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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (First Nations) people are overrepresented as both victim-survivors and perpetrators of family and domestic violence (that is, violence that occurs within family or intimate relationships) (Cripps 2023). ‘Family violence’ is the preferred term for family and domestic violence within First Nations communities, as it covers the extended families, kinship networks and community relationships in which violence can occur (Cripps and Davis 2012). Family violence can lead to severe social, cultural, spiritual, physical and economic impacts for First Nations communities, especially for women and children (HRSCSPLA 2021).

The National Plan to End Violence against Women and their Children 2022–2032 (The National Plan) has recognised First Nations people as a priority group in their efforts to address, prevent and respond to gender-based violence in Australia (DSS 2022). The National Plan supports measures designed to achieve Target 13 in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, which is to reduce the rate of all forms of family violence against First Nations women and children by at least 50% by 2031, as progress towards zero (DSS 2022).

The Australian Government has released a dedicated action plan aimed at reducing the rate of First Nations child abuse and neglect and its intergenerational impacts, namely the Safe and Supported: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Action Plan 2023–2026 (DSS 2023). The Government has also committed to developing a standalone First Nations National Plan for Family Safety in recognition of the disproportionately high rates of violence against First Nations women and children (NIAA 2023a).

This topic page focuses on the prevalence, nature, responses to, and outcomes of, family and sexual violence among First Nations people. For information on these issues for all people in Australia and other population groups, see relevant topic pages across this report.

What do we know?

Colonisation, which involved the removal from land and cultural dispossession has resulted in social, economic, physical, psychological and emotional problems for First Nations people across generations. Family violence against First Nations people must be understood as both a cause and effect of social disadvantage and intergenerational trauma (Closing the Gap Clearinghouse 2016).

Factors associated with family violence

There are many factors that may contribute to the risk and experience of family violence. They can include gendered drivers of violence (such as rigid gender norms), demographic factors (such as age and socioeconomic background), mental health history, incarceration, alcohol and other drug use, and access to support (DSS 2022; WHO 2010). Meanwhile, factors such as cultural identity, family and kinship, country and caring for country, knowledge and beliefs, language and self-determination are protective towards First Nations people’s health and wellbeing (AIHW 2023a).

First Nations people can face unique risk factors that contribute to their high levels of family violence, with the main underlying drivers intersecting and cumulative.

See also Factors associated with FDSV.

Ongoing impacts of colonisation

The ongoing impacts of colonisation for First Nations people include personal, collective and intergenerational trauma, individual and systemic racism and oppression, and the disruption of traditional cultures, relationships and community norms about violence. For non-Indigenous Australians, the history of dispossession has contributed to racialised structural inequalities of power and the normalisation and perpetration of racist social norms and practices. These risk factors can contribute to and be exacerbated by socio-economic disadvantage, poor physical and mental health, and destructive coping behaviours among First Nations people (Our Watch 2018; Cripps and Davis 2012; DSS 2022; Langton et al. 2020).

Gendered factors

The gendered drivers of violence against First Nations women include the intersection of racism and sexism, and the impacts of colonial patriarchy on gender roles, and interpretation of what constitutes violence against women that can differ from western norms (Our Watch 2018; Langton et al. 2020).

Barriers to reporting or seeking assistance for family violence

Estimates suggest that around 90% of violence against First Nations women and most cases of sexual abuse of First Nations children are undisclosed (Willis 2011). First Nations people can face a range of barriers to reporting violence and accessing formal support, including:

  • a lack of understanding of legal rights and options and how to access support
  • a lack of cultural competency and discriminatory practices across the support sector
  • a lack of awareness and knowledge in what constitutes violence
  • a lack of access to transportation and/or communication channels, especially for those living in rural and remote areas
  • fear of child removal if disclosing family violence
  • fear that parental separation will threaten cultural connection and community cohesion
  • fear of reprisal by perpetrator or ‘payback’ – a form of First Nations customary law aimed at resolving grievances that could lead to violent retribution against the victim-survivor
  • fear of losing their home in social or community-controlled housing settings
  • fear of not being believed and misidentification of victim-survivors as perpetrators due to defensive violence
  • mistrust of mainstream legal and support services to understand and respect the needs, autonomy and wishes of victim-survivors
  • mistrust of First Nations-run service providers to maintain client confidentiality
  • community pressure not to report violence to avoid increased incarceration of First Nations men
  • communication barriers
  • racism and discrimination
  • poverty and social isolation
  • shame and embarrassment
  • belief that they should seek support from kin or people within their inner circle, and/or that the incident is a private matter (Fiolet et al. 2019; Backhouse and Toivonen 2018; Willis 2011; Langton et al. 2020).

