A reminder this Ochre Ribbon Week: Alcohol bans won't work to end domestic and family violence. Needs-based funding will.
Written by Kayla Glynn-Braun, Katherine Lim, Chay Brown, and Scarlett Musu / 16.02.2023
Content note: Domestic, family, and sexual violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and families.
Written by Kayla Glynn-Braun, Katherine Lim, Chay Brown, and Scarlett Musu / 16.02.2023
Ochre Ribbon Week is a First Nations-led advocacy campaign which raises awareness about the devastating impact of domestic and family violence (DFV) on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Blak) communities.
But all too often, these issues are misunderstood, and solutions miss the mark - as we’re seeing now with intervention-style policies reinstated across the NT. This Ochre Ribbon Week, it’s time to revisit the evidence on what works, and why needs-based funding is so desperately needed to end DFV in First-Nations communities.
Blak women are facing an epidemic of violence
Across Australia, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. 23% of these deaths are Blak women, despite Blak communities making up only 3.3% of the population. Though no deaths of this kind are ever okay, and women’s lives should never be reduced to statistics, it’s clear that Blak women are disproportionately affected by this violence.
Blak women also report experiencing violence at three times the rate of non-Indigenous women. 71% of Blak women will experience physical violence in their lifetime, and they are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence than non-Indigenous women, and eleven times more likely to die because of assault. The physical, verbal, sexual and emotional abuse they suffer is also often more severe.
But what's really causing the issue?
When this issue hits the news, the blame is often placed, implicitly or explicitly on Blak communities, on alcohol use, or even on Blak women themselves. For those of us with links to these communities, these assumptions and stereotypes are hard to stomach. Not only are they untrue, but they will continue to perpetuate real harm. Blak women don’t just experience violence from members of their own communities, they face it from perpetrators of all backgrounds. And a focus on alcohol and substance abuse is a symptom of a much deeper issue. That’s one reason why measures to ban or restrict alcohol to curb violence don’t work.
The true cause of violence is the ongoing impact of colonialism and racism. Non-Indigenous people continue to benefit from it, and Blak communities, in particular Blak women, continue to be unequally disadvantaged and harmed by it.
Colonisation creates the conditions for violence
The ongoing dispossession of First Nations People is responsible for structural racism, introducing gender inequality into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and causing ongoing intergenerational trauma for Blak people. This combination of factors creates the conditions for violence, and has led to the frontier wars, the Stolen Generation and ongoing removal of Blak kids from their families, the NT Intervention, deaths in custody, and more.
Structural disadvantage, which disproportionately affects Blak communities, exacerbates the problem even more. This can include harmful government policies, lack of employment and educational opportunities, inadequate housing and overcrowding, intergenerational trauma and disadvantage and poor access to culturally competent services. Blak women also face significant barriers to accessing support. Research shows that countries which have been colonised are 50 times more likely to have a high prevalence of intimate-partner violence against women.
It’s within a historical and current context of entrenched racism and ongoing colonialism that Blak women experience violence, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the NT, these structural disadvantages are disproportionately high. For example, homelessness in the NT is 12 times the national average and this is likely drastically underestimated. Most young Blak kids grow up in overcrowded living conditions and have never had the opportunity to have their own bed, let alone bedroom.
More policing won’t work: it will actually cause more harm
Often, as are seeing now in the NT, a sense of urgency is declared resulting in the rollout of top-down solutions which are done without adequate consultation and which will continue to cause harm. Over policing and intervention-style policies such as alcohol bans feed into this cycle of structural violence, which is a key driver of violence for First Nations women and families. They are not the solution.
Lots of people drink – but not everyone uses violence. Alcohol restrictions are discriminatory and have pushed people with alcohol dependency into more harmful forms of ‘drinking’, like hand sanitiser. As alcohol does not cause violence, these restriction policies do not work to end DFV.
