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Despite the increasingly high profile of domestic and family violence (DFV) in Australian society, surprisingly little is known in the public domain about the ways women’s specialist services provide help to the victims/survivors. When it comes to Aboriginal women, high rates of violence have been well documented and publicised; however, very little has been documented or analysed in relation to how specialist DFV services work with and for Aboriginal women as clients/survivors, workers, board, and community members.

Women’s specialist domestic and family violence services: Their responses and practices with and for Aboriginal women is a project that concentrated on how workers and services listen to Aboriginal women—what they see and hear, what they have learnt, and how they apply this in practice.

Produced by working closely and collaboratively for more than a year with three specialist DFV services (NPY Women's Council) — Alice Springs Women’s Shelter, Domestic Violence Crisis Service, and Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council Domestic and Family Violence Service—the research undertaken for this report focused on learning from these services and from the Aboriginal women who have contact with these services, as clients and community members, or who work with or within the services.

The research also focused on finding out from Aboriginal women what they value from crisis contact, and when and how they thought services could ask them their views and experiences. The insights are crucial for women's specialist services in maintaining open and continual learning from Aboriginal women as clients.

Local Aboriginal women were an integral part of the research project, but the research findings do not represent the views of all Aboriginal women.

Among the recommendations from the research are a number of key messages for policy and practice.

For policy, key messages include:

  • Women’s specialist DFV services need to be supported in their work with and responses to the needs of Aboriginal women, as they serve as a crucial and reliable option for Aboriginal women in crisis.
  • There needs to be greater recognition of how Aboriginal women can influence—and have influenced—service models and practice, especially where they are the majority of clients.
  • Defining and monitoring “successful” outcomes should be realistic and grounded in what service users value.
  • Across the sector, capacity has to be built within services for continuing self-evaluation that is guided by the views and feedback from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women. Additional resources and support are essential for this to be done well and with care.

For women’s specialist DFV services, key messages include:

  • Recognising that formal governance structures of services may not suit Aboriginal women as places to represent their own and others’ views, but that other ways of eliciting guidance and reflection on a group basis exist.
  • Cultivating stronger ties between specialist DFV services and local Aboriginal organisations and leaders.
  • Having realistic expectations of the roles and number of Aboriginal frontline staff. In some contexts, positions of mentor or cultural advisor may work well. These rest on ideas of the “learning organisation”.
  • Building and sustaining informal networks and contacts, including through creative outreach and community development activities.
  • Continuing and supporting the constant process of learning by adopting a collaborative approach and by having discussions or conversations with Aboriginal women clients or ex-clients more often, and in ways that are ethical, safe, and which are valued by them.
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