Other than kin and people within the victim-survivor’s inner circle, community-led informal support that prioritise cultural healing also play an important role in First Nations family violence response. Cultural healing processes acknowledge culture as a key protective factor for First Nations people’s health and wellbeing (Backhouse and Toivonen 2018; AIHW 2023a). For example, the cultural practices of storytelling and ‘Dadirri’ (‘deep listening’) allow victim-survivors to share their stories in a culturally safe setting, while others are encouraged to listen deeply by connecting with their story, reflecting on silence, understanding their pain and respecting their strength (Cripps 2023).

See also How do people respond to FDSV?.

What data are available?

Data about the prevalence of family violence among First Nations people come from national surveys and administrative datasets. Some administrative data are available to report on the responses to and impacts of family violence.

The current leading source of data for First Nations people is the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey. However, as the survey is designed to collect data on a broad range of topics, it is unable to produce the breadth of data on family violence available in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey. Information on Indigenous status is not collected in the ABS Personal Safety Survey.

The terminology used for First Nations people in this topic page can vary depending on what is used within the data source.

What do the data tell us?

Physical assault by a family member

  • 2 in 3

    First Nations people aged 15 and over in 2018-19 who had experienced physical harm in the last 12 months reported the perpetrator was an intimate partner or family member

     

    Source: ABS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey

The latest National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS, 2018–19) showed that 2 in 3 (67% or 20,800) First Nations people aged 15 and over who had experienced physical harm in the 12 months before the survey reported the perpetrator was a family member (a former or current intimate partner or other family member) (ABS 2019a). 

Across jurisdictions with published data (New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory) in 2022, police-recorded crime data indicated that the First Nations victimisation rate of assault by a family member was:

  • 1,700 per 100,000 (or 5,100) First Nations people in New South Wales
  • 4,800 per 100,000 (or 2,300) First Nations people in South Australia
  • 7,700 per 100,000 (or 6,100) First Nations people in the Northern Territory (ABS 2023b) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: First Nations victims of crimes perpetrated by a family member, for selected states and territories, 2014–2022

Figure 1 shows the rate, number and proportion of First Nations victims of crimes perpetrated by a family member in 2014-2022 for New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. 

Police-recorded sexual assault

Across jurisdictions with published police-recorded crime data (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and the Northern Territory) in 2022, the victimisation rate of sexual assault ranged from 209 per 100,000 (or 100) First Nations people in South Australia to 375 per 100,000 (or 1,100) First Nations people in New South Wales (ABS 2023b).

Between 2010 and 2022, First Nations victimisation rates for sexual assault varied between states and territories and over time (Figure 2) (ABS 2023b).

Figure 2: First Nations victims of sexual assault, for selected states and territories, 2010–2022

Figure 2 shows the rate and number of First Nations victims of sexual assault for New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory in 2010-2022.

For sexual assault by a family member, the victimisation rate ranged from 89 per 100,000 (or 70) First Nations people in the Northern Territory to 156 per 100,000 (465) First Nations people in New South Wales. Between 2014 and 2022, these rates varied between states and territories and over time. Since 2018, the First Nations victimisation rate for sexual assault by a family member was lowest for the Northern Territory, compared with New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia (Figure 1) (ABS 2023b).

The use of technology

Increasingly, mobile and digital technologies are utilised by perpetrators to facilitate family violence. When interpersonal harms are conducted via technology, such as online harassment, image-based abuse and monitoring behaviours, they are considered technology-facilitated abuse (TFA).

