"There is so much work that needs to be done if we wish Aboriginal victims of family and domestic violence to come forward," writes Celeste Liddle. Photo: James Alcock
Despite the fact that the statistics are well established and those of us from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community live the real impacts of this scourge on our community every day, each new release of the rates of family and domestic violence brings a wave of distress. While it is not surprising to read again that Aboriginal people are 6.5 times more likely to be victims of family violence but are less likely to report these crimes to the authorities, it reinforces the continual failures of governments and broader society to see Aboriginal people, and particularly women and children, as anything other than expendable.
The release last week of the Victorian Government's Royal Commission into Family Violence report brought more such news. In particular, the sections relating to the Indigenous community painted a picture of long-held good intentions with little real advancement. While it's commendable that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has committed to implementing all of the recommendations of this report, the true challenge lies in whether his government can learn from the mistakes of several decades of their predecessors and engage with communities, particularly Indigenous communities, to address this issue.
Certainly, the report does highlight previous and ongoing governmental and community attempts to address family violence rates within the Indigenous community. Yet juxtaposing this is the reality that within Victoria, Indigenous children are still more likely to be placed in care than other kids facing similar family violence situations. Incarceration rates here are still around eleven times what a population parity rate would be and indeed, Aboriginal women fleeing violence have been incarcerated "for their own safety". There is a severe and warranted mistrust in a system which, rather than protects, seems to instead vilify. Premier Andrews was correct when he referred to the support system as "broken" and this is even more apparent in the statistics relating to the Indigenous community.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence Fiona Richardson at the release of the Royal Commission report at Parliament House last week. Photo: Eddie Jim
This mistrust in the system leads to a self-perpetuating cycle. Why would someone trying to escape abuse place themselves in a position where they will be further abused? Why would an Aboriginal mother trying to escape an abusive partner seek assistance from a service which is more likely to take her children away from her than work to keep a family together? If Aboriginal men and women are more likely to be incarcerated than rehabilitated than other men and women, why would people report issues to the police and go through a legal system which is more likely to penalise than protect? Why is the onus always on the abused parties to leave violence rather than ensuring violence is socially unacceptable and measures are put in place to stop it occurring?
There is so much work that needs to be done if we wish Aboriginal victims of family and domestic violence to come forward. Partly, this will lie in the proper funding of culturally-appropriate services which work to empower and to rehabilitate within the community. Programs such as Sisters' Day Out, for example, which is a one-day workshop run by Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria, should not have to continually struggle for funding in an environment where Aboriginal women are 35 times more likely to be admitted to hospital due to family violence assaults.
Not only are well-funded, culturally-appropriate services needed, but mainstream services need to become a lot more culturally-appropriate as well. In February this year, the Victorian Government held an Indigenous Community Consultation on self-determination. This was not only the first time a government had engaged in this way for 20 years, but it also led to the state government gaining a significantly better understanding of the aspirations and needs of Aboriginal people in Victoria. These same principles of collaboration and consultation need to be applied to the topic of Family Violence in Aboriginal communities. It is imperative for the government, for the police services and the legal services, amongst others, to build that trust in the community and work with us rather than imposing on us. A commitment to reducing violence in the Aboriginal community needs to be accompanied by a commitment to reduce state-based violence against Aboriginal people for it to be truly effective.
I applaud the Victorian Government for their commitment to reducing Family Violence across the state. It is my hope that through their initiatives and better partnering with Indigenous communities, family violence - which disproportionately affects Aboriginal women and children - will be reduced. A safer and more inclusive society is for the benefit of us all.