Almost every other Aboriginal woman I know has been subject to family violence. It is in fact rare for an Aboriginal woman to have not experienced violence. And somehow this has become normal. Any Aboriginal woman who has not been a victim of family violence herself, most certainly knows some women —or a number of them — in her family who have suffered it.
This has to stop.
The majority of our problems as Aboriginal people stem from family violence. Our family is our very foundation. And as human beings, if our foundations are non-existent — if we lack the love, the care and the support required to succeed in life — we have no chance.
Violence was used as a means of social control and a way of keeping order for small family groups, extended language groups and neighbouring language groups. Violence was once used ritually and played its part culturally in Aboriginal people’s history, in my people’s history and in fact in the history of all of the world’s cultures belonging to small-scale societies.
For a long time the argument has been put forward that the family violence epidemic has been a result of colonisation and racism. This argument shifts blame from being the responsibility of the perpetrator to being the responsibility of government and white people. The perpetrator is then viewed as a victim — which silences the real victims: the dead or broken women and the children with shattered lives.
Violence existed before a government existed in this country. What hasn’t been closely examined, by us as Aboriginal people, is the very role we play in the family violence epidemic.
Culturally we are evasive and indirect in our speech. We don’t make accusations directly if we don’t want to cause physical confrontation. So people avoid the truth in order to keep peace… that is, until alcohol is involved. But the reality is that there is no peace for the victims of abuse.
I understand it is uncomfortable and difficult to have to turn the mirror on ourselves; but Western culture has had the privilege of doing that continually. There is much critique of Western culture, but constructive self-criticism has not been embraced by Aboriginal people to challenge our beliefs, our cultural practices or the roles we play in our society. If we cannot challenge ourselves how are we supposed to move forward?
In the Northern Territory, as in many regional and remote communities, our families still practise traditional ways of doing things. Many of us have not mastered survival in a modern world; and hence think that behaving in a ‘traditional way’ when dealing with sensitive or tough issues will fix our problems. But our women are dying, our youth roam the streets every night, and Aboriginal children suffer the most in such a prosperous country.
We also have to admit that women are also happy to threaten and use violence when it suits us. If you read the anthropology or talk to the old people you will understand that this sort of thing has always happened. Many young women I know are now being charged with violence offences after they have seriously assaulted other young women in fights or are being jailed for retaliating against a long-time violent abuser.
If we can, in fact, reduce family violence, which I believe is possible if we take a unified approach, we will see fewer of our women dying, fewer of our men incarcerated, and more of our children educated.
The taxpayer spends more than 2 per cent of GDP each year for the purposes of bettering the lives of Aboriginal Australians. But we don’t need money to fix our people’s problems; we need action. This starts with us as individuals. This starts within our own families and our own communities. We cannot expect government to solve the problems that belong to us. We can expect them to support us but not solve our problems. We cannot expect whitefellas to continue to shoulder the blame for our women dying. This is our responsibility.
I have heard white community workers break down as they recount what they have been exposed to and felt powerless to do or say anything for fear of losing their jobs, being chastised by community members or putting the victims in further danger. This simply is not good enough considering amongst some of the men arrested in WA were so called ‘leaders’ of their communities.
In my view to be a leader of one’s community means it is your responsibility to protect the vulnerable and especially your women and children. All I have done is hold perpetrators to account, those who have perpetrated violence and those who have stood by and done nothing while crimes have taken place. Why would I not hold to account the over 60 per cent of the male Aboriginal population of our prisons for acts of family violence, especially if they are men in my own family? Who will hold them to account if I do not?
Those who accuse me of demonising Aboriginal men should show me evidence that speaking out against violence committed by our own men is impacting their lives as detrimentally as family violence is impacting on our women and children.
It is a ridiculous notion and it silences the voices of the real victims — the women and children. For all the Aboriginal men who stand beside me in the campaign against family violence I thank you, for you understand that what I am doing is not an attack on you but a call to account for the men of violence. They are the ones who make all Aboriginal men look bad… not an Aboriginal woman who is sick of burying her loved ones and calling for this catastrophe to be dealt with honestly. First and foremost is the need to save the lives of our women and children.
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