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Reconciliation and family violence: healing the trauma

Reconciliation and family violence: healing the trauma

Colourful graphic image with the words 'In this together. National Reconciliation Week 2020. 27 May to 3 June

What is National Reconciliation Week?

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) runs each year from 27 May to 3 June.

These dates commemorate two important milestones in Australia’s reconciliation journey—the anniversaries of the 1967 referendum, and the High Court Mabo decision. This year's theme In This Together marks twenty years of shaping Australia’s journey towards creating a more equitable and reconciled country.

NRW is a time for us all to acknowledge the role we have to play in reconciliation. In playing our part we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures. It is also a time for us to reflect on the impact that colonisation continues to have and on the violence that women and children experience.

The impact of colonisation

Colonisation, along with the ongoing oppression and discrimination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to this day, continues to have devastating impacts. For Aboriginal women and their children these impacts are especially profound. As Djirra CEO Antoinette Braybrook starkly reminds us:

Since white settlement Aboriginal women have progressively, systematically and insidiously been rendered invisible to white Australia. This invisibility…is barely noticed or recognised but it is alive today as it has been at any time in the past 200 years.

What is visible, however, are the devastating impacts of family violence on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children.

 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women:

  • experience family violence at 3.1 times the rate of other women.
  • are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence.
  • are 11 times more likely to die from a violent assault from an intimate partner than other women.
  • have children who are over-represented in out-of-home care (88%) as a result of family violence.

Many people assume that this violence is only, or mainly, perpetrated by Aboriginal men, which is not true. Violence against Aboriginal women is perpetrated by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men, from many cultural backgrounds. Family violence is not part of traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

The drivers of high levels of family violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are complex. What is clear is the way in which mainstream systems have continually let Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women down and enacted further violence against them. This has produced huge barriers for women in terms of reporting and getting the support they need.

What’s more, mainstream strategies and frameworks designed to address family violence in Aboriginal communities have, historically, reinforced the same powers of colonial oppression.  Community led and driven approaches to responding to and preventing family violence have also been absent. In short, there’s been little scope for self-determination and working to heal the intergenerational trauma that still affects communities. 

Intergenerational trauma is commonly viewed as a significant contributing factor to family violence in Aboriginal communities. Working to heal this trauma is a big step towards ending the disproportionate levels of violence that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience.

Nargneit Birrang: a new approach

Aboriginal communities in Victoria have been leading and controlling their own path to ending family violence. Working with the Victorian state government they have developed the Nargneit Birrang Framework ­–  the first framework that takes a “family violence holistic healing approach.”

Nargneit Birrang attempts to move beyond government approaches that have not addressed the “systemic impact of violence that’s been perpetuated on the Aboriginal community and its legacy for individual Aboriginal people and families.”[1]

What does a holistic healing approach to family violence look like?

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, “healing is a holistic process, which addresses mental, physical, emotional and spiritual needs and involves connections to culture, family and land.”[2]  Nargneit Birrang applies this holistic healing approach to family violence, incorporating it into six principles:

  1. Self-determination is fundamental.
  2. Safety is a priority.
  3. Culture, Country and Community are embedded in healing.
  4. The past impacts on the present.
  5. Healing is trauma-informed.
  6. Resilience and hope make a difference.

Taking a holistic healing approach to ending family violence does not take gender out of the picture. Rather, it adds to the lived experiences of women and children as the primary victim survivors of violence, usually perpetrated by men. Gender remains front and centre. As Antoinette Braybrook sums up, not referencing women or gender further “reinforces pre-existing gendered power dynamics and silences Aboriginal women.”

How you can play a role in reconciliation: