents believed so .
- Percentage by which Aboriginal Australians are more likely to commit offences of violence than their non-Indigenous counterparts .
- Percentage of jaw fractures due to alcohol in the Northern Territory. Aboriginal people in the NT have the second highest rate in the world. .
We used to hide in the cupboard at night; so that it wouldn't be our turn.—Marjorie Woodrow, Aboriginal woman 
A definition of ‘domestic violence’
According to the Victorian Government  domestic violence could be defined as follows:
Domestic violence is the physical, emotional, sexual, social, spiritual, cultural, psychological and economical abuse that occurs within families, intimate relationships, kinship networks and communities.
Domestic violence extends to one-on-one fighting, abuse of Indigenous community workers and self-harm, injury or suicide.
But 25% of surveyed Australians did not believe that controlling a partner by denying them money was a form of domestic violence. 15% did not agree that controlling the social life of a partner by preventing them from seeing friends or family constitutes domestic violence .
Domestic violence affects everyone
“Domestic and family violence in urban Aboriginal communities is happening,” says Dixie Link-Gordon, a reader of the Aboriginal newspaper Koori Mail .
“Community violence is running amok. It’s a sad situation when others in our community make the choice to follow, if not participate, in these violent confrontations… There is really not one Aboriginal person who can say that community, domestic and family violence has not affected their mob or themselves on some level—including me.”
Governments can assist but only local people can stop the violence.—John Cobb, Acting Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, SA 
Aboriginal company Goolarri TV created the following video against domestic violence, showing the female, and Aboriginal, point of view.
From being banned to winning
Cherbourg’s A-Grade rugby league side the Hornets were banned in 2002 from the Burnett Premier League in south-east Queensland because of fighting.
In April 2010 they set up a strict behaviour code and agreed not to be seen drunk or fighting in public, and they took part in protests against domestic violence.
Their commitment paid off as the team went on to win the premiership in 2010, and there has also been a notable improvement in the town’s well-being .
Causes of domestic violence
Court circles, police ranks and politicians fear an “epidemic” of domestic violence . But what are the root causes of domestic violence or any other violent behaviour?
It is widely recognised that there is no single cause of violence in Aboriginal communities .
Among others, one theory claims that initial European colonisation and dispossession plays a crucial role. “After 200 years of abuse physical and mental, we should not be surprised to find towering rates of domestic violence,” says writer Germaine Greer .
When Aboriginal men were dispossessed by the white invaders they lost their moral authority over their families . After their wives were taken, white men abandoned them and their mixed-race children, leaving Aboriginal men to rear the family. No surprise they would feel anger and rage.
Many Aboriginal people who, as kids, were stolen from their parents and put into missions were held there against their will and physically and psychologically abused. Their suffering was a seed of violence.
“Children taken from their parents and treated cruelly in institutions will learn cruelty. Children who are bashed by their parents will bash their own children,” says Greer.
Aged ten Bill Simon was taken away from his parents and witnessed violence in an Aboriginal mission first hand. Boys were beaten with cane sticks and put into solitary confinement.
“Words of comfort for the bleeding boy behind the door were usually not much comfort,” he recalls. “Time spent in that room was always associated with pain and loneliness and nothing anyone said could help. A few of the boys were often very angry and sometimes violent when they were locked up in there.” 
Unable to express their anger these boys suppressed their violence for many years only for it to come back eventually.
Similarly, when children witness their parents fighting, moving around and eventually breaking up, sometimes the only way they can express their sadness is through anger and violence.
Causes of, and risk factors for, domestic violence might be [1,3,22]
- Financial problems and poverty
- Physical illness
- Lack of education
- Racism-induced stress
- Single-parent families and parenting at an early age
- Substance and drug abuse (e.g. alcohol, sniffing)
- Poor or inadequate housing, overcrowded houses
- Social isolation and deprivation
- Loss of identity and self esteem
- Abusive styles of conflict resolution
- Sexual jealousy
- Oppression, which turns them into oppressors
- Imbalance and inequity within male and female roles
- Lack of respect within families
- Marginalisation and dispossession
- Poor physical and mental health
- Loss of land and traditional culture
- Breakdown of community kinship systems and Aboriginal law
- Childhood experience of violence and abuse
- Geographic location with poor access to services
- Being a member of the Stolen Generations
The true prevalence of Aboriginal family violence is unknown. What is known is that the violence is endemic and presents an extremely troubling picture of the situation in many Aboriginal communities.—Conclusion of the Gordon Inquiry Report on family violence
I don't explode any more, but I still have that anger. I'm only glad I've had music. So many of my brothers and uncles have gotten lost in that anger.—Archie Roach, Aboriginal singer and songwriter 
Domestic violence is a problem that tragically affects all communities… some are just better at hiding it than others.—Paul Stephens, Midwest League President 
Ken: “I was a woman basher”
The Ken Bone of 20 years ago is not a man you would recognise today, nor would you have wanted to. He admits this himself.