Data on the prevalence of TFA among First Nations people are available from a nationally representative survey of about 4,600 adults in 2022. The survey used random probability-based sampling methods and weighting to allow results to be generalisable to the adult population in Australia (Powell et al. 2022). The survey found that among First Nations respondents:

  • 7 in 10 (70%) reported experiencing TFA at least once in their lifetime, compared with 1 in 2 (51%) for all respondents
  • 2 in 5 (42%) reported having engaged in TFA perpetration in their lifetime, compared with about 1 in 4 (23%) for all respondents (Powell et al. 2022).

For more information on TFA, see Stalking and surveillance.

What are the responses to family violence?

Responses to family violence include a mix of informal responses (such as contact with friends and family) and formal responses (such as assistance from police, legal services, specialist crisis services, child protection services or health professionals). This section focuses on formal responses due to data availability. For more information on responses to family violence for the general population, see How do people respond to FDSV?.

Despite the lack of data on the effectiveness of First Nations-specific family violence responses, existing research have identified effective specialist family violence responses should include:

  • community involvement, engagement and acceptance
  • cultural competency
  • integrated service delivery
  • planning for long-term sustainability
  • holistic, flexible and trauma-informed approaches
  • building on existing culturally appropriate initiatives and community capabilities (Closing the Gap Clearinghouse 2016; SNAICC et al. 2017).

Police

The ABS collates national statistics on crimes recorded by the police relating to victims and offenders of family violence (see Box 3 and Data sources and technical notes for details). Although information on family violence is available from these administrative data sets, a high proportion of family violence is not disclosed to police for a range of reasons, see Barriers to reporting or seeking assistance for family violence. The fear of the consequences of seeking help from police was highlighted in the Parliamentary Inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence, as it is known that some First Nations victim-survivors were previously criminalised due to misidentification as perpetrators or unrelated offences (such as unpaid fines) when police attended the family violence situation (HRSCSPLA 2021).

A large proportion of assault victims are victims of family violence

Across jurisdictions with published data (New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory) in 2022, the ABS Recorded Crime – Victims data collection found that First Nations assault victims:

  • were commonly victims of family violence-related assault (54–70%), and
  • most commonly identified perpetrators of the assault as partners or ex-partners (32–52%) (ABS 2023b).

Sexual assault victims are most likely to be female and under 18 years old

Most First Nations victims of sexual assault were female (70–93%) in 2022.

Across jurisdictions with published data (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and the Northern Territory) in 2022, First Nations victims of sexual assault were predominantly female, ranging from 70% in New South Wales to 93% in South Australia (ABS 2023b).

Except for South Australia, the rate of sexual assault was higher for First Nations people aged under 18 than those aged 18 and over (based on age at report), ranging from 1.3 times as high in the Northern Territory to 1.8 times as high in Queensland. This is consistent with the pattern for all people in Australia, but with higher rate ratios, where the rate of sexual assault was 1.6 to 3.6 times as high for people aged under 18 than those aged 18 and over (based on age at report) (ABS 2023b).

Perpetrators of family violence are most likely to be male

The ABS Recorded Crime – Offenders 2021–22 data collection also contains information about people committing offences related to family violence. Data for First Nations offenders are available for New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory only. First Nations offender rates are expressed per 100,000 of the First Nations population aged 10 years and over (for more information on this collection, see Data sources and technical notes).

The offender rate for offences related to family violence was higher for First Nations males than females, ranging from 2.9 times higher in New South Wales to 5.9 times higher in the Australian Capital Territory (Figure 3) (ABS 2023c).

The Indigenous status of perpetrators of violence against First Nations women is not available for reporting. Note that such violence is perpetrated by men of all cultural backgrounds, not just First Nations men (Our Watch 2018).

Figure 3: First Nations offenders of family violence, for selected state and territories, by sex, 2021–22

Figure 3 shows the rate and number of First Nations offenders of family violence for the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia in 2021-22.

Perpetrators of sexual assault are usually known to the victim

First Nations victims of sexual assault are likely to know the perpetrator. The proportion of First Nations victims who knew their perpetrators ranged from 57% in the Northern Territory to 88% in New South Wales in 2022 (ABS 2023b).

Legal

Family and domestic violence protection orders

A common legal response to family violence in Australia is to obtain a personal safety intervention order (PSIO) or family and domestic violence protection order (DVO). First Nations people are over-represented within the DVO system as both applicants and respondents (see Box 4).