We know that power imbalances are key drivers of violence. And we also know that one of the biggest risk factors for experiencing and perpetrating DFV is prior experience of violence. This issue will never be solved as long as First Nations people have suffered, and continue to suffer, everyday violence as a result of racism and colonisation. Working together and empowering communities is the key to reducing violence and antisocial behaviour.
Addressing the issue requires needs-based funding and First-Nations-led solutions
First Nations-led organisations in the specialist DFV sector and beyond have been doing critical work in this field for years. They have the solutions and have been calling for support, long-term investment, and needs-based funding for years. If we truly want lasting change, we need long-term investment in Aboriginal-led, self-determined, and community-created solutions.
Key to this is needs-based funding - a sustained commitment over decades to address these problems and bring about generational change. To put the funding issue into context, the NT received approximately $14 million to address DFV in 2022. This is only 1.6% of federal funding. Meanwhile, Our Watch, a single organisation, received more than $100 million from the Federal Government.
Breaking the cycle of violence will not happen overnight: solving this issue will require a long-term commitment. To truly address DFV in First Nations communities, we must end punitive laws and policies, and enact needs-based funding, proper consultation and co-designed community-led solutions that are trauma-informed and prioritise cultural healing, family restoration, and the strength of Blak families.
‘Here’s some context missing from the Mparntwe Alice Springs ‘crime wave’ reporting’ – Chay Brown, Connie Shaw, Kayla Glynn-Braun and Shirleen Campbell, The Conversation
‘Total alcohol ban won’t solve problems in Alice Springs, say Indigenous groups’ – Sarah Collard, The Guardian
‘Federal, NT governments accused of disregarding call for needs-based funding in Alice Springs report’ – Jesse Thompson and Jacqueline Breen, ABC News
Bios and positionality
Kayla Glynn-Braun is a proud First Nations Wiradjuri Woman from New South Wales and has lived in Australia’s Northern Territory for over a decade with her darling husband Kenny. She grew up in a Blak, radical household. Kayla has worked within the community and housing sector for over a decade and has worked in frontline services responding to domestic, family, and sexual violence. With a background in housing and social environments, Kayla has previously been involved in homelessness services, housing policy and systems, case management, and program management. Kayla is particularly passionate about the critical and urgent need for Australia to address violence perpetrated against First Nations women. Kayla has seen firsthand the impacts of colonisation on First Nation people and has lived experience with violence, poverty, the justice system, as well as colonisation. At EQI, Kayla is the Project Coordinator, based in Mparntwe/Alice Springs. She brings new knowledge and different perspectives to the team. Kayla holds a Diploma in Leadership and Management, Diploma in Business, and Diploma in Property Services in Real Estate.
Katherine Lim is an Asian-Australian woman. Growing up in a capital city in Australia on unceded Aboriginal land, she’s benefitted from the colonialist dispossession of First Nations peoples, and from geographic and educational advantage, whilst also experiencing impacts of racism and colonisation. This informs her commitment to decolonisation, and a frequent role as a translator between disciplines and worlds through words and story.
Chay Brown is non-Indigenous person of mixed heritage. She was born and raised in Mparntwe [Alice Springs] and in surrounding remote communities. She is currently based in Mparntwe Alice Springs. Her research background focuses on what works to prevent violence against women in the Northern Territory.
Scarlett Musu is a White woman who immigrated to Australia from England at age two. Growing up on Kuring-gai Country, she has benefitted from colonisation in a multitude of ways, including access to education, and completed a Bachelor's degree in Design at UNSW Art & Design. The field of design has a significant history of White supremacy, sexism, cultural appropriation, and the erasure of the contributions of non-White and gender-diverse people, and as such she is committed to improving her understanding and practice around decolonising design and communications whilst using an intersectional feminist approach to her work. She is a survivor and bisexual, both identities informing the way that she works.
If you’re feeling affected by this blog post, please reach out to your local helpline. The national helpline in Australia is 1800RESPECT. For resources in the Northern Territory please visit nt.gov.au/wellbeing/hospitals-health-services/sexual-assault-referral-centres