Australia needs to overhaul violence prevention programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and boys .
A discussion paper released today by White Ribbon and the Healing Foundation said, “inappropriate and ill-targeted strategies” are not working to change the behaviour of violent Indigenous men.
Co-author Dr Mark Wenitong, a respected Aboriginal GP and men’s health expert from North Queensland, said generational trauma was not being addressed.”
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“I think if you look at the current discourse in Australia it’s just heavier prison sentences and better policing,” he said.
“We can build lots more women’s shelters, but that’s not the point, we want it to stop.
Dr Wenitong, who works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in prison, said programs in jails did not appear to be effective.
“The prison offender programs are mostly mainstream programs … I talk to men in prison who go ‘that anger management program doesn’t mean anything when I go back to my community’,” he said.
The report said an urgent priority was “elevating the voice of men in family violence prevention”.
“Men do need to lead this, because it’s men who are the main perpetrators of violence,” Healing Foundation chief executive Richard Weston said.
The paper recommend that Indigenous men and women have a greater say over new behaviour-change programs — including consulting with reformed perpetrators of domestic violence.
“We have high levels of violence, we have high levels of substance abuse, we have a whole range of challenging social issues in our community,” Mr Weston said.
“Mainstream programs are failing us because we’re not involved in the design.”
Dr Wenitong said Indigenous mothers and children were often left in unsafe situations.
“When there’s violence in a community — in a household — why do we take the women and children out of the house for their safety, why aren’t we taking the men out?”
The paper said there had been “little opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to influence the policies and programs designed to improve safety for them and their children”.
“Arguably, the voice and perspective of men is absent, and sometimes excluded in this domain,” Dr Wenitong said.
Aside from family breakdown, alcohol and drug abuse was the most significant factor associated with family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the report said.
An effective framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and boys to prevent and reduce family violence needs to include the following critical elements:
- violence should be understood within a historical context, recognising the effects of foundational and structural violence, and the wide ranging continued impacts on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and boys
- the many strong Aboriginal and Torres Islander men must be supported to lead work with men and boys, and reconnect men to their core cultural practices and protocols as a central factor to creating change
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women should be involved in the design and development, and evaluation of the effectiveness of the framework
- prevention strategies must be positioned within broader community strategies that address intergenerational trauma through individual, family and community healing approaches – drawing from both local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and western therapeutic practice
- all work should be developed in partnership with communities through a genuine co-design process that respects and supports local cultural governance and self-determination, and empowers communities to drive change
- a focus on collective wellbeing should be supported through referral pathways to trauma-informed holistic health and wellbeing services. Crucially, any strategy must be adequately resourced; implemented in a safe
A taskforce led by the Victorian Aboriginal Children’s Commissioner in 2016 found that in nine-out-of-ten cases, family violence had been present in the home when an Indigenous child was removed.
Mr Weston said the discussion paper also refuted claims by some Aboriginal men that violence against women and children had “a cultural basis”.