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Family violence as experienced by Aboriginal people and communities

Research priority.

Aboriginal communities and services need meaningful access to evidence about family violence in their communities and must be supported to lead research.

Nargneit Birrang: Aboriginal holistic healing framework, 2019

Aboriginal people and communities experience disproportionate impacts from family violence, particularly women and children. Aboriginal people’s experience of family violence remains under-researched. Likewise, there has been insufficient attention paid to building the evidence base on culturally appropriate approaches to assisting victim survivors recover from the impacts of family violence and to support people who use violence against Aboriginal people to change their behaviours.

The research agenda applies the Dhelk Dja: Safe our way – strong culture, strong peoples, strong families definition of family violence. Dhelk Dja describes family violence as an issue focused around a wide range of physical, emotional, sexual, social, spiritual, cultural, psychological and economic and legal abuses that occur within families, intimate relationships, extended families, kinship networks and communities. It extends to one-on-one fighting, abuse of Aboriginal community workers as well as self-harm, injury and suicide.

The Dhelk Dja definition also acknowledges the impact of violence by non-Aboriginal people against Aboriginal partners, children, young people, extended family on spiritual and cultural rights, which may manifest as exclusion or isolation from Aboriginal culture and/or community. Elder abuse and the use of lateral violence within Aboriginal communities are also within scope.

The experience of family violence must be understood in the historical context of white settlement and colonisation and their resulting and continuing impacts: cultural dispossession, breakdown of community kinship systems and Aboriginal law, systemic racism and vilification, social and economic exclusion, entrenched poverty, problematic substance use, inherited grief and trauma, and loss of traditional roles and status.

Aboriginal people are diverse and have diverse cultures and experiences. Likewise, Aboriginal peoples’, communities and families’ experiences of family violence are diverse. Responses to family violence as experienced by Aboriginal people and communities must recognise this context and be able to adapt to the varying experiences and needs of Aboriginal people.

Research aligned to this priority must be underpinned by self-determination as detailed within Dhelk Dja and summarised in the introduction section of this agenda. This includes an expectation that Aboriginal communities and organisations lead or partner in culturally safe research, and that Aboriginal communities have control over th collection, ownership and application of data about them. Research should also closely consider work underway through Nargneit Birrang – Aboriginal holistic healing framework for family violence, Korin Korin Balit-Djak: Aboriginal health, wellbeing and safety strategic plan 2017-2027External Link and Balit Murrup: The Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing framework 2017-2027External Link .

The priority research topics for the subject area include:

  • Better understanding of the prevalence, protective factors and additional drivers of family violence for Aboriginal people and communities, and how these may differ across families, communities and different cohorts or groups
  • Research that builds a stronger understanding of Aboriginal people and communities’ experiences of family violence and its impacts including how these may differ across individuals, families, communities and from non-Aboriginal people
  • Similarities and differences in types of violence and patterns of violent behaviours used by people against Aboriginal victim survivors, including unique manifestations of violence and how this may affect service delivery
  • Research focused on access to and effectiveness of services for Aboriginal people and communities that builds on a strong understanding of peoples’ experiences of services and applies a holistic healing framework, and includes:
    • gaining a better understanding of key settings and circumstances that support early identification and intervention
    • barriers to service access and usage for Aboriginal people and communities, including negative or unintended consequences of service engagement
    • best practice culturally appropriate and trauma informed approaches for Aboriginal victim survivors and people who use violence, that are based on self-determination

Aboriginal communities and services need meaningful access to evidence about family violence in their communities and must be supported to lead research. To invest in Aboriginal-led research we need to ensure that the collection, ownership and application of data is culturally relevant and driven by Aboriginal communities and services. This is required to understand what is working and what is not working well for Aboriginal Victorians and ensure Aboriginal-led collection and sharing of data and evidence is driving family violence system reform, policy, practice and innovation.

Reviewed 21 February 2022

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