Most First Nations defendants who go to court for family violence offences are found guilty

Data from the ABS Criminal Courts, Australia, 2021–22 data set are available for First Nations defendants who had 1 or more family violence cases finalised in criminal courts in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. Finalised defendants include all individuals for whom charges have been formally completed by a court. These defendants may be acquitted, found guilty, or had their cases withdrawn or transferred. To avoid double counting of defendants who were transferred and subsequently finalised by another method, transfers are excluded in the calculation of proportions (ABS 2023d).

The proportion of First Nations defendants who were found guilty were:

  • 92% (5,700) in Queensland
  • 91% (2,600) in the Northern Territory
  • 81% (6,200 defendants) in New South Wales
  • 76% (59 defendants) in the Australian Capital Territory
  • 66% (230 defendants) in Tasmania
  • 42% (470 defendants) in South Australia (Figure 4) (ABS 2023d).

The proportion of First Nations defendants who were found guilty was similar to the proportion for other Australian defendants (that is, non-Indigenous defendants, including people whose Indigenous status was not stated for the ACT) who were found guilty. This ranged from 40% in South Australia to 89% in Queensland (ABS 2023d).

Figure 4: First Nations defendants of family violence offences finalised in criminal courts, by method of finalisation, for selected states and territories, 2021–22

Figure 4 shows the number of First Nations defendants of family violence offences finalised in criminal courts by method of finalisation in 2021-22 for New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

Acts intended to cause injury is the most common principal offence among First Nations family violence defendants

Acts intended to cause injury are acts intended to cause non-fatal physical injury or mental harm to another person and where there is no sexual or acquisitive element. This includes behaviours such as physical assault and stalking (ABS 2011).

Across jurisdictions with published data, the most common principal family violence offence among First Nations defendants was acts intended to cause injury in 2021–22, ranging from 50% in Tasmania to 73% of all family violence offences in South Australia. The exception was Queensland, where 2 in 3 (67%) First Nations family violence defendants finalised had a principal offence of breach of violence orders (ABS 2023d).

Hospitalisations

Data on hospitalisations for injury from assault come from the AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database. In 2021–22, there were about 3,100 hospitalisations for injuries related to family violence involving First Nations people (2,400 females and 740 males) (AIHW 2023b) (Figure 5).

As information on cause of injury (such as assault) is not available in national emergency department data, family violence hospitalisations do not include presentations to emergency departments and underestimate overall hospital activity related to family violence. These hospitalisations also relate to more severe (and mostly physical) experiences of family violence (AIHW 2022a). See Health services for more information on how family violence hospitalisations are measured.

Figure 5: Family violence hospitalisations among First Nations people, by sex, 2017–18 to 2021–22

Figure 5 shows the number and rate of family violence hospitalisations among First Nations men and women from 2017-18 to 2021-22. 

Most hospitalisations for assault are a result of family violence

Almost 3 in 4 (74%) assault hospitalisations involving First Nations people in 2021–22 were due to family violence.

In cases where a perpetrator was specified, almost 3 in 4 (74%, or 3,100) assault hospitalisations involving First Nations people were due to family violence in 2021–22. Specifically, 47% were due to assault by a spouse or domestic partner, 2.8% by a parent and 24% by another family member (AIHW 2023b).

First Nations people aged 25–34 were most likely to be hospitalised for assault by their spouse or domestic partner (53%) or another family member (21%). Meanwhile, First Nations children aged 0–14 were most likely to be hospitalised for assault by a parent (46%) (AIHW 2023b).

For First Nations women aged 15 and over, a spouse or domestic partner was most commonly reported (62%, or 1,700) as the perpetrator for hospitalisations due to assault among all cases where a perpetrator was specified. The hospitalisation rate due to assault by a spouse or domestic partner was highest for women aged 35–44 (977 per 100,000 hospitalisations) (AIHW 2023b).

For First Nations men aged 15 and over, a family member other than a spouse, domestic partner or parent was most commonly reported (30%, or 405 cases) as the perpetrator for hospitalisations due to assault. The hospitalisation rate due to assault by another family member (226 per 100,000 hospitalisations) was highest for men aged 35–44 (Figure 6) (AIHW 2023b).

