Family Violence: Overview and background
The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care is an ongoing and major concern for all Australians. SNAICC – National Voice for our Children is committed to working with communities, carers and workers to keep our children safe within their own families and communities whenever possible. There is so much to learn and know about caring for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and it is important that the children in your care grow up being proud of their heritage and cultural identity. Therefore, it is important that carers consider children’s unique needs.
It is vital that carers are informed and supported with practical information across all areas of care, including understanding, recognising and responding to family violence. It is also important to know when to seek additional support, referral or advice when the issues are beyond your role or training. This is a particular concern due to the historical impacts that have resulted in incidences of transgenerational and intergenerational trauma. Historical knowledge is vital as it can assist carers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to have a better understanding ofAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and learn ways to build and integrate it into family life.
In 1991, SNAICC produced Through Young Black Eyes, a national resource handbook to assist communities to develop ways of talking positively and taking action on domestic violence. SNAICC Chairperson Sharon Williams emphasised the need for action:
It is known that strong families raising strong children will grow strong and safe communities. This is the lesson of our history and the path to a better future. We must protect our children from the devastating impact of family violence and abuse; and find ways to nurture them. The best way to do this is to confront abuse, uphold the rights of children to grow up in an environment free from violence and abuse, and turn to — not against — each other and heal those that have committed violence and abuse.
Violence, child abuse and neglect are not unique to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Violence is not our way to deal with anger, frustration and despair stemming from generations of abuse and violence inflicted upon our people as a due to the impacts of colonisation, dispossession and the removal of our children. This is still a challenge we are confronting and responding to in order for our people to be strong, proud and safe.
Children need to be proud of the people and culture around them; and proud of who they are. Confronting family violence, child abuse and neglect with honesty and commitment will make our children proud, strong, happy and safe.
SNAICC Chair Sharron Williams, 2013
Our aim is to prevent and reduce family violence and its impacts
SNAICC aims to reduce the unacceptably high incidence and grave impact of Indigenous family violence on all family members and the community. Ultimately, SNAICC aims to ensure Indigenous women and children are safe and supported in their homes and community, and men who use violence are supported to change their violent behaviour.
SNAICC’s aim is to support, empower and build Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals’ knowledge to achieve these goals with Through Young Black Eyes train-the-trainer workshops. Since its inception, revised editions have been reviewed and updated in 2005, 2007, 2013, and now in 2016. Over this time the training has proven to be a much needed and sought after resource, which is typically available and used as a community-led early intervention and prevention initiative for professionals and community groups who have found it particularly useful for running their own workshops about:
- What is family violence?
- What is child abuse and neglect?
- What is child sexual abuse?
- Developing a child-safe community
- Where to go to get information and support.
Nevertheless, carers access to this information and learnings can be problematic and difficult, which can lead to feelings of isolation and being unsupported. It is important that carers are informed and supported about current practice regarding the impacts and effects of family violence to assist them in their role as a carer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Understanding Historical Impacts
Indigenous women, children and men are entitled to live safety and with dignity. However, this is not the case for many Indigenous women and children who experience family violence.
In the Indigenous context, family violence is often described as:
The range of violence that takes place in Indigenous communities including the physical, emotional, sexual, social, spiritual, cultural, psychological and economic abuses that may be perpetrated within a family. The term also recognizes the broader impacts of violence: on extended families, kinship networks and community relationships. It has also been used in the past decade to encompass acts of self-harm and suicide, and has become widely adopted as part of the shift towards addressing intra-familial violence in all its forms.
SNAICC, Meeting the Needs of Our Children, 2013; Kripps and Davis, Communities working to reduce Indigenous family violence, 2012
The causes of Indigenous family violence are complex. However, the Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Taskforce attributes family violence to a number of factors, including:
- Dispossession of land and traditional culture
- Breakdown of community kinship systems and Aboriginal Law
- A reaction to racism and vilification
- Economic exclusion and entrenched poverty
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- The effects of institutionalization and child removal policies
- Inherent grief, trauma and loss of traditional Aboriginal male roles and status
(SNAICC, Meeting the Needs of Our Children, 2013).
Some of the violence we see in communities today can be linked back to the forced removal of people into camps or missions, repression of traditional kinship relations and cultural practices and past governments’ mismanagement of various groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Land and spiritual dispossession, which included the breaking down of language, culture, social and economic structures; interrupted traditional ways of raising children and caring for communities.
The Bringing Them Home report notes that somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 10 Aboriginal children had been separated from their families between 1910 and 1970… This forced removal, separation and dislocation continues to have an enduring impact on Aboriginal People today. It is the consequences of this historical trauma that continues to impact on generation after generation (intergenerational trauma) and is seen in the high rates of difficulty facing Indigenous people, in mental health difficulties, drug and alcohol abuse, family violence and child abuse and neglect. Whilst the child who was forcibly removed and separated from family, Community and their Aboriginality has been shown to have increased emotional and behavioural difficulties, this separation also had a devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of subsequent generations.