Back then, he was notorious in his southern Queensland community of Cherbourg for being a violent perpetrator, worse when fuelled by alcohol.
His only reprieve was the memory loss the morning after, when faced with others’ recollections of his rage. He was simply too drunk to ever remember what he had done.
To say that he has since turned his life around is a great understatement. He has been sober now for 27 years, and remembers the day he vowed never to drink again.
“I was a woman basher, I was a violent man and drank all the time,” he says.
“I remember the day I had my last drink, it was the 18th of March 1983 and I had been very violent with a female partner at the time. When I woke up and they told me what I had done, I didn’t remember a thing but I knew I had done it. I knew what I was capable of and I felt sick.”
Faced with this horrific realisation, he vowed to never touch another drink. And he hasn’t. 
What is a ‘safe house’?
Some Aboriginal communities have set up Safe Houses. They provide short-term accommodation to women and children who have experienced family violence or are escaping the threat of violence from husbands or partners. People stay between one night to one week.
The Safe House at Yuendumu in the Northern Territory has a 3-metre fence and locked gate with intercom . Women can gain access anytime by talking to known community members who have keys.
Rules and rights govern the womens’ stay. Alcohol is prohibited, and women are free to decide if they want to report incidents of domestic violence.
The Inteyerrkwe Statement against domestic violence
In 2008 Aboriginal men gathered to discuss how they could prevent domestic violence and why Aboriginal men were violent. They also tried to explain the background of male domestic violence [8,10].
Over 95% of reported violent offences are committed by males. This is a male problem--it's up to men to take the lead in fixing it.—Ingkintja Congress of Male Health 
Patrick Dodson said that “there has been a process of undermining the role and status of Aboriginal men within our society since the early days of Australia’s colonisation and continuing in recent commentary around the Northern Territory intervention.”
Chairman of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress John Liddle adds that “when you add to this the rapid changes in the role of males within that colonising society and the consequent dislocation of non-Aboriginal males and their struggle to define new self-images, it is no wonder that Aboriginal males may struggle to make sense of the contemporary world.”
“And if those critical views of us as Aboriginal males are expressed with no effort to understand our cultural values, or the pressures caused by the colonial relationships and contemporary social transformations, then we become alienated from this society.”
“This alienation is at the core of the struggle for male health and well-being, as it acts to debase men, stripping away their dignity and the meaning in their lives. We therefore need to confront these social relationships that shape our health.”
Nearly 400 Aboriginal men took part in the gathering and issued the Inteyerrkwe Statement, an apology from men to women for violence and abuse.
“We the Aboriginal males from Central Australia and our visitor brothers from around Australia gathered at Inteyerrkwe in July 2008 to develop strategies to ensure our future roles as grandfathers, fathers, uncles, nephews, brothers, grandsons, and sons in caring for our children in a safe family environment that will lead to a happier, longer life that reflects opportunities experienced by the wider community.
We acknowledge and say sorry for the hurt, pain and suffering caused by Aboriginal males to our wives, to our children, to our mothers, to our grandmothers, to our granddaughters, to our aunties, to our nieces and to our sisters.
We also acknowledge that we need the love and support of our Aboriginal women to help us move forward.”
Note that the Inteyerrkwe Statement was carefully worded. It uses ‘males’ and not ‘man’ or ‘men’ so as to avoid confusion about ‘men’ as initiated males .
Most Indigenous people are not violent, even though many live in communities where violence is endemic and are subjected to violence and systemic social disadvantage without becoming offenders themselves.—Joy Wundersitz, study author 
Members of the Ingkintja Congress of Male Health who met at Inteyerrkwe in 2008. Photo: Ingkintja
Domestic violence is passed on
Domestic violence is ultimately passed on to children who are born into and grow up in violent families.
The first three years of a child’s life have the greatest capacity to change the way the brain develops. The brains of children who have been traumatised by abuse or violence develop to be hypervigilant and focused on non-verbal cues, potentially related to threat. These children are in a persistent state of arousal and, therefore, experience persisting anxiety. 