Figure 6: Family violence hospitalisations among First Nations people, by relationship to perpetrator, 2021–22

Figure 6 shows the number and rate of family violence hospitalisations among First Nations people in 2020-21 to 2021-22, by relationship to perpetrator. 

Most family violence involves bodily force

Among First Nations males and females aged 15 years and over hospitalised for family violence-related injuries in 2021-22:

  • about 56% (1,300) of females and 42% (290) of males were assaulted by bodily force (excluding sexual assault by bodily force)
  • almost one-third (32%) of females were assaulted with an object: 22% (510) with a blunt object and 10% (250) with a sharp object
  • more than half (52%) of males were assaulted with an object: 27% (185) with a sharp object and 25% (170) with a blunt object
  • hanging, strangulation and suffocation was specified as the cause of injuries for 91 (3.8%) females (AIHW 2023b).

Head and/or neck injuries are the most common injuries inflicted by a family member

Among hospitalisations of First Nations people for assault-related injuries perpetrated by a family member, 70% (1,700) females and 60% (415) males experienced injuries to the head or neck in 2021–22. This included 235 females and 66 males hospitalised for brain injury (Figure 7) (AIHW 2023b).

Figure 7: Family violence hospitalisations among First Nations people, by type of injury and sex, 2021–22

Source: AIHW NHMD | Data source overview

First Nations people living in Remote and very remote areas are more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence

In Remote and very remote areas in 2021–22, the hospitalisation rate for family violence was:

  • about 2,500 per 100,000 (or 1,400) for First Nations females aged 15 and over, compared with 405 per 100,000 (or 520) for those living in Inner and outer regional areas and 330 per 100,000 (or 385) in Major cities
  • 780 per 100,000 (or 420) for First Nations males aged 15 and over, compared with 135 per 100,000 (or 170) for those living in Inner and outer regional areas and 83 per 100,000 (or 93) in Major cities (AIHW 2023b).

First Nations people are more likely to be hospitalised for family violence than non-Indigenous Australians

Among those aged 15 and over, First Nations people were 31 times as likely to be hospitalised for family violence as non-Indigenous Australians.

In 2021–22, the age-standardised hospitalisation rate for family violence for First Nations people aged 15 and over (500 per 100,000) was 31 times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians (16 per 100,000). First Nations females aged 15 and over were 33 times as likely to be hospitalised for injuries from family violence as non-Indigenous females, with 760 per 100,000 (2,400) First Nations females hospitalised, compared with 23 per 100,000 (2,200) non-Indigenous females. The age-standardised hospitalisation rate for family violence-related injuries for First Nations males was 27 times as high as for non-Indigenous males, with 240 per 100,000 (690) First Nations males hospitalised, compared with 8.9 per 100,000 (870) non-Indigenous males (AIHW 2023b).

Specialist homelessness services

Specialist homelessness services (SHS) provide assistance to people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, including clients who have experienced family violence. Data on people seeking support from SHS agencies are drawn from the AIHW Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC). The SHSC reports on clients experiencing family violence of any age, including both victim-survivor and perpetrator services provided. However, for 2021–22, separation of the victim-survivor and perpetrator service information is not provided due to data quality concerns. The AIHW Specialist homelessness services annual report includes additional details on Clients who have experienced family and domestic violence.

Family violence is one of the main reasons First Nations clients seek assistance

About 72,900 (27%) of the 273,000 clients who accessed SHS in 2021–22 were First Nations people. Of these First Nations clients:

  • 24% (17,100) cited family violence as their main reason for seeking assistance
  • 26% (19,000) requested assistance for family violence (AIHW 2022c).

Between 2011–12 and 2021–22, the rate of First Nations SHS clients who have experienced family violence was higher for females than males. The rate has increased over time from 211 per 10,000 people in 2011–12 to 317 per 10,000 people in 2021–22 (Figure 8). Changes in the number of First Nations clients over time may reflect improved Indigenous status data among people receiving SHS support (AIHW 2022c).

