Domestic Violence Against Indigenous Women Is A National Crisis

08/09/2015 5:37 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
The AGE via Getty Images
A child plays at sunset in the Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu, in the shadow of Uluru, in the Northern Territory. The town is the first to be targeted in the Australian government's campaign to stamp out child abuse in remote indigenous communities. Australian Prime Minister John Howard says the permit system in the Northern Territory restricting entry to such communities had kept them 'out of view and out of mind', hindering efforts to tackle their problems, 26 June 2007. (Photo by Jason South/The AGE/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

There aren't many Indigenous people I know who haven't been directly impacted by domestic violence. Someone's mum, aunty or cousin. Or that someone, themselves.

It's rampant. It's a national crisis. It's something we should all be talking about. We've heard the statistics -- one in three women will experience domestic violence and, every week, an Australian woman is killed by a current or former partner. These number are staggering but the statistics are even worse if you're black.

Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised for injuries caused by family violence. Just last month a man was sentenced for assaulting his wife when he came home drunk and she told him to go to bed.

He went outside and grabbed a 50cm-long, 3cm-thick steel fencing pole and assaulted her with it. First he hit her across the head. Then he punched her. He swung the pole at her again but this time she raised her arm. It broke her wrist. Then she fell to the ground in pain. But he wasn't finished. He pulled her up by her hair and dragged her to bed.

She waited for him to fall asleep then hid while waiting for the police and ambulance to arrive.

It wasn't the first time this man had displayed violent tendencies towards women. In my research I counted six other times he'd been arrested for violence against women. Mostly directed towards his own wife. This same woman he'd been sentenced for beating last month he'd also stabbed three times in the thigh a few years earlier.

This case wasn't even difficult to find. I found so many more stories like this (and worse) that have happened just within the past few months.

This is usually where people start thinking to themselves, "but why do women stay in these relationships?"

It's not as easy as that. If it were, don't you think they would have left by now? It's complex and I can't speak for everyone but I can speak on some of the cases I've seen first hand.

Such a huge part of these relationships is about emotional manipulation. And it goes in cycles. Never-ending cycles.

Right before there's a confrontation, there's a mood. Tension builds and small things can make abusers tick. This tension escalates (sometimes over hours or days) to a point where it erupts and then arguing turns into physical violence.

But the period after the abuse is where the victim is trapped. After hours or days of abuse women are lured back into the relationship by the promise of reformed behaviour. The perpetrator will often apologise profusely, promise it will never, ever happen again and declare his undying love for the victim. This is simplified but a brief example of some of the behaviour I've seen.

This behaviour on it's own is difficult enough to deal with for someone who is beaten and battered but when you factor in other dynamics it's even more frightening.

For a lot of Indigenous women poverty is a reason you have to stay. If you had to make a choice between living with a partner who is abusive or leaving with your children and living on the street, unsure of where your next meal is coming from or when you'll have a roof over your heads, I reckon you'd have to think long and hard about whether to leave. The behaviour is cruel and mean but if you have nowhere else to go, what's the point of leaving? Staying in abusive situations is sometimes the safer or less scary option.

We're beyond the point of considering the abusers in these cases. Treatment can only go so far. In so many of the transcripts I read judges made statements like: 'court orders have no effect at all' or 'sentences have not deterred you from committing more offences of violence'.

We have to turn our attention to the victims. Stop asking them why they stay and start thinking of ways we can support these women to leave. It's never as simple as it seems but we'll never get anywhere if we continue to put the onus on the victim instead of creating an environment where people have a choice to leave violent relationships.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, family and intimate partner violence is something we're openly talking about. The impact of her campaign was immediate. I was in the audience when they called out her name and played the devastating video of her speaking about her beautiful son Luke, who was murdered by his own father. The women in the audience on the lawns at Parliament House started turning to each other and discussing their own experiences with violence, or relaying the experiences of their sisters, mothers or friends.

More On This Topic