Domestic violence and dysfunction in outback communities contribute to the off-the-scale removals of Aboriginal kids from their mothers, as detailed yesterday in the first installment of this three-part series. In 2021, 6.5 per cent of Aborigines in the Northern Territory — that’s one in 15 — and 4 per cent in SA were victims of domestic assaults. In NSW and Queensland, domestic sexual assaults were reported at the rate of about one a day.
Two examples below are from some years back, but judging by intermittent news reports, communities like Nhulunbuy and Alice Springs in today’s Australia might be equivalent. (Assaults, domestic assaults and grog-fuelled violence at Nhulunbuy all roughly doubled in the past year.)
♦ In 2013, the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Rachel Olding and Nick Ralston checked the figures and reported that Bourke, in north-west NSW, was more dangerous on crime rates than any country tabulated by the United Nations. Bourke’s population of 3000 was a third Aboriginal, and the assaults, break-ins and theft were on-going despite the town’s huge squad of 40 police.
♦ Roebourne, in north-west WA, earned the 2017 headline “Town of the damned”. Of its population of 1400, more than half were Aboriginal. WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan revealed Roebourne’s ‘staggering’ rate of sex-abuse of children, in a town likewise riddled with alcohol, drugs and violence. In a nine-month drive, police charged 36 men with more than 300 offences against 184 children. Another 100 men were suspected but not charged. Many were using their lavish welfare payments to buy drugs to lure kids for sex. The Commissioner called it a “war zone” with little kids as the victims. The scale of abuse was beyond anything his force had ever seen. Kids were more likely to be raped in Roebourne than almost anywhere else on earth.
For thousands of generations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities have raised their children strong and safe in their culture, caring for and nurturing their children despite significant challenges. But the consequences of colonisation, intergenerational trauma, and systemic racism continue to cause enduring physical and mental harm and perpetuate inequities relating to the social determinants of health.(p45).
Although Family Matters has a section called “Exposure to Family Violence”, it covers not quite half a page (p46) in the 134-page report. The first of two paragraphs explain why women are reluctant to report this violence, mentioning fear of their kids being taken, “lack of police and community support”, and “culturally safe” services. It doesn’t mention the uglier factors of inter-family payback or return of the predatory males through a revolving-door court system.
Just a few days ago (June 9), The Australian reported (paywalled) an horrific case at Tennant Creek. It said, “A convicted domestic violence perpetrator – who was given a wholly suspended sentence for reasons including that his partner was pregnant – has allegedly fractured a baby’s skull by drunkenly hitting the child with a glass bottle during her first birthday party.” The baby was flown to Adelaide’s Children’s Hospital in a critical condition, since stabilised.
The 26-year-old alleged offender had been previously sentenced to 27 months (wholly suspended) for breaking his partner’s jaw with his fist after a drunken night in May 2021. Justice Stephen Southwood had described the man as “genuinely remorseful” with no predisposition for domestic violence and good prospects of rehabilitation. His freedom conditions included abstaining from alcohol and undergoing official alcohol testing. Reporter Kristin Shorten’s questions about how the man was monitored and how the baby’s future safety would be handled went officially unanswered.
An excellent reporter, Ms Shorten in 2021 also outlined a Tennant Creek case where a toddler raped at age two in 2018 by an intruder was taken within months to live with the mother in a remote community with no permanent police presence. During her hospitalisation the toddler had undergone surgery for genital injuries, required a blood transfusion and tested positive for gonorrhoea. She was suffering from ear infections, head lice, ringworm and skin sores. The girl and her siblings had been the subject of 52 notifications to child protection agencies since 2002 and had been removed from the mother by one government department only to be “reunified” within weeks by another. The baby’s father was in jail at the time of the rape for assaulting the mother. The mother and baby in 2021 were reportedly living well.
Getting back to the Family Matter’s report and its other paragraph on domestic violence, it cites that kids witnessing the violence are also frequently removed on the ground of “experiencing emotional abuse”. Another trigger, it says, is violence causing homelessness for women and kids, followed by removal of the children. It describes abuse as, sadly, intergenerational.
Deep in the report one finds that in WA, for example, up to 80 per cent of Aboriginal children in care had been earlier exposed to family violence. (p83). It’s obvious the report has shrunk from outing the perpetrators, namely abusive male partners. To safeguard women and kids, these monsters need to be locked away, but this conflicts with rhetoric about too many men in goal. In the words of the Statement from the Heart
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people…And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers.
The National Closing the Gap target is that “by 2031, the rate of all forms of family violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children is reduced at least by 50 per cent, as progress towards zero.” This ambition fell at the first hurdle as the needed data is unavailable, and today one merely finds ten panels of “to be confirmed” references. To get some perspective, check the 2019 report on Aboriginal family violence by the statutory Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (AIHW).
“Family violence remains a critical social policy issue, placing a huge burden on communities, especially on women and children,” that AIHW report said (p107). It blamed 200 years of colonialism rather than the past half-century of sit-down money and jobless lifestyles on remote homeland hellscapes. The authors also fail to ask why the massive dysfunction inflicted by “colonialism” only arose after the 1960s with the cessation of policies fostering assimilation? Up to that decade Aborigines enjoyed literacy, jobs, low prison rates, low child abuse and suicides, low domestic violence, low truancy and zero faetal alcohol in infants.