Figure 8: First Nations specialist homelessness services clients who have experienced family violence, by sex, 2011–12 to 2021–22

Figure 8 shows the rate and number of First Nations specialist homelessness services clients who have experienced family violence from 2011-12 to 2021-22, by sex.

In 2021–22, the rate of First Nations SHS clients who have experienced family violence was highest for females aged 25–34 (800 per 10,000 people) across all age groups. Among First Nations male SHS clients, those aged 0–9 had the highest rate (370 per 10,000 people) (Figure 9) (AIHW 2022c).

Figure 9: First Nations specialist homelessness services clients who have experienced family violence, by age group, 2021–22

Figure 9 shows the rate and number of First Nations specialist homelessness services clients who have experienced family violence in 2021-22, by age group.

For more information on family violence among SHS clients, see Housing.

Child protection

First Nations children are particularly at risk of experiencing the direct and indirect impacts of family violence, which contributes to the over-representation of First Nations children in Australia’s child protection system (SNAICC et al. 2017). First Nations children and young people may face additional challenges as a result of multiple disadvantages, such as loss of culture, racism and discrimination (ACYP 2018).

In 2021–22, almost 58,000 (170 per 1,000) First Nations children came into contact with the child protection system. This rate has increased over time from 155 per 1,000 in 2018–19. First Nations infants aged less than one (200 per 1,000) were most likely to come into contact with the child protection system, and adolescents aged 15–17 were the least likely (135 per 1,000) (AIHW 2023c).

Of the 45,500 children who were the subjects of substantiations of maltreatment in 2021–22, 13,600 were First Nations children (40 per 1,000) and 30,500 were non-Indigenous children (5.7 per 1,000) (Figure 10). Emotional abuse was the most common primary type of abuse substantiated for First Nations children (50%), followed by neglect (30%), physical abuse (13%) and sexual abuse (6.8%) (AIHW 2023c).

Figure 10: First Nations children who were the subject of substantiations, by selected characteristics, 2021–22

Figure 10 shows the rate and number of First Nations children who were the subject of substantiations in 2018-19 to 2021-22, by age group, state or territory, remoteness area and socioeconomic area.

The higher rate of First Nations children in child protection substantiations is complex, and may have been affected by:

  • the legacy of past policies of forced removal
  • intergenerational effects of previous separations from family and culture
  • a higher likelihood of living in the lowest socioeconomic areas
  • perceptions arising from cultural differences in child-rearing practices (HREOC 1997).

At 30 June 2022, around 2 in 5 children on care and protection orders or in out-of-home care were First Nations people (40% or 24,600 children and 43% or 19,400 children, respectively) (AIHW 2023c).

See Child protection for more information.

What are the impacts and outcomes of family violence?

Family violence has been associated with a range of negative health impacts, including higher rates of miscarriage, pre-term birth and low birthweight, as well as other long-term health consequences for women and children (WHO 2011). See Health outcomes, Behavioural outcomes and Economic and financial impacts for more information.

There are limited national longitudinal data on the impacts and outcomes of family violence in First Nations communities, particularly for children.

Burden of disease

Burden of disease measures the impact of living with illness and injury and dying prematurely. According to the First Nations component of the 2018 Australian Burden of Disease Study (ABDS, see Box 5), child abuse and neglect contributed to 5.1% of the total disease burden and around 80 deaths for First Nations people. Among First Nations women, intimate partner violence (IPV) contributed to 2.1% of the total disease burden and around 30 deaths (AIHW 2022b).

For more information on how burden of disease is determined, see Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2018, Summary.

Diseases that were causally linked to IPV

The ABDS 2018 estimated the amount of disease burden that could have been avoided if all First Nations women aged 15 and over in Australia were not exposed to IPV. In estimating this burden, 6 diseases were causally linked to exposure to IPV in females:

  • depressive disorders (contributing to 20% of depressive disorders total burden in females)
  • anxiety disorders (26%)
  • early pregnancy loss (28%)
  • homicide and violence (injuries due to violence) (62%)
  • suicide and self-inflicted injuries (32%)
  • alcohol use (10%) (AIHW 2022b).

