Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience significantly higher rates of sexual, domestic and family violence than the general population.
Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is perpetrated by men of all cultural backgrounds, in many different contexts and settings across the country.
According to Our Watch:
- A national survey found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women report experiencing violence in the previous 12 months at 3.1 times the rate of non-Indigenous women.
- Hospitalisation rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women due to family violence-related assaults are 32 times the rate for non-Indigenous women.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are nearly 11 times more likely to die due to assault than non-Indigenous women.
- Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is perpetrated by men of all cultural backgrounds, in many different contexts and settings across the country.
Why are sexual, domestic and family violence rates higher for women from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?
Sexual, domestic and family violence is considered unacceptable in traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
According to the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service (FVPLS) Victoria:
‘There are multiple complex and diverse factors contributing to the high levels and severity of family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
It must be clearly understood that the causes do not derive from Aboriginal culture. Family violence is not part of Aboriginal culture.
The disadvantage, dispossession and attempted destruction of Aboriginal cultures since colonisation have meant that family violence has proliferated in Aboriginal communities.’
Here are some reasons why sexual, domestic and family violence may be higher amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women:
- In the 1992 report ‘Without Consent: Confronting Adult Sexual Violence’ Aboriginal women reported that the police response to sexual assault, and to Aboriginal women is not prioritised, is too slow, sexist, or racist.
Some women reporting having experienced assault, or know of others who have been assaulted by police officers. They further reported that the lack of female officers meant reports had to be made to male officers which made the women feel uncomfortable.
While police have dramatically improved their response to complaints of sexual assault not all matters have been resolved and for many Aboriginal women the legacy of the past continues to be a barrier to reporting.
- Aboriginal women living in remote communities may not have easy access to police.
- Where the offender is Aboriginal there may be significant community pressure to not report as it is held that ‘too many Aboriginal men are already in jail’.
Aboriginal women report their experience of the courts to be a tool that is used against them, not to help them. The court system is often considered foreign.
Aboriginal women report feeling unsupported and unprotected throughout court processes, and that human issues are not adequately considered.
Many perceive the system as being part of the colonisation process of their community and culture and there is strong identification with the courts as a vehicle for removal of children.
One Aboriginal woman’s negative experiences with hospitals, sexual assault services or counsellors can prevent other women in her community accessing services.
Aboriginal women feel that non-Aboriginal health care workers are not culturally aware, and that it is only other Aboriginal women who will understand and know how to ask questions in a culturally appropriate way.
As in non Aboriginal communities, sexual assault is often intrafamilial or the offender is part of the person’s community.
Aboriginal women can risk rejection within their communities if they disclose their experience of sexual assault, or speak out against sexual violence.
Pressure from relatives and supporters of the perpetrator can be very effective at silencing Aboriginal women, and preventing them from reporting. This also means the offender can continue to offend.
Read more from Our Watch on preventing violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities here:
These resources about sexual, domestic and family violence are designed for people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities:
Women's Legal Service NSW:
To find help with sexual, domestic or family violence in your community, visit our Find a Local Support Service page or speak to our counsellors:
2. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (2016), 4.98 and table 4A.12.13.
3. Based on available national and state and territory datasets: Olsen & Lovett (2016) p. 13, citing Al-Yaman et al (2006).
4 Thomas,C. (1992). Sexual Assault: Issues for Aboriginal Women. In Without Consent: Confronting Adult Sexual Violence. Accessed 30/12/19 via:http://www.ilc.unsw.edu.au/sites/ilc.unsw.edu.au/files/mdocs/AIC_pub_thomas.pdf
5. McGlade,H. (2006). Aboriginal women, girls and sexual assault: ACSSA Newsletter No.12 (September 2006). Accessed 30/12/19 via: http://www.aifs.gov.au/acssa/pubs/newsletter/n12pdf/n12_4.pdf