In establishing our 2021–2022 monitoring plan, we committed to including a topic focused on family violence reform progress for Victoria’s Aboriginal communities. In this report, an Aboriginal definition of family violence is used, as described on page 9. In the spirit of self-determination, we asked the Dhelk Dja Koori Caucus – the Aboriginal communities’ governing body for Victoria’s family violence reform – to choose which area of the reform they wanted us to examine.
Following a process of consultation, including a survey of caucus members on a shortlist of topics, 'Aboriginal-led prevention and early intervention' was selected. We received guidance from the Dhelk Dja Koori Caucus in developing our key questions and monitoring approach for this topic and the caucus also contributed to informing our key findings and suggested actions.
As all stakeholders emphasised – including the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), a major provider of Aboriginal family violence services in Victoria – the principle of self-determination must underpin all prevention and early intervention activities within Aboriginal communities. VACCA more broadly recommended that our report incorporate binding principles on government around self-determination to guide this critical work and that these should be negotiated with Aboriginal family violence service providers directly. While this report does not address this specifically, the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework 2018–2023 outlines self-determination principles, and there is an opportunity for government to work with Aboriginal family violence service providers as part of the next iteration of the framework to strengthen its implementation.
This report examines government implementation progress in enabling Aboriginal communities to drive self-determined or ‘Aboriginal-led’ activities to prevent family violence in and against Victoria’s Aboriginal communities.
In looking at this topic, we set out to examine:
- the government and non-government frameworks that guide primary prevention efforts within Aboriginal communities and how they intersect with broader frameworks across the primary prevention sector
- coordination of effort across government and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) and how these organisations are supported to deliver prevention and early intervention initiatives in their communities, including the approach to funding
- the availability of data and evaluation outcomes to Aboriginal communities and how they are being used to guide prevention and early intervention efforts
- how government services are accountable to Aboriginal communities for delivering responses to prevent family violence in and against Aboriginal people and their families.
We acknowledge the long history of community-led effort to prevent and address family violence in Aboriginal communities in Victoria. ACCOs and community leaders have demonstrated huge commitment to working with their communities in an integrated, prevention-focused way that prioritises family and building connection with culture and identity.
In the context of enormous pressure on services and ACCOs, and at a time of considerable demand for consultation with Aboriginal communities, the assistance we received was both humbling and critical to our ability to deliver this report.
Language in this report
As the focus of this report is on family violence efforts in Victoria, we refer to Aboriginal people and communities rather than to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This is not intended to convey that Torres Strait Islanders are excluded from family violence prevention and response delivery. Indeed, we acknowledge the inclusive nature of family violence work within Victoria’s Aboriginal communities.
There is a broader definition of family used by Aboriginal communities that goes beyond the Western concept of the nuclear family. As Aboriginal communities are often composed of extended families and kinship networks whose members are not always blood relations, there is a wider definition to mirror the family structure. The Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Task Force report identified family violence as ‘an issue focused around a wide range of physical, emotional, sexual, social, spiritual, cultural, psychological and economic abuses that occur within families, intimate relationships, extended families, kinship networks and communities. It extends to one-on-one fighting, abuse of Indigenous community workers as well as self-harm, injury and suicide.’
Within Aboriginal communities there is not a strict delineation made between prevention and early intervention (or indeed response) because:
… for Aboriginal people, we are yet to be free from violence in any sphere of our lives and this endures since colonisation … the adaptability and flexibility in applying Aboriginal ways of knowing, doing and being will require prevention and early intervention to remain interchangeable in practice - VACCA
Indeed, Yoowinna Wurnalung Aboriginal Healing Service explained how its therapeutic services arose out of their existing community prevention work. In undertaking community family violence education, community members would say ‘that’s what I’m experiencing’, which led Yoowinna Wurnalung to develop a therapeutic response to address the healing needs of the community.
Noting this approach, throughout this report we use the terms ‘prevention’ and ‘early intervention’ as described in the Free From Violence strategy and depicted in Figure 1. A further description of the distinct understanding of and approach to prevention and early intervention within Aboriginal communities is provided in Box 2 (later).
The importance of prevention and early intervention within Aboriginal communities
While family violence is an urgent issue impacting every community in Victoria, Aboriginal people continue to be disproportionately affected. In the 12 months to March 2022, just over 2,800 Aboriginal Victorians (approximately 4.3 per cent of the state’s Aboriginal population1 compared with approximately 1.3 per cent of Victoria’s non-Aboriginal population) were recorded by Victoria Police as victims of family violence. This likely does not reflect the true prevalence due to the hidden nature of family violence for all communities and continued reluctance, particularly among Aboriginal communities, to report matters to police.
It is important to acknowledge that family violence and violence against women are not a part of Aboriginal culture, and that violence against Aboriginal people is perpetrated by both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people. It is, therefore, a problem not just for Aboriginal communities but for the whole of our society to address. It is also worth noting the many complex drivers of this violence includes not only gender inequality but also the ongoing impacts of colonisation and racism.2 The trauma of family violence has profound negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of those who are victims of it (see Figure 2, for example), and many of these impacts are heightened for Aboriginal people:
- Aboriginal women and men are more likely to be hospitalised for assault injuries due to family violence than non-Aboriginal women and men respectively.
- Aboriginal women are more likely to be killed as victims of family violence than non-Aboriginal women.
- Family violence is the number one risk factor for disease burden among women aged 18–44 years and is higher for Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal women.
- Family violence is a key factor in the removal of Aboriginal children from their families.
While responding to violence that has occurred and working to prevent it from reoccurring is important, government also has an obligation to actively pursue the prevention of violence before it starts, as it does with a range of factors that cause harm to the population. Both prevention and response are part of a spectrum of required activity, which includes primary prevention, early intervention and response (see Figure 1 above). The criticality of prevention and early intervention for Aboriginal communities was reflected in submissions to the Royal Commission, as illustrated by the chief executive officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation:
These preventative and early intervention programs are actually the most important part, if we truly want to get violence out of our community, keep families together and give kids the best start in life that we can.
The interrelationship between family violence and broader health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal people – as illustrated in Figure 2 – means that focused efforts to prevent family violence and to intervene early remain as important as ever. This is particularly true given Victoria’s high rates of removal of Aboriginal children, where family violence is a key factor.
Consistent with the principles of self-determination, Aboriginal consultant Karen Milward advised that the overall approach to reducing the impact of family violence on Aboriginal communities must be Aboriginal-led and solutions-focused. The approach must be informed by the experiences and history of Aboriginal people, including children and young people, and address the family unit as a whole as part of a holistic, trauma-informed approach.
The remainder of this report examines the progress that has been made since the Royal Commission in supporting Aboriginal-led prevention and early intervention efforts and identifies areas for further focus.
- According to the 2021 census, 66,000 Victorians identify as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. See Australian Bureau of Statistics (2022): Snapshot of Australia: A Picture of the Economic, Social and Cultural Make-up of Australia on Census Night, 10 August 2021
- For example, the Health and Wellbeing of Aboriginal Victorians: Findings from the Victorian Population Health Survey 2017 reported that 18.8 per cent of Aboriginal adults experienced racism in the 12 months preceding the survey, that Aboriginal adults under-report racism, and that experiencing racism is associated with poorer wellbeing and physical health.