“I read the files of children who have died in suspicious circumstances, following neglect and abuse,” reveals Linda Burney, NSW Community Services Minister and Wiradjuri woman . “There is hardly a file where Mum or Dad wasn’t a victim of abuse. This inter-generational passing on of violence and abuse is deeply worrying.”
Too often Indigenous men have been dispossessed and have suffered overwhelming losses of respect and human dignity resulting in a toxic legacy being handed from father to son.—Marcelle Hoff, Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor 
Effects of domestic violence
The consequences of family violence are devastating. People suffer from 
- chronic depression
- chronic pain
- dissociative states
- drug and alcohol dependence
- eating disorders
- emotional ‘over-reactions’ to stimuli
- general emotional numbing
- health problems
- panic attacks
- poor adherence to medical recommendations
- repeated self-injury
- self neglect
- sexual dysfunction: An Aboriginal man explained to police that he selected his rape victims by their caucasian appearance—because his white father beat to death his mother when he was a child .
- sleep disorders
- somatization disorders
- strained family relationships
- suicide attempts
- an inability to adequately respond to the needs of their own children
A lot of our kids, our young people, run around the streets, they're drug addicts, they're alcoholics… They're being neglected because of domestic violence.—Carl Williams, Men's Program Coordinator, Wuchopperen Health Services, Cairns 
Domestic violence cases
Victims of domestic violence often suffer from multiple assaults which might threaten their lives. Here’s a description of a case which lasted over three years :
“[Over several months, her partner] stabbed Ms B. all over her body with a chisel and a fork. He hit her on the head with an iron bar and bashed her between the legs with a baseball bat. He burnt her feet with a branding iron, broke her jaw and created a deep gash across her leg with a broken plate. He held her captive while raping her.”
Police and justice reactions to such cases are often slow. In this particular case evidence had been obtained by police two years after the violence started, but Ms B.‘s partner wasn’t convicted until five years after the torture began.
The victim also complained that she felt “more like a victim [because] she was repeatedly accused of fabricating, self-inflicting injuries and provoking [her partner]”. One wonders what would have happened if the victim had been a white woman.
“I was covered in bruises”
This is an edited version of Najella Green’s story of domestic violence .
“This is my story of survival after suffering domestic violence in a former marriage I was then a young 26-year-old.
My husband covered his drink problem very well for a while, then he started to come home drunk, abusive and I had many beltings. I also suffered verbal abuse.
When I got pregnant, I was bashed, as he did not want a child. When I was 3 weeks overdue with my son, he come home late and drunk—he suggested I’d had a man there. He bashed me and threw me against the end of the bed post.
I was due to be induced in hospital the next day and I was covered in bruises. I felt shame.
My doctor said: “You have been bashed, haven’t you?” I said: “No, I fell.” (My pride would not allow me to tell the truth.)
Anyway, my son was not breathing when he was born. However the doctors revived him. As for me, I had a lot of damage inside and could not stop bleeding. So at the age of 26 I had a hysterectomy [surgical removal of the uterus] - I was shattered.
A few times after being bashed, I asked the local police for help, but they said they did not interfere with domestic problems. Today I know things have changed.
I stayed with my husband because he promised there would be no more beltings.
When my son was 12 months old, my husband came home so drunk he could hardly walk. He bashed my face and head so badly, I was vomiting blood, which was pouring from nose injuries. He got frightened and drove [me] to the local bush hospital.
They would not take me in, as they said I had head injuries. So my husband put me in the car and drove speeding to a larger hospital.
I had five operations to rebuild my face. Bones and cartilage were smashed. I suffered anorexia and bulimia as well as low self-esteem. Police wanted to have me as a witness and say that I was hit by an object held by my husband, like a stick or something. I refused.
Reality came to me when my doctor said to me: “Leave now, walk out, or be carried out in a body bag.”
I left and went to my parents, then admitted myself to hospital to try to beat anorexia and bulimia. For the next 20 years I had relapses and my weight ranged from 35kg to 45kg.
I still suffer panic attacks and the depression of loneliness. Today I am alive and alone but free.
My message to anyone today in a situation like mine is: Leave. There is help out there. I did not know of any help when I suffered. Never believe you are at fault.”
Why victims don’t lay charges
Victims of domestic violence are very reluctant to lay charges against their perpetrators for various reasons :
- Fear of retribution,
- fear of further violence,
- fear of children being taken away,
- distrust of the justice system and government agencies,
- lack of services offering Aboriginal-specific victim support,
- lack of anonymity and confidentiality in remote communities.
