BLACK eyes, stabbings and sexual assaults.
These are the common attacks on women and children in Queensland’s indigenous communities, inflicted with such prevalence by spouses that domestic violence is considered to be part of “every day” life.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from domestic violence and 10 times more likely to die of violent assault than other women.
“Domestic violence is the most disgusting issue and one we cannot tolerate,” Centacare’s Murri Ministry co-ordinator Ravina Waldren said.
And yet, there is also reluctance on the part of indigenous women to report the bashings and abuse.
In many cases drugs and alcohol are contributing factors to the violence.
“There are deep feelings of community shame in bringing it forward,” Ms Waldren said.
“It s like a silence in the community – a code of silence.
“Women are too frightened to report it. There are repercussions and no one to turn to. So they settle for a black eye instead.”
It is a hard code of silence to crack. Especially when there are high levels of mistrust between the police and indigenous Australians.
Marcia Langton, professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne, has described tolerance of and failure to report violence against indigenous women as “a national crisis”.
Speaking on an ABC Radio National live panel last year, discussing domestic violence, Ms Langton quoted an unreleased Australian Crime Commission report which stated domestic violence was the major form of crime in indigenous communities, and that it often involved weapons, which was regularly under-reported.
According to Dr Langton, the same report discussed the link between violence and the unacceptably high level of suicide in indigenous communities. It also noted that the age of victims is getting younger and younger.
“Everybody with a decent heart is just thoroughly sick of the violence,” Dr Langton said.
“Then, there are the perpetrators of various ages, from young through to old, who make all sorts of excuses for the violence. They purport that this is the Aboriginal way.
“This is a sick situation. This is an unacceptable situation. It is severely perverted.”
Ms Waldren said an intervention was needed.
But too many times, she said, governments had injected money into projects only to pull the money at a later stage with no lasting result.
This left existing services with little capacity to respond and gaps in what they could deliver, she said.
Ms Waldren has called for a genuine government partnership with indigenous leadership, and ownership of projects at a community level.
She cited an example where services offered to Aboriginal women were virtually inaccessible because they were not located close to the community, but in a nearby town – a case of an agency not closely consulting to find local solutions.
Ms Waldren said with the right funding, communities could design programs that could address the main contributors of domestic violence – poverty, homelessness, unemployment and mental health.
In the latest Closing the Gap statement, delivered on February 10, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull committed to a remarkably similar policy approach – one which he credited to conversations with Queensland Aboriginal leader Dr Chris Sara.
“… bring us policy approaches that nurture hope and optimism rather than entrench despair,” Mr Turnbull said, paraphrasing Dr Sara.
“And … do things with us, not to us. Do things with us, not to us.”
The 2016 Federal Budget includes $100 million over three years on initiatives to reduce violence against women and their children, yet there is no targeted investment in indigenous domestic violence services.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are at the epicentre of the national family violence crisis, yet specific initiatives to confront this crisis and invest in services for safety are invisible in the Budget,” National Family Violence Prevention Legal Service Forum convenor Antoinette Braybrook said.
“Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children is at epidemic levels.
“It will cost the nation $2.2 billion by 2021-22.
“Its moral cost – which sees lives lost and communities destroyed – is unquantifiable. Yet tragically a response to this violence is invisible in the Budget Papers.”
An estimated 90 per cent of services delivered by the Family Violence Prevention Legal Service are directed towards indigenous women.
It provides essential services for the safety of indigenous women, and delivers early-intervention prevention programs to break the vicious cycle of violence.
By Mark Bowling