Family violence research helps in closing the gap

Person sitting in dark with hands over their face.

A new report has found drivers that mitigate experiences of violence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) partnered with 18 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to gather and analyse data from 1,600 people in an effort to understand how to reduce family violence.

The researchers hope the Indigenous-led study, commissioned by the Department of Social Services, supports an understanding of family safety targets in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

The study found trauma and discrimination were among the key drivers of family violence. 

"The data shows that the prevalence of experiencing and using violence was lower among those with less exposure to trauma themselves or within their families; among those who had experienced lower levels of discrimination, and among those who had not witnessed violence - particularly in their youth," report co-author, Associate Professor Raymond Lovett, said.

"The drivers of and responses to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family violence are complex and often overlapping - highlighting a deep connection to past trauma.

"Overwhelmingly, participants talked about the root of family violence - the causes - coming from historical settler-colonial trauma inflicted on individuals and communities."

The report identifies key drivers, that do not cause violence, but are contributors to increased experiences of violence. These include housing problems, financial stress, alcohol and drug use, poor physical and mental health, unemployment, contact with police and justice systems, and incarceration.

"Participants told us stories of how removal from family and community and exclusion from broader society were experienced and how this affects people in their contemporary relationships. For many people that trauma has not been addressed," Professor Lovett said.

The results show over six-in-10 people (62 per cent) surveyed had some form of violence in their lifetime and one-in-five (20 per cent) had experienced violence in the previous year.

The violence that was experienced was by men and women across all age groups.

Women experienced more frequent violence, including from a partner or family member, compared with violence experienced by men.

Study director Dr Jill Guthrie said: "This research shows the approach to reduce family and community violence needs to be underpinned by addressing intergenerational violence and trauma.

"The communities drove the process of the research - an indication of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's desire to address violence."

The results show almost four-in-10 people who seek help for violence, do so from informal networks including Elders and other family members within the community.

"We need a larger focus on early intervention programs at a primary prevention level and there needs to be culturally informed education programs at a young age about what constitutes healthy relationships," Dr Guthrie said.

The Family and Community Safety (FaCtS) report is released Thursday 10 December.

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