Family violence and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women
For Family & Friends, Female Survivors, Male Survivors, Students, Teachers, Workers, Young People
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience both far higher rates and more severe forms of family violence compared to other women. 1
It is important to acknowledge that family violence is not a traditional aspect of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander cultures.
“From an Aboriginal perspective, the experience of family violence must be understood in the historical context of white settlement and colonisation and their resulting (and continuing) impacts: cultural dispossession, breakdown of community kinship systems and Aboriginal law, systemic racism and vilification, social and economic exclusion, entrenched poverty, problematic substance use, inherited grief and trauma, and loss of traditional roles and status (Aboriginal Affairs Victoria 2008).” 1
Family violence is worse in Aboriginal communities
Family violence is a serious problem for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around the nation. Available statistics 2 show that:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are between two and five times more likely than other Australians to experience violence as victims or offenders.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are five times as likely to experience physical violence, and three times as likelyto experience sexual violence, than other Australian women in the previous year.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence related assaults than other Australian women.
- According to the Australian Productivity Commission, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are twice as likely to die as an outcome of family violence compared to other Australian women.
- Family violence is a major contributor to children being removed from their families. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are over nine times as likely to be on care and protection orders and ten times more likely to be in out of home care than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
- Without intervention, the cost of violence perpetrated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, is estimated to be $2.2 billion in 2021-22, including costs associated with pain, suffering, premature death and health costs.
- Family violence is a greatly under-reported crime. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have lower reporting rates than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and are known to face specific and additional barriers to reporting.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are five times more likely to be victims of homicide than other Australian women. More than half (55%) of these homicides are related to family violence.
Possible consequences of family violence
Family violence can cause physical and psychological harm, particularly to women and children. And it can pass from one generation to the next – some children experience family violence and become violent adolescents due to learned behaviour and a feeling that their world needs controlling.
Family violence can affect physical and mental health, and lead to social and community issues, including homelessness.
Some of the physical effects for victims of family violence include: 2
- physical injuries
- sexually transmitted diseases
- pregnancy complications, miscarriage and maternity-related depression
The mental health effects are also significant, and include:
- anxiety disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- substance abuse
- suicidal tendencies.
Some victims of family violence also die.
Socially, family violence weakens family and community structures. Victims of family violence may find it difficult to go to school or get a job, or they may turn to crime. Most Aboriginal women in prison have experienced some form of family violence.
As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders often live in tight knit communities, the whole community can be affected by family violence. ‘Community depression’ comes from a shared sense of shame, despair, demoralisation and hopelessness.
Family violence has many causes
Family violence is worse in Aboriginal communities than other Australian communities for many reasons, but cultural factors play a huge role. European contact destroyed many Aboriginal communities, and the effects are still being felt.
Frustration and stress can lead to violence in any community, but Aboriginal communities face particular stressors, such as:
- loss of land and traditional culture (some cultural practices lessened interpersonal violence)
- breakdown of community kinship systems and Aboriginal law
- lack of respect within families, and from younger generations towards Elders
- loss of identity
A range of other issues may also contribute to family violence:
- high rates of imprisonment
- poverty and financial problems
- poor health
- lack of education
- single-parent families and early parenting
- substance and drug abuse
- poor or inadequate housing
- social isolation
- lack of access to services.
Specialist services are available
Many Aboriginal people do not report family violence because they fear discrimination, racism and lack of understanding from support services. It is important to get the help and support you need.
Some Aboriginal communities have safe houses, which provide short-term accommodation for women and children escaping violence. While at the safe house, women are free to decide whether they want to report incidents of domestic violence.
There are support services especially designed for Aboriginal women experiencing family violence, such as the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria (FVPLS Victoria) Tel. 1800 105 303.
- Family violence is a serious problem among Aboriginal communities around Australia
- Family violence (also called Domestic Violence) takes many forms: it can be physical, sexual, psychological, economic, spiritual, or legal abuse.
- All forms of family violence are illegal and unacceptable.
- Anyone may be abusive, including your partner, siblings, grandparents, step-parents, cousins, nieces and nephews, and carers.
Where to get help
Call 000 at any time if you are worried about your safety or your children’s safety.
Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria (FVPLS Victoria)
Provides assistance to victims of family violence and sexual assault, and works with families and communities affected by violence.
Phone: 1800 105 303
Nunga Miminis Shelter (South Australia)
Nunga Miminis offers support and emergency accommodation for Aboriginal women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Service available 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday.
Phone. 8223 2200 (After hours call Crisis Care on 13 1611)
Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria
SafeSteps Family Violence Response Centre
Phone: 1800 015 188
1800 RESPECT (National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line)
Phone. 1800 737 732 (24 hour information and support)
1800 RESPECT services and support map
Phone: 1800 55 1800
Phone: 13 11 14
Phone: 1300 78 99 78
White Ribbon (list of national hotlines and state and territory helplines)
Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service
- VicHealth. (2011). Violence against women in Australia: Research summary. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from https://www.ourwatch.org.au/MediaLibraries/OurWatch/Images/ourwatch_reporting_on_a-ts_family_violence_aa_v1.pdf
- Our Watch. (2014). Reporting on Family Violence in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Communities. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from https://www.ourwatch.org.au/MediaLibraries/OurWatch/Images/ourwatch_reporting_on_a-ts_family_violence_aa_v1.pdf