Responding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences of violence

  • There are particular things to look for when undertaking a risk assessment with members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • The most important factor for understanding risk in domestic and family violence situations is related to the inter-connectedness of people to the community itself
  • If you don't respond to sexual, domestic or family violence often, our Introduction to responding page is a good place to start.

Culturally appropriate response

The most important point to remember when supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experiencing family violence is the connectedness of people to community. Family and kinship connections are extremely important. For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples these connections give a sense of identity and belonging.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities typically have a broad and inclusive concept of family. This means that families are large and there are many people who are considered close family members. For instance, often first cousins are considered sisters, or mothers' distant cousins may be considered aunties. Family is not always dependent on being a blood relative. People who grew up in the same place may be considered a part of the same family in every way that you would expect from blood relatives.

Additionally, it is important to understand that people within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities often all know each other or know someone from the family in question.

Risk assessment

Using the general Risk Assessment Framework as a starting point, services supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples need to consider some additional risks to understand the situation and provide the best support possible.

Guiding principles

Risk assessments need to be revisited regularly – people’s circumstances change and with that their risk levels change too.

When undertaking a family violence risk assessment there are some guiding principles:

  1. Do not expect that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person you support will disclose everything in the first meeting. This process will take time and is dependent upon building trust in the worker-client relationship.
  2. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family violence services and specialist workers will typically not only work with the person presenting, but will also endeavour to work with the entire family unit and take their needs into account in risk assessment and planning.

Things to consider when conducting a risk assessment

  • Always ensure you have explicit, signed and informed consent for referral to any service, which includes any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service
  • There are certain areas, suburbs, shopping malls, services and so forth where women know it is not safe to be seen. They know that if they are seen there it will get back to the person they are fleeing. Believe them when they say they do not go to or cannot be seen in these places.
  • Support workers are not the experts in assessing someone's risk in relation to their community, they are
  • When undertaking risk assessment realise that, though the person may be experiencing family violence from their partner, their partner’s extended family may be involved in perpetrating violence against them too
  • It is important to have the full name and age of the perpetrator in order to ensure you have the right information. Many people are named after each other and, therefore, it is very common to have multiple people in the community with the same name. This is also important when referring to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander refuge or service provider.

Specialist support and good practice principles

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations have a wealth of experience in developing strategies and programs to respond to the needs of their community. These programs include those targeted to effectively prevent and respond to family violence. You can find national, state and locally based specialist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services by searching our Service directory.

The Secretariat of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care (SNAICC) has consulted with a range of these organisations to develop an evidence-based guide called ‘Safe for our Kids: a guide to family violence response and prevention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families'. It includes a set of evidence-based good practice principles that organisation can adopt when responding to family violence. The principles recognise the right to live in dignity free from family violence.

The rights-based framework used to develop these good practise principles recognises human rights detailed in in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007; the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women 1979; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989. The full resource can be downloaded from the SNAICC website.