opinion

'Indigenous women are the unheard victims of domestic violence. It’s time to break the silence.'

At Mamamia, we have a year-round commitment to highlighting the epidemic of domestic violence in Australia. During May, Domestic Violence Prevention Month, we will not only raise awareness of the personal impact of violence, but do our best to ensure victims have access to help, and encourage those who abuse to take responsibility and seek help for their behaviour.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains the names of people who have passed.  

This post also deals with domestic abuse and might be triggering for some readers.

Violence against women in Australia is an epidemic.

Every single week in Australia, one woman is killed, murdered by her husband or intimate partner. 

Hannah Clarke, Michelle Darragh, Kelly Wilkinson.

Their names are heard; they are said out loud. There are marches, vigils.  

This domestic violence epidemic is a vivid reflection of our patriarchal society with deeply entrenched power structures that support inequality on the grounds of gender, race and social class. 

And so for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, family violence is not just gendered, it's racialised.

Watch Women And Violence: The Hidden Numbers. Post continues after video.


Video via SBS.

It follows that they experience the highest rates of domestic violence in Australia. 

A 2018 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that from 2016-2017, Indigenous females aged 15 and over were 34 times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence than non-Indigenous females. 

The rate of intimate partner homicide was twice as high.

And yet they remain the unheard victims of this epidemic. 

Stacey Thorne, Lynette Daley, Jody Gore, Tamica Mullaley.

These names are silenced. They are not said out loud. There are no candlelight vigils; no protests; no cries for justice. 

This silence says they don’t matter, that they can die like this. We need people to care about Aboriginal women’s lives just as they do the lives of non-Indigenous women; Indigenous women who are being murdered at a shocking rate.  

ADVERTISEMENT

For them, the colonisation process, and extremely violent one, never ended. 

Aboriginal women and girls were raped and murdered by colonists as if it was their right. Children were removed as part of assimilationist policies later denounced as a form of genocide, and in the homes and missions, they were subject to every form of abuse including widespread sexual abuse. There has never been reparations or Treaty with Indigenous people which is required under human rights law. 

Racial inequality remains alive and well throughout our country; violence against women has inequality and abuse of power at its core. 

For the last year or more I’ve been supporting the family of Stacey Thorne, a Noongar woman who was murdered in 2007 in Boddington, a small country town in West Australia. 

Aboriginal mothers in this state are at high risk of being murdered and according to Telethon Kids Institute research are 17.5 times more likely to be murdered than a non-Aboriginal mum. 

Just think, how many Aboriginal children are being forced to grow up without their mums as a result of this violence. 

Stacey, a teacher's aide, was 22 weeks pregnant when she was murdered. 

We asked the WA government to release a confidential report about her murder and the police investigation. We were ignored. 

We also wanted an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 

Then there is Lynette Daley, violently raped on a beach in NSW by two white men who tried to cover up how they killed her. It took a national campaign by her family with the help of Four Corners, before the NSW Crown even charged the men responsible for killing her in such a cowardly and violent way. 

Aboriginal women are even punished when they survive. 

Take Jody Gore, a child care worker from Kununurra sentenced to 12 years for murder because she fought back to protect herself from her ex who had a history of extremely violent attacks on her. 

In jailing her, the judge said a "deterrent" sentence was needed because there is "far too much drunken violence in the Kimberley".  

After reading about Jody, I began a campaign for her release. 

Jody was released from prison in 2019, after the Western Australia government applied ‘mercy laws’ reserved for rare cases. 

Mercy came late for Jody; she spent four years locked up and separated from her children. 

And for far too many Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women, mercy does not come at all. 

While the media played an important role in calling for justice for Lynette Daley and exposing the wrongful treatment of Jody Gore, too often we see them engaging in stereotyping of Aboriginal victims, effectively minimising the violence towards Aboriginal women. 

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s not only men killing Aboriginal women like this. Aboriginal women are still dying in prisons from cruel, inhumane treatment. They are still dying in hospitals, being turned away without any proper treatment by health professionals. Coroners investigating these women’s deaths are just starting to ask about unconscious bias and racism - but we know that white society is still in deep denial of its treatment of Indigenous women. 

That’s why the US campaign Say Her Name is so important and we should apply it here as well. We need to acknowledge Black and Indigenous women who are suffering human rights violations and call for accountability.

Grace Tame and Brittney Higgins have been incredibly courageous, as has Louise Milligan from the ABC, but the fact is Indigenous women have been courageous too. 

They’ve been speaking out for a very long time, in the face of personal risk.

But they have been unheard or ignored.  

This year let’s make it our goal, to be truly brave about what we can all do to end violence against women.

Indigenous women must be at the forefront as we develop solutions.  

The impacts of intergenerational trauma and the constant presence of systemic discrimination and structural inequality must be addressed if we are to make real progress in ending violence to Indigenous women. 

In 2016 I witnessed an important UN ‘Resolution’ at the UN Human Rights Council that Australia led, accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women: preventing and responding to violence against women and girls, including indigenous women and girls. 

It shows there are many changes we can make.

We just need to be seen, we need to be heard, we mustn’t be silenced any longer. 

Mamamia recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are the unheard victims of domestic violence and wants to break the silence. In 2022, we’re making a commitment to tell more of their stories, amplify their voices, raise awareness of the issue, and be united in our conversations about how we end violence against women for good. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.