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Political and legal system failing abused Indigenous women, says Mary Barry

October 06 2016 By Mary Barry

Warren Mundine is right to ask why the extremely high rates of violence against Indigenous women do not trigger a national outcry. Of course they should. The prevalence and severity of this violence is a national shame.

Woman in the shaddows Image

No one reading the details of the recent cases could fail to be sickened and appalled by their brutality.

And few in the field of violence prevention, either politicians or decision-makers in government, or those of us in non-government organisations and services, can possibly be ignorant about how common this violence is in some Indigenous communities.

Partly we have the media to thank for our awareness of the issue, because contrary to Warren Mundine’s claim in The Australian yesterday, the media has not been silent on this issue.

Many outlets have repeatedly and often graphically covered the issue of violence against Aboriginal women and children, at least where it occurs in remote Aboriginal communities, and particularly in the lead up to, and since the Howard Government’s Northern Territory “intervention” in 2007.

As a result, we know how horrific the experiences of some Indigenous women are, and how thoroughly the police and legal systems have often failed to protect them, as Local Court Judge and Coroner Greg Cavanagh has pointed out this week in the Northern Territory.

This is an absolutely appalling picture, one of extreme and entrenched violence, of widespread violations of women’s human rights, and of a system in crisis that too often completely fails to protect women from violence and abuse that is often repeated over many years and that tragically often, ends in death.

But in the face of this picture it is strange that Mundine largely directs his scorn not towards that political and legal system, but towards “Indigenous people, progressives, feminists and the media”, because these groups apparently “don’t want to talk about Indigenous abuse”, or are “labouring under the myth that calling out Indigenous wrongdoers tarnishes all Indigenous men”.

Of course we should all call out silence about, and complicity with, violence whenever and wherever it occurs. And all perpetrators of violence, whatever their cultural identity, must be held accountable. There is never an excuse for violence.

But the reality is that many Indigenous people, both women and men, have spoken out about violence against women, and indeed have been struggling for decades, with extremely limited resources and support, to respond to and prevent it.

Services like the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Services were established 14 years ago precisely to respond to family violence against Aboriginal women and children.

They have consistently been strong voices on the issue. However, their effectiveness has been limited by substantial under-resourcing and ongoing funding uncertainty.

And many feminists, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous have also been active on this issue.

Only last month, three feminist organisations, Our Watch, the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance and the Women’s Services Network joined together to host an international conference on the prevention of violence against women, which included a major focus on violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Organised collaboratively with a working group of Indigenous women, the conference heard over and over again from community organisations and services working on the frontline of this violence.

This conference and information gathered form national consultations made it clear that the actual problem is not that people don’t care, or that Indigenous people are complicit, but that there a massive lack of funding, political will and commitment to support Indigenous-led solutions.

Yes, violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is a national shame, one that should provoke a national outcry. And an outcry incidentally that should also extend to the many cases in which this violence is perpetrated by non-Indigenous men.

However, what this picture should really provoke, beyond people “speaking out”, is an appropriate political response from all Australian governments, one that should include an immediate and significant increase in funding and support for services and programs along the entire spectrum from emergency and crisis response to long term prevention strategies.

It is in this direction — towards the political and legal systems that are so comprehensively failing Indigenous women — that calls for action should be directed, not at the communities that are being torn apart by this violence but provided with almost no services and resources to address it, nor at their allies in the media or non-government organisations.

Mary Barry is CEO of Our Watch

Media contact

For enquiries or further information: Hannah Grant, Our Watch, email Hannah.grant@ourwatch.org.au

*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:

“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.”

About Our Watch 

Our Watch’s (previously the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children) purpose is to raise awareness and engage the community in action to prevent violence against women and their children.
Our Watch was conceived of and brought into existence in 2013 by the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of Victoria. The Northern Territory, South Australian, Tasmanian governments have also since become members of the organisation.
Our Watch’s work derives from the government’s commitment to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 and gives expression to many of the activities in the Second Action Plan 2013–2016 – Moving Ahead.