Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Indigenous community safety, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 07 December 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Indigenous community safety. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/indigenous-community-safety
Indigenous community safety. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 16 September 2021, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/indigenous-community-safety
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Indigenous community safety [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 Dec. 7]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/indigenous-community-safety
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Indigenous community safety, viewed 7 December 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/indigenous-community-safety
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Safe communities, where people feel protected from harm within their home, workplace and community, are important for physical and mental wellbeing. The feeling of being safe enables a better quality of life and the capacity to be involved in the community in a positive way, both of which are protective factors for social and emotional wellbeing (AIHW & NIAA 2020; Commonwealth of Australia 2017).
While the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel safe in their communities and do not experience negative outcomes, they tend to experience greater rates of hospitalisation and death as a result of violence than the wider community. Indigenous Australians are also over-represented in Australia’s child protection, youth justice and adult justice systems (AIHW & NIAA 2020).
Many factors influence community safety for Indigenous Australians. Stronger connections to culture and country, amongst other positive cultural determinants, improve outcomes for community safety (Commonwealth of Australia 2017). Factors that lead to unsafe situations include long-term social disadvantage and the ongoing impact of past dispossession and forced child-removal policies, which result in intergenerational trauma and breakdowns of traditional parenting, culture and kinship practices (Commonwealth of Australia 2018; Healing Foundation 2018).
This page focuses on community experiences of safety and violence, contact with child protection services, and contact with criminal justice systems.
The National Agreement on Closing the Gap has 16 national socio-economic targets across areas that have an impact on life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Safety within Indigenous Communities directly involves four of these targets;
Target 10: By 2031, reduce the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults held in incarceration by at least 15 per cent.
(compared to a 2019 baseline level of 2,088 per 100,000 (age-standardised)).
Target 11: By 2031, reduce the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (10-17 years) in detention by 30 per cent.
(compared to a 2018–19 baseline level of 34 per 10,000).
Target 12: By 2031, reduce the rate of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45 per cent.
(compared to a 2019 baseline level of 54 per 1,000).
Target 13: A significant and sustained reduction in violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children towards zero.
(compared to a 2018–19 baseline level of 8.4%).
Note: The baseline values for these targets were derived from ABS prisoners in Australia 2019 (Target 10), AIHW Youth Justice National Minimum Data Set (Target 11), AIHW Child Protection Collections (Target 12), and the 2018–19 ABS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (Target 13).
For more information, see Closing the Gap targets.
This section covers information on feelings of safety and experiences of violence using a range of data sources, including the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey 2014–15 (NATSISS), the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey 2018–19 (NATSIHS), the National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Causes of Death Collection (CoD), the AIHW National Mortality Database (NMD) and the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) National Homicide Monitoring Program.
Feeling safe is an indicator of how an individual perceives their community; those who feel safe are able to live a better quality and healthier life and are more likely to engage in the community, and the community as a whole faces a lower incidence of and costs from, injuries and violence (AIHW & NIAA 2020). The most recent data on feeling of safety comes from the NATSISS.
In 2014–15, among Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over who reported they walked alone in their local area after dark, 68% said they felt safe or very safe, 12% felt neither safe nor unsafe, and 20% felt unsafe or very unsafe. For those who spent time home alone after dark, 87% felt safe or very safe, 5% felt neither safe nor unsafe, and 8% felt unsafe or very unsafe. Shepherd et al. (2018) showed that Indigenous Australians with stronger cultural identities were less likely to be negatively impacted by a reduced level of safety within the broader community, and in general effected lower levels of distress.
In an Indigenous community context, where family and kinship networks can be broad and complex, the term ‘family violence’ can be considered as covering relevant issues and behaviours within a broader set of relationships. Interventions to address family violence have therefore moved away from the approach of treating incidents as one-off events, and instead follow holistic, culturally appropriate approaches that are integrated into communities. For more information on these programs, see Family violence prevention programs in Indigenous communities. Also see Family, domestic and sexual violence.
Data regarding self-reported experiences of violence comes from the NATSIHS. In 2018–19, 8.4% (an estimated 21,700) of Indigenous Australian women aged 15 and over reported experiencing domestic physical or threatened physical harm in the previous 12 months.