Fear is omnipresent, and in many times the perpetrator is the partner and accompanies their victims to the hospital, inflicting further harm to them when they leave for home again. This lets many victims not pursue their earlier complaints or even renounce them.
If you charge someone it changes your life completely. There is fear that you need to overcome. Although you are the victim, you are always on alert to being ostracised by your own community not accepting the truth.—Domestic violence victim 
Many also carry a deep distrust of police officers which is a key barrier to Aboriginal people reporting violence and abuse. They rather turn to their families and communities than police  or don’t report violence at all for fear their children are taken away.
Sometimes, however, Aboriginal women simply don’t want to have their violent partners arrested and jailed. They simply want the violence to stop .
When asked why [she didn't want to press charges she] said that she loved her partner and didn't want him sent to jail. She just wanted the violence to stop.—Domestic violence victim 
Shame and stigmatisation occur because of the interconnectedness of Aboriginal society . Its rules and obligations tend to “operate against disclosing victimisation”. Some fear that disclosures could lead to more violence in the community.
In some Aboriginal communities violence is so widespread that victims accept violence as inevitable and something to be tolerated and not disclosed.
‘Domestic Violence—it’s not our game’ initiative
White Ribbon Day was first declared on 25 November 1999 by the United Nations General Assembly. It is a day where people of all walks reject domestic violence and symbolise this by wearing a white ribbon.
A successful initiative sees AFL and NRL teams throughout New South Wales and Victoria reduce domestic violence.
The ‘Domestic Violence—it’s not our game’ initiative was conceived in March 2007 and aimed to tackle domestic violence in the Normanton community, a remote community of 1,500 people in Queensland’s far north-west .
Queensland north-west region has the highest domestic violence statistics in the state and before the campaign began, Normanton had some of the highest rates in the region.
Members of the football teams agree to act as role models and agree to exclude from games any player involved in domestic violence. They wear the slogan on their clothes and equipment.
Domestic violence incidents dropped by 55%, breaches of domestic violence orders dropped by 64% and domestic violence is no longer accepted in the community.
Since Normanton the initiative has spread into more than 14 football clubs throughout Australia and New Zealand.
As much as men have contributed to violence against women and children, it is men and women working together that will be the source of healing.—Grahame 'Bonny' Gibson, Co-ordinator Spirited Men's Program, Murray Bridge, SA 
- Total number of players from six rugby league clubs participating in the anti-violence program Tackling Violence in 2009 .
- Players suspended for domestic violence in 2009 .
- Total number of players from 15 clubs participating in Tackling Violence in 2010 .
- Players suspended in 2010 .
Lana Walsh was killed by her de-facto partner on Anzac Day 1991 after suffering years of domestic violence and abuse.
In 2010 the Walsh family, with backing from the NSW government and White Ribbon Day, paid tribute to Lana by forming a memorial Aboriginal Rugby League side called Lana’s Warriors to play at the Aboriginal Knockout.
“The stand we are taking is not just for my family, but for all families who experience domestic violence,” says Luke Walsh, Lana’s nephew.
“The boys will be playing to honour Lana, and remember her, but also to say to all the families at the Knockout that domestic violence is wrong. That it hurts women, it hurts children, it hurts families.” .
How can you deal with domestic violence?
Case studies in the Northern Territory have shown common elements that have contributed to their success in dealing with family violence .
- Let the community generate programs. The most successful programs are those developed by and for the Aboriginal community.
- Engage the community. It is crucial to consult the community throughout the program’s development, especially when the initiative comes from the government.
- Empower the community. For communities to own family violence initiatives they need to be involved and supported, for example by men’s groups which help build leadership and spread anti-violence messages.
- Form partnerships. Many of the successful case studies had partnerships with government and non-government agencies.
- Take an holistic approach. Initiatives need to address all aspects of violence, including what makes people be violent.
- Connect to culture. Respect for traditional law reinforces anti-violence messages and builds positive community identity.
- Involve men. Most responses to family violence are created by and for women, leaving some men feeling alienated. Men need to be part of the solution.
- Empower women. Women’s traditional culture and authority in the community needs to be promoted.
- Build on community strengths. Programs have a greater chance of success when they build on the resources, networks or knowledge already present in communities.
- Employ Aboriginal staff. The expertise of Aboriginal staff makes a crucial difference in successful services.