Yarning Up on Trauma (Coade, Downey and McClung 2008)
Children and young people have, however, thrived where traditional values offering positive parent role-modelling and ways of bringing up children has endured (SNAICC 2011).
What does family violence mean?
Increasingly, the term family violence is being used in place of domestic violence.
Domestic violence generally refers to violent or abusive behaviour between two people in a relationship, including spouses, defactos and same-sex couples. It describes the strategies used by an offender (usually male) to exercise power and control over their partner through threats, violence, abuse and other intimidating ways.
It has only been recently that we have recognised that the impact of domestic violence can also extend beyond a couple’s relationship to other members of a family, household or community — especially children. For this reason, the broader term family violence is being used. It is also preferred because it takes into account the diversity and complexity of kinship ties in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Family violence is abhorrent and has no place in Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander societies. It is a scourge that is causing untold damage and trauma among Indigenous communities, to our women and children, and to the fabric of Indigenous cultures.
Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, 2006
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples prefer to use the term family violence because it takes into account the diversity and complexity of kinship ties in our communities. Family violence definitions better reflect our experiences of violence than domestic violence, which is commonly used by mainstream society.
In the report entitled ‘Tjunparni: Family Violence in Indigenous Australia’ by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (1992), the term family violence has been defined as:
… beating of a wife or other family members, homicide, suicide and other self-inflicted injury, rape, child abuse and child sexual abuse … When we talk of family violence we need to remember that we are not talking about serious physical injury alone but also verbal harassment, psychological and emotional abuse, and economic deprivation, which although as devastating are even more difficult to quantify than physical abuse.
Family violence is defined as “violent or threatening behaviour, or any other form of behaviour, that coerces or controls a family member or causes that family member to be fearful” (ALRC & NSWLRC, 2010, p. 178)
Trauma such as intergenerational trauma, racism and structural disadvantage are contributors towards the high prevalence of family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities. It recognises all victims, whether they are affected directly or indirectly. Abused family members and survivors of family violence can include parents, uncles, aunties, (step) children, (step) siblings, cousins, grandparents, in-laws and distant relatives. An individual can be both a perpetrator and a victim at the same time in a family situation. It also encompasses any harm that may extend to additional members of the family. The term is used when referring to the actions and harm caused when an individual tries, by physical and/or psychological means, to dominate or control another family member, which causes harm on the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Family violence ultimately impacts on children’s right to grow up in safe and culturally strong community.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations have a wealth of experience with approaches, strategies and programs to effectively prevent and respond to family violence. (See SNAICC Safe for Our Kids: A guide to family violence response and prevention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. June 2014.) Preventing and responding to family violence needs to be holistic, integrated and working with the whole of family and community. In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities this requires utilising strengths and addressing contributing factors while balancing risks.
Known and unknown definitions of family violence
Family violence happens in a number of ways and involves many types of behaviours. These behaviours are usually grouped into the following categories, which may overlap:
- Physical abuse
- Verbal abuse
- Economic abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional or psychological abuse
- Spiritual abuse
- Social abuse
- Elder abuse
Children are affected by family violence when it happens to them or around them. Most examples of family violence have long lasting effects on children and young people and are against the law.
Truths and facts about family violence
Some of the truths and facts about family violence:
- It is not ‘part of our culture’
- It is not normal or acceptable
- Violence is not a way to show love
- Violence is not disciplining your child
- Children often believe it is their fault
- It can effect babies and the unborn baby
- It happens in all communities, at all levels of society
- Children are affected, even if they don’t see the violence directly
- Children are affected even if they hear the violence: they feel the tension and fear
- It can interfere with a child’s development and education
- It can give children nightmares, headaches, stomach pains and regular sickness
- It damages a child’s self-esteem
- Children will not necessarily forget about family violence
- Children are not too young to forget about family violence
- Talking about the problem with children can help them understand it
- Showing affection or buying the children treats will not make up for the violence
- Even if the abusive person is good to the child at other times, it does not ‘make up for it’, or mean that the children will be okay
- Violence will not teach children to be ‘strong and tough’
- Seeing your mother hurt is like being hurt yourself
- Violence causes children to live in fear for their safety
- Children are resilient, but they won’t just forget it and get over it. They need help from services to feel safe and not blame themselves for the violence.
Please contact your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Violence and Prevention Legal Service, Women’s Legal Service or Legal Aid.
National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Secretariat
C/o FVPLS Victoria. 292 Hoddle Street, Abbotsford 3067
Telephone: 03 9244 3333
Further support on issues of family violence are provided in this partnering section: