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Challenging misconceptions about violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

Summary

This factsheet from Our Watch's Changing the picture contains information challenging misconceptions about violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Challenging these can help direct attention, effort and resources to the actual underlying drivers of this violence.

Violence is not part of traditional Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander cultures

Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is not a part of traditional culture.

When violence occurred prior to colonisation, it was regulated and controlled, and bore no resemblance to the kinds of violence and abuse seen today. Many aspects of traditional culture and customary law were respectful and protective of women.

As custodians of some of the longest surviving cultures in the world, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people successfully managed interpersonal, family and community relationships for over 60,000 years prior to colonisation.

Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is perpetrated by Indigenous and non-Indigenous men

Public debate and media reporting frequently imply that this violence is always perpetrated by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander men, when this is not the case.

Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is perpetrated by men from many cultural backgrounds. Anecdotal evidence suggests that non-Indigenous men make up a significant proportion of perpetrators. For intimate partner violence, this reflects data showing the majority of partnered Indigenous women have non-Indigenous partners, especially in capital cities.

Perpetration patterns vary geographically, with this data suggesting violence against women in remote areas more likely to be perpetrated by Indigenous men, and violence in urban areas more likely to be perpetrated by non-Indigenous men.

Alcohol is a contributing factor, and often a trigger for violence, but it is not the ‘cause’

Across Australia, for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, alcohol can increase the frequency or severity of violence.

However, on its own, alcohol doesn’t explain violence. It can’t be simplistically seen as a ‘cause’ of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, both because violence occurs where alcohol is not involved and because many people consume alcohol but are never violent.

Where there is a correlation between alcohol and violence in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, this needs to be understood in context. Colonisation introduced alcohol to disrupted, displaced and traumatised communities, resulting in high rates of harmful alcohol use in some contexts as a coping mechanism or a self-medicating behaviour. This means strategies need to address the underlying reasons for harmful alcohol use.

We also need to understand alcohol in relation to social norms and practices that condone violence against women generally, and violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in particular.

Prevention strategies need to address drinking cultures among all groups of men that emphasise aggression and disrespect for women, as well as drinking cultures among non-Indigenous men that involve racism and disrespect towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Reducing harmful alcohol use is a useful supporting strategy, which delivers many positive outcomes, and which may also help reduce the severity or frequency of violence. However, this needs to occur not in isolation but in addition to addressing the deeper drivers of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.