Gary Bentley is fighting for changes to help people, especially Aboriginal women, who are possibly involved in violent relationships that could lead to homicide. Picture: Matthew Poon
- 11:05AM January 20, 2020
Almost half of all people killed by intimate partners are indigenous or overseas-born, which has prompted calls for a more targeted approach to tackling family violence.
About 23 per cent of intimate-partner homicide victims were indigenous in the 10 years to 2015-16.
A further 22 per cent of those victims whose backgrounds were known were overseas-born, according to previously unpublished figures provided to The Australian by the Australian Institute of Criminology.
In total, there were 1078 domestic homicide victims over the decade to 2015-16, which equated to more than two people killed every week by an intimate partner or family member.
Contrary to community perceptions, the domestic homicide rate, in particular the intimate-partner homicide rate, has been falling since 1989-90 (when data collecting began).
Intimate-partner homicides fell to 0.26 per 100,000 people in 2015-16, the lowest rate recorded in the 27-year period since 1989-90. The rate then was 0.66 per 100,000.
Gary Bentley has been fighting for changes to the way police and other services respond to Aboriginal survivors of abuse since his sister Andrea Pickett was murdered by her estranged husband more than 10 years ago.
He said little had changed since her death and it was time for dramatic changes, including a one-stop-shop service that would allow Aboriginal women to tell their story once, more training for police and education for Aboriginal children.
Australian Institute of Criminology research manager Samantha Bricknell said figures involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims “stand out” because of their over-representation and because such a high proportion were perpetrated by family members, when compared with the non-indigenous population.
“You do have this concentration of homicide occurring in the domestic space (within the indigenous community) and primarily between intimate partners,” she said.
Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety chief executive Heather Nancarrow said the “very significant over-representation” of indigenous people, who make up less than 3 per cent of the population, pointed to “the limitations of mainstream responses to family violence for those communities”.
She said ANROWS’s research on the complex drivers of family violence in indigenous communities showed “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander solutions” were needed, “which may differ greatly from non-indigenous solutions”.
Antoinette Braybrook, who heads a peak body representing indigenous survivors of abuse, said a dedicated national action plan to reduce violence against indigenous women and children was needed. “We hear our federal government talking about violence against all women as a national priority, but when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women we’ve got a national emergency, a national crisis on our hands,” she said.
“It deserves a dedicated response.”
Instead, there has been anger over a recent decision to scrap funding for the body that Ms Braybrook heads.
The national secretariat for the country’s 14 Family Violence Prevention Legal Services — which help indigenous abuse survivors in rural and remote areas — previously received $244,000 in annual funding. This had enabled the services to speak with a united voice on key issues and to share resources, Ms Braybrook said.
The decision to remove that funding “ripped” the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from the national conversation on domestic violence strategies.
Ms Braybrook said money earmarked to reduce violence against Aboriginal women and children was insufficient and not “hitting the ground” where it was needed.
“There’s no funding dedicated to urban areas for our work from the federal government, and despite these statistics, there’s been no increase of funding to our services nationally for more than six years for our core frontline work,” she said.
Similarly, those working with culturally and linguistically diverse communities believe more effort should be directed to protecting migrant women from violence.
The AIC figures reveal that 189 overseas-born people were killed by a family member in the decade to 2015-16. Of those, 124 were killed by a current or former intimate partner — accounting for about 29 per cent of intimate-partner homicides (of those whose backgrounds were known), if indigenous victims are excluded.
About 26 per cent of people in Australia were born overseas, according to the 2016 census.
Adele Murdolo, executive director of Melbourne’s Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, said mainstream prevention programs did not necessarily reach women from migrant and refugee backgrounds.
Assault deaths by deceased’s region of birth, 2007-2016
region of birth
Source: National Coronial Information System Data Report DR19-37
Many also faced different vulnerabilities to other Australians, including because of uncertain visa arrangements, a lack of support networks and language barriers, she said. “One reason you need to target efforts to migrant and refugee women is because they have different experiences to the rest of the population.”
Some women on temporary visas were threatened by their abusers with deportation. To support them to better understand their situation and escape violence, a tailored response was needed that took account of context and was in the right language, Ms Murdolo said.
Dr Bricknell said more research was needed to determine the domestic homicide rate in culturally and linguistically diverse communities, as this was not known.
The federal government’s fourth action plan to reduce violence against women and children was announced in March and set aside $328m for frontline services, accommodation and prevention.
It builds on work that began in 2010.
Of the $68.3m set aside for prevention, $12.1m was earmarked for violence prevention strategies for vulnerable groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Another $35m was set aside to support indigenous communities.
Ms Braybrook said there was concern the $35m was going primarily towards more policing. “If we want to make a real difference to these devastating statistics and ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children’s lives are safe and matter, then we need to see an investment in Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, like our Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services,” she said.
Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the federal, state and territory governments had agreed to make supporting indigenous women and children a key priority of the fourth action plan.
“Sadly, evidence indicates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children continue to experience disproportionately high rates of violence,” she said.
She said of the $35m set aside for indigenous people, $13.5m would be spent on intensive, culturally appropriate services for women and children in remote areas, including tailored treatment plans and sexual assault counselling, as well as services to family members to try to change problem behaviours.
To respond to the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse communities, the government had changed eligibility requirements to provide victims of forced marriage greater access to support, she said.
Overall, Dr Bricknell said while too many deaths were occurring, the fact the domestic homicide rate was falling was a “positive” although it was unclear what had contributed to the improvement. Medical advancements could account for some attacks not resulting in deaths, but it was also possible the increased effort directed to reducing violence over the past 27 years was making a difference.
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