The burden attributable to IPV for First Nations women (age-standardised DALY rate of 14 per 1,000 people) was 6.1 times the rate for non-Indigenous women (age-standardised DALY rate of 2.3 per 1,000 people). IPV contributed to 5.8% of the total health gap (as measured by the DALY rate difference between First Nations and non-Indigenous women) (AIHW 2022b).

Diseases that were causally linked to child abuse and neglect

Child abuse and neglect among First Nations people was causally linked to:

  • anxiety disorders (contributing to 35% of anxiety disorders burden)
  • depressive disorders (31%)
  • suicide and self-inflicted injuries (41%) (AIHW 2022b).

The burden attributable to child abuse and neglect for First Nations people (age-standardised DALY rate of 16 per 1,000 people) was 3.9 times the rate for non-Indigenous people (age-standardised DALY rate of 4.0 per 1,000 people). Child abuse and neglect contributed to 5.2% of the total health gap (as measured by the DALY rate difference between First Nations and non-Indigenous people) (AIHW 2022b).

Family violence is associated with high psychological distress in First Nations mothers

The Aboriginal Families Study (see Box 6) identified high rates of social health issues affecting Aboriginal women and families in South Australia during pregnancy, and high levels of associated psychological distress after the birth of their babies. One in 4 Aboriginal women (25%, or 83) reported high to very high psychological distress after the birth of their baby, which is higher than estimates of maternal psychological distress among the general population (Weetra et al. 2016).

More than 1 in 2 (56%) Aboriginal women had experienced 3 or more stressful events and social health issues during pregnancy, and more than 1 in 4 (27%) had experienced 5–12 issues. A large number of Aboriginal women reported experiences of family or community conflict during pregnancy:

  • 1 in 3 (30%, or 100) had been scared by other people’s behaviour
  • 1 in 4 (26%, or 90) had left home due to a family argument
  • 1 in 6 (16%, or 53) had been physically assaulted (Weetra et al. 2016).

The average age of participating mothers in the study was 25, with an age range of 15–43 (Weetra et al. 2016). First Nations mothers are, on average, younger than non-Indigenous mothers. Of all the mothers who gave birth in 2021, the average maternal age for First Nations mothers was about 27 years, compared with about 31 years for non-Indigenous mothers. A higher proportion of First Nations mothers were teenagers (10%), compared with 1.1% of non-Indigenous mothers (AIHW 2022d).

Preliminary findings from the follow-up questionnaire (based on 170 of the women) found that about 2 in 5 (37%) had experienced any violence from a current or former partner in the previous 12 months (partner violence):

  • one in 3 (30%) had experienced psychological violence
  • one in 4 (25%) had experienced physical violence
  • about 1 in 4 (26%) had experienced financial abuse
  • about 1 in 5 (19%) had experienced all three types of partner violence (Brown et al. 2021).

A higher proportion of women who were single (59%) reported partner violence compared with women who were living with a partner (20%) (Brown et al. 2021).

Witnessing family conflict is associated with social and emotional difficulties among First Nations children

The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC) is a study among First Nations children of how a child’s early years affect their development. The study has interviewed participating families every year since 2008 and includes a sizeable population of First Nations children and their families across Australia; however, it is not based on a representative sample (DSS 2020). The primary carers were asked about their relationship with their partners in Wave 3 (2010) and again in Wave 6 (2013) (Kneebone 2015).

Among the surveyed families of between 1,200 and 1,700 First Nations children, 1 in 5 (20%) reported that their children had been upset by family arguments in the last year, with this proportion consistent over time. These children were significantly more likely to experience social and emotional difficulties (as measured by a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), compared with children whose parents did not report them being upset by family arguments (Kneebone 2015).

Children whose parents have had violent arguments were also more likely to experience social and emotional difficulties compared with those whose parents did not report violent arguments; however, the difference was only statistically significant in Wave 3 (Kneebone 2015).

More First Nations women are killed by partners than First Nations men

The National Homicide Monitoring Program recorded 11 First Nations victims of domestic homicide in 2020–21. There were:

  • 6 victims of homicide by an intimate partner
  • 1 victim of homicide by a parent
  • 1 victim of homicide by a sibling
  • 3 victims of homicide by other relatives (Bricknell 2023).

