Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from domestic violence injuries than women in the rest of the community. Underreporting of domestic violence is much more prevalent among Indigenous women.
Distrust of police plays a huge factor in this. In a country where Indigenous women’s issues are pushed to the back burner to better accommodate white women’s problems ad nauseam, the prevailing attitude is why bother?
Other reasons underreporting is an issue include fear of repercussions and consequences, particularly in small, interconnected and isolated communities where anonymity cannot be maintained. Fear and distrust of police, the justice system and other government agencies also play a part. Many Indigenous people experience anxiety when they are compelled to engage with police and welfare agencies. A look at the numbers of children taken from their homes and put into state care puts paid to one of the most extenuating circumstances why violent incidents aren’t reported.
Indigenous women are far more likely to experience violence, and to endure more serious violence than non-Indigenous women. This year alone between 9 – 12% of women who have died as a result of domestic violence have been Indigenous. This number will rise as access to aboriginal services are cut and defunded.
It is a fact that Indigenous people would prefer to interact with other Indigenous people when it comes to issues of a personal nature. This has been proven over and over again. There must be a concentrated push to keep Indigenous services open and funded. If it saves the life of even one Indigenous person, then it is worth it.
In small communities Indigenous women are picking up the slack caused by the disenfranchisement that comes from having important monetary assistance removed. The current conversation Australia is having regarding domestic violence is incredibly important, but this conversation must be expanded to include Indigenous women and the Indigenous women who are at the coalface of this epidemic.
I have said this before and I will say it again, organisations like Joint Destroyer must become more vocal and put more support behind Indigenous women’s services. A case in point was last year when police where contemplating charging women who dropped domestic violence charges against their perpetrators. This would have affected Indigenous women in large numbers. Joint Destroyer applied an enormous amount of pressure to have this initiative scrapped and it worked.
Organisations like Joint Destroyer and their ilk must understand the complexities surrounding violence against Indigenous women, from the initial violence right down to the difficulties of reporting, fear of loss of children, consequences within the larger Indigenous community and a very real reluctance to speak to police.
There must be an honest and frank discussion between domestic violence services that cater to Indigenous women and non-Indigenous women. Issues that Indigenous women face are not necessarily the same issues that non- Indigenous women face. A good starting point would be reassurance that when Indigenous women report domestic violence, their children will not be entered into circumstances where they may be taken or put under a children’s services watchlist.
As women we must come together to fight against the stigma that attaches itself to domestic violence. Domestic violence does not discriminate between races, but it must be said that services and assistance does. From reporting assaults to police, right down to receiving counselling, there is a difference between how Indigenous and non-Indigenous women are treated. Until all domestic violence reports are treated equally, this will remain a problem.
You cannot close an Indigenous shelter that caters exclusively to Indigenous women and children and expect them to utilise services that are not geared towards their specific needs. A non-Indigenous woman would less likely to have qualms about speaking to white male police officers or white social workers. They have no underlying fear that their children may be taken, that they will be charged with some punitive offence, or that they will not be treated fairly and with respect.
Our women are dying, worse still they are dying because of underfunded and cut services. They are dying because of distrust of police who are supposed to be there to protect us. They are dying for fear of entering into a system where their children will be taken from them. But worst of all they are dying because our plight is invisible. So while the white women of Australia hand awards to each other, hold vigils, get granted column after column of newsprint and heart felt pleas delivered by television personalities over ‘their’ fight, our women suffer and die in silence.
This article was first published on The Koori Woman’s blog and is republished here with permission.
Making them count: indigenous victims of family violence: The Feed SBS2 7.30pm weeknights