Results from the NATSIHS indicate that in 2018–19, 16% (an estimated 76,900) of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over had experienced physical and/or threatened physical harm in the preceding 12 months, while 6.3% (an estimated 30,900) experienced physical harm. Of those experiencing physical harm, 74% believed that the offender was under the influence of alcohol or other substances during the most recent incident.
In the two-year period from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2019, there were 14,061 assault hospitalisations for Indigenous Australians, accounting for 30% of all assault hospitalisations. The rate was highest for Indigenous females aged 35-44, and increased with increasing remoteness (Figure 1).
Indigenous Australians were 14 times as likely to be hospitalised for assault as non-Indigenous Australians (age-standardised rates of 951 compared with 68 per 100,000, respectively). The ratio was higher for females, with Indigenous females 27 times as likely as non-Indigenous females to be hospitalised for assault.
Between 2006–07 and 2018–19 there was an 11% increase in the rate of assault hospitalisations, based on age-standardised rates (or 5,214 to 6,702 hospitalisations) (Figure 2).
This bar chart shows that by age, hospitalisation rates for assault were highest for Indigenous Australians aged 35–44, 2,013 per 100,000. By area of remoteness, rates were highest in Very remote areas, 2,458 per 100,000. By age, hospitalisation rates for family violence-related assault were also highest for Indigenous Australians aged 35–44, 1,023 per 100,000. By area of remoteness, rates were highest in Very remote areas, 1,367 per 100,000. Across disaggregations, rates for both assault outcomes were generally higher for Indigenous Australian females than for Indigenous Australian males.
In the two-year period 2017–19, of the total assault hospitalisations for Indigenous Australians, 6,918 (49%) were family violence-related. Among Indigenous Australians, the rate of family violence-related assault was:
Based on age-standardised rates, the rate of family-violence related assault hospitalisations for Indigenous Australians was 30 times the non-Indigenous rate (based on age-standardised rates).
Over the period of 2006–07 to 2018–19, there was a 63% increase in the rate of family violence-related assaults for Indigenous Australians (based on age-standardised rates), or an increase from 1,902 to 3,319 hospitalisations (Figure 2).
This time trend chart shows that the rate of family violence-related assault hospitalisations for Indigenous Australians has increased slightly over the period, from 319 to 466 per 100,000, and was higher than non-Indigenous Australians in all years. The rate for Indigenous Australian females was higher than for males for the entire period, peaking at 743 per 100,000 in 2017–18. For all assault, the Indigenous Australians rate has increased slightly over the period, from 887 to 935 per 100,000.
Information on assault deaths is available from death registrations data, with data for Indigenous Australians reported for 5 jurisdictions in which the AIHW considers the quality of Indigenous identification to be adequate—New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
In these 5 jurisdictions combined, over the period 2006 to 2018, the age-standardised rate of deaths by assault for Indigenous Australians decreased by 33%, from 8.9 per 100,000 to 4.6 per 100,000 (or 39 to 28 deaths).
Over the five-year period 2014 to 2018, among Indigenous Australians:
The AIC reports on homicides in Australia. Between July 2018 and June 2019, there were 30 homicide victims who were Indigenous. The offender was an intimate partner or other family member for 15 of these victims (54% of the 28 victims whose offender had been identified) (Bricknell & Doherty 2021). Homicide statistics differ from those for deaths by assault, with former further defined by criminal law (AIHW 2015). Statistics presented on this page on homicide and assault deaths differ for this reason, in addition to sources covering different reporting periods.
In response to outbreaks occurring during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, much of Australia have been and are continuing to be placed into restricted, lockdown states to reduce the risk of community transmission. As a result, women who are vulnerable to domestic violence may have to stay at home and socially isolate with their offending partners.
During May of 2020, the AIC ran an online survey of 15,000 women, 565 identified as Indigenous Australians, to examine the impact COVID-19 had with regard to domestic violence experiences within the three months prior. Respondents were limited to those in a current cohabiting relationship, then grouped into two sets; those who had experienced domestic violence from their partner prior to the pandemic, and those who had not. Of the 129 Indigenous women in a cohabiting relationship who had experienced violence prior to the pandemic, 95% experienced it in this period, compared with 58% of non-