Four in 5 (80%) First Nations female victims of domestic homicide were killed by an intimate partner. Meanwhile, 1 in 3 (33%) First Nations male victims of domestic homicide were killed by an intimate partner. First Nations male victims of domestic homicide were more commonly killed by other relatives (50%) (Bricknell 2023) (Figure 11). These data should be interpreted with caution due to a small sample size.

Figure 11: First Nations domestic homicide victims, by type of homicide and sex of victim, 2020–21

Source: AIC NHMP | Data source overview

Data used by the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network, which only includes intimate partner homicides that had a history of violence between the offender and victim, indicate that:

  • of the 240 female victims of homicide by a male intimate partner, 1 in 4 (25%) were First Nations women
  • of the 65 male victims of homicide by a female intimate partner, 2 in 5 (40%) were First Nations men (ADFVDRN and ANROWS 2022).

For more information, see Domestic homicide.

Across jurisdictions with published data (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory) in 2022, police-recorded crime data indicated that the victimisation rate of homicide by a family member was:

  • 1.0 per 100,000 First Nations people in New South Wales
  • 1.6 per 100,000 First Nations people in Queensland
  • 6.3 per 100,000 First Nations people in South Australia
  • 10 per 100,000 First Nations people in the Northern Territory (ABS 2023b) (Figure 1).

Family violence is a risk factor for suicide

Violent behaviour is a risk factor for suicide, regardless of the presence of other mental health conditions or substance use (Cripps 2023). The Coroners Court of Victoria identified experience of abuse (85%), conflicts with family members (55%), conflicts with a partner (49%) and experiences of family violence with a partner (49%) as some of the major interpersonal and contextual stressors among First Nations people who died by suicide from 2018 to 2021. The court also found that 1 in 3 (34%) First Nations people who died by suicide had a childhood history of exposure to family violence, including witnessing and/or experiencing family violence during childhood (Coroners Court of Victoria 2023).

Is it the same for everyone?

The risk and experience of family violence among First Nations people can vary. Different aspects of a person’s identity (such as gender, socioeconomic status and disability) can expose the individual to overlapping and/or increased sources of discrimination and marginalisation, which can lead to increased risk and severity of family violence (Victoria State Government 2019).

Although national data on the experiences of family violence among First Nations people who also belong to other population groups are limited, some data are available for First Nations people with disability and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, Sistergirl or Brotherboy (LGBTIQASB+) First Nations people.

See Factors associated with FDSV for more information on intersecting risk factors associated with family violence.

First Nations people with disability

First Nations people are more likely to have disability than non-Indigenous Australians. Almost 1 in 4 (24%, or 140,000) First Nations people living in households (excluding those in very remote areas and discrete First Nations communities) reported having disability in 2018, compared with 18% in the total population (ABS 2019b, 2021).

The latest National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS, 2014–15) showed that First Nations people who reported experiencing physical violence by a family member in the past 12 months were more likely to have disability. Among First Nations people who reported physical violence from a family member, more than half (54%, or 17,700) had a disability. More than half (56%, or 12,800) women and just under half (49%, or 4,800) men who experienced physical violence from a family member in the last 12 months had a disability. However, this result should be interpreted with caution due to small sample sizes (ABS 2016).

For more information on family violence among people with disability, see People with disability.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual, Sistergirl or Brotherboy (LGBTIQASB+) First Nations people

Brotherboy and Sistergirl are terms used by First Nations people to describe gender diverse people who have a male and female spirit that take on male and female roles within the community respectively.

There are no national data on the prevalence of family violence among LGBTIQASB+ First Nations people. However, it is known that First Nations LGBTIQASB+ communities experience a range of significant and intersecting points of discrimination and marginalisation (DSS 2022). A qualitative study on First Nations LGBTIQASB+ people’s experiences of family violence found a high prevalence of violence experienced by LGBTIQASB+ people, where intimidation, bullying and threats of violence were commonly used to make the victim-survivor feel unsafe or excluded and/or force the victim-survivor to hide their gender identity and sexual orientation. The study also found that negative reactions and behaviours were reported more within extended families, older generations and rural or remote communities (Soldatic et al. 2023).

For more information on family violence among LGBTIQA+ people, see LGBTIQA+ people.

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