The AIHW report reveals that in 2016-17 Aboriginal women were 34 times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence than non-Aboriginal women, but it noted that a high proportion of violence went unreported, so the 34-times figure is likely an under-estimate (p113).
The women’s hospitalisation rate also correlated with remoteness. In cities it was about 0.3 per cent; in regions 0.5 per cent. But in remote communities, 2.7 per cent. About 0.1 per cent of the males in cities were hospitalised over domestic assault, 0.2% in regions but 1% in remote areas. (p115).
The Aboriginal women’s rate of hospitalisation from violence was eight per thousand of population, while the males’ was three per 1,000, which is still 27 times worse than the non-Aboriginal rate, and doubtless also under-reported. About 54 per cent of the male and female hospitalisations were from “bodily force” e.g. punches and kicks:
About a third (36%) of females were assaulted with an object: 25% of whom were assaulted with a blunt object and 11% with a sharp object. Strangulation was specified by 14 Indigenous females as the cause of their injuries.
Head and/or neck injuries were the most common injuries inflicted by a family member, involving 64 per cent of the women victims. There were even 160 women (and 50 males) hospitalised for brain injury. (p114).
As for domestic murders or homicides, there were 26 such Aboriginal women killed in the two years to mid-2016. Of those, 16 were killed by their partners. Of the 18 male deaths, three were killed by a female partner. In ten cases, a parent killed a child, and one child killed a parent. Four killings were among siblings.
The report said that in general, violence against women and children involved higher rates of miscarriage, pre-term birth and low birthweight, as well as other long-term health consequences. AIHW had limited outcome data specifically concerning Aboriginal women and child victims. But it said Aboriginal women suffered disproportionately from results such as anxiety, depression, alcohol use, early pregnancy loss, self-harm, suicides and, particularly, homicides, compared with non-indigenous women. (p115).
A surprising finding was that more than half of Aborigines who suffered family violence (not necessarily hospitalisation) in the prior year, had disabilities. This involved 12,800 Aboriginal women victims with disabilities, or 56 per cent of the total Aboriginal women victims. For the men, it was 4,800 or 49 per cent.
One impact of the family violence was high numbers seeking “specialist homelessness services” . About 65,200 (25 per cent) of the 288,800 clients who accessed the service in 2017–18 were Aboriginal. Of these, 25 per cent (15,900) cited family violence and 28 per cent (18,300) requested assistance for family violence. (p118).
ABS data for Aboriginal family violence perpetrators in 2017-18 is for NSW, NT and ACT only. Aboriginal offenders comprised a fifth of NSW offenders (nine times the non-Aboriginal rate), 90 per cent of NT offenders (18 times excess) and 12 per cent of ACT offenders (nine times excess). Earlier figures for 2013-14 showed that in Queensland, one in five of perpetrators named in Domestic Violence Orders were Aboriginal. About 90 per cent of the DVO orders involving Aborigines were initiated by police. DVOs were not necessarily a protection for women victims. Of all those in Queensland facing criminal judges for violating DVOs, one in three were Aboriginal, of whom 43 per cent were gaoled. (p111)
A valuable state-wide study of pre- and post-natal birth experiences of 344 Aboriginal women from 2001-13 was done in SA by 12 Aboriginal researchers partnered with universities. More than half the women surveyed (56 per cent) experienced three or more stressful events and issues during pregnancy, and more than a quarter (27 per cent) reported between five and twelve stress events. These events were not normal ones:
A large number of women reported experiences of family or community conflict:
♦ 1 in 6 (16%) had been physically assaulted.
♦ 1 in 3 (30%) had been scared by other people’s behaviour while they were pregnant
♦ 1 in 4 (27%) had left home due to a family argument (p116).
Over the period 2012-19 Aboriginal mothers’ maternal mortality rate — 17.5 deaths per 100,000 — was three times that of non-Aboriginal mothers. They were twice as likely to have low birthweights. (Family Matters, p46).
One has to wonder how vigorously any Aboriginal Voice, as provided in the Constitution, would tackle this scourge of Aboriginal males bashing their partners.
TOMORROW: Child-care mayhem State by State.
Tony Thomas’s new book from Connor Court is Anthem of the Unwoke – Yep! The other lot’s gone bonkers. For a copy ($35 including postage), email email@example.com
 It is unclear whether the Commissioner or a report on the ABC made the claim.
-  The slightest acquaintance with anthropology literature and earliest European reports reveals that tribes’ common response to drought and hunger was infanticide, while polygamous old men would be promised girls from earliest age for their labour and sexual service. Boys at puberty would undergo unspeakably painful initiations and often get killed during inter-tribal feuds over wife-stealing and sorcery. This is real truth-telling as distinct from the report’s sanitised concepts.
 “However, this result should be interpreted with caution, due to small sample sizes (ABS 2016c).”