This brief describes some of the promising efforts to reduce Indigenous family violence in Australia and overseas, including both government and community initiatives, as well as support mechanisms and measures for victims.
The issue of family violence in Indigenous communities across Australia has been described at various times over the past decade as a ‘national emergency’, ‘Australia’s Tsunami’, and a ‘national disgrace’. It is not a ‘new’ issue: state commissioned inquiries and government reports, particularly since 1999, have found that Indigenous communities are more vulnerable to violence and more likely to be victims of violence than any other section of Australian society.
Available evidence clearly establishes that there is no single factor, but rather a multitude of interrelated factors that contribute to the occurrence of family violence in Indigenous communities. Significant attention has been drawn to the relationship between the disruption and distress attributable to colonisation, dispossession and the removal of Indigenous children from their families, and Indigenous experiences of violence. In addition, Indigenous people are much more likely to experience socio-economic disadvantage including unemployment, welfare dependency and overcrowding in households. Physical and mental health issues, low self esteem, a sense of powerlessness, and destructive coping behaviours including substance abuse, may be further contributing factors to the incidence of family violence. All of these experiences, separately but especially in combination, are risk factors for family violence.
Mainstream responses to Indigenous family violence have typically arisen in the context of a crisis, thus their focus has largely been on policing, prosecution and punishment, as well as providing safe accommodation for women and children. Mainstream responses also involve multiple agencies each with heavy workloads and limited time, and therefore effective communication between agencies can be compromised. Such agencies also generally have limited cultural awareness and/or experience working in Indigenous contexts and are often unfamiliar with the situations confronting many Indigenous families.
In response to the challenges and shortcomings of mainstream responses, recommendations for reforms across all sectors have been put forward and many Indigenous-specific programs and policies have been introduced. Government agencies have responded positively to recommendations for reforms. Over the past decade the justice sector has: increased the employment of Indigenous staff; made training opportunities available to improve cultural awareness and understanding of the complexities and contexts of violence in Indigenous communities; enhanced interagency collaborations to provide more integrated services; and implemented alternative mechanisms for engaging Indigenous community stakeholders in the justice process (e.g. Indigenous sentencing courts, community justice groups). It should however be noted that there have been few formal evaluations of these reforms. Similarly, there is little evidence of the effectiveness of Indigenous specific programs due to minimal investment in evaluation. This brief therefore generally relies on reports of good practice.
This brief will describe some of the promising efforts to reduce Indigenous family violence in Australia and overseas, including both government and community initiatives, as well as support mechanisms and measures for victims. Some of Memmott et al.’s nine categories of violence program types are adopted as headings: support programs; behavioural reform programs; community policing and monitoring programs; justice programs; mediation programs; education and awareness programs; and composite programs. Evaluations of alcohol restrictions are also considered.