I am a firm believer that the answer to Indigenous problems can be found in Indigenous communities.—Tom Calma, former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner 
I want to be free - A song about family violence
If you want to be with me Show me that you love me Don't get wild, don't get jealous Hey man be true to me Don't destroy my life, my spirit I'm not a slave, I'm not a rag doll To be toyed with by you Chorus I want to be free Free as a bird But I'm still fighting for our freedom Us women need to be strong inside to fly We gotta stand up for our freedom So be kind, treat me like a wife Don't lock me in the room I don't want to be suffocated Don't want to be punched or bashed by you And if I say I don't want to be with you It's time for you to leave It's time for you get out of my life Don't abuse my body please Chorus I want to be free Free as a bird But I'm still fighting for our freedom Us women need to be strong inside to fly We gotta stand up for our freedom
This song was written by girls from Warburton High School and Primary School, Melbourne, Victoria and published in the Gordon Inquiry Report .
Domestic and family violence helplines
New South Wales
DoCS Domestic Violence Line 1800 656 463 freecall, 24 hours.
Domestic Violence Advocacy Service, advice line: 02-8745 6999 (9.30am - 12.30pm, 1.30pm - 4.30pm, closed Wednesday afternoon).
Rape Crisis Centre 02 9819 6565, 24 hours.
Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre 02 9360 5388.
Nunga Miminis Shelter 8223 2200, after hours, call Crisis Care on 13 1611 (Support and emergency accommodation for Aboriginal women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Service available 9AM-5PM Monday-Friday).
Australian Capital Territory
Domestic Violence Crisis Service 02 6280 0900.
The Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria (FVPLS Victoria) was established to provide assistance to victims of family violence and sexual assault and to work with families and communities affected by violence.
Call 1800 105 303 or visit their website.
Last updated: 22 February 2013 | Out of respect for Aboriginal culture I use Indigenous sources as much as possible.
 Sydney Morning Herald 18/12/2006]
 Gordon Inquiry Report 2001
 Two Ways Together Report June 2005
 'Hundreds of domestic violence victims seek treatment', Koori Mail 390 p.66
 Koori Mail 394 p.16
 in: 'Hard Labour, Stolen Wages', Rosalind Kidd, ANTaR report August 2007, p.7
 'Historic apology at Male Health Summit', Koori Mail 430 p.12
 'Plan targets violence', Koori Mail 430 p.50
 ''We're not all bastards'', NIT 10/7/2008 p.6
 'Race rapist to be released from jail', NIT 26/6/2008 p.7
 'No to violence', Koori Mail 444 p.21
 'A long way from home', Sydney Morning Herald, 23/5/2009
 'Decision a 'matter of principle'', Koori Mail 452 p.5
 'Sydney men's program wins plenty of praise', Koori Mail 452 p.31
 'West has some of our very best', Koori Mail 448 p.42
 'Stingers star in TV commercial', Koori Mail 448 p.78
 'Attitudes changing: DV survey', Koori Mail 465 p.16
 ''My oath,' says footy legend', Koori Mail 464 p.9
 'Album takes us back to 1988', Koori Mail 464 p.39
 'Game to speak out', Koori Mail 473 p.30
 'Report links grog to Indigenous violence', Koori Mail 474 p.39
 'Promise to stop violence', Koori Mail 477 p.29
 www.snaicc.asn.au/_uploads/fckpg//TUES_05_LIDDLE_John_CongressMaleHealth.pdf, viewed 20/11/2010
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 'Lana's Warriors bring a message', Koori Mail 485 p.109
 'Burney hails success of DV program', Koori Mail 488 p.40
 'Wuchopperen hosts event', Koori Mail 490 p.13
 'Life turned around for love of his kids', Koori Mail 490 p.21
 'We must say 'no way' to violence', readers letters, Koori Mail 491 p.23
 'Sad findings on violence', Koori Mail 493 p.30
 'Hornets stars for Cherbourg', Koori Mail 499 p.35
 'Project looks at lack of child protection workers', Koori Mail 413 p.55
 'Long way to go to end disadvantage', Koori Mail 509 p.9
 'Violence focus of court display', Koori Mail 513 p.42
 'Violence an issue we must address: Gooda', Koori Mail 515 p.11
 'Reseasrch shines spotlight on D[omestic] V[iolence]', Koori Mail 466 p.12
 '$1.6m to tackle Ceduna family violence', Koori Mail 393 p.73
 'Violence: One woman's story', Koori Mail 343 p.24
 'The rage epidemic', SMH 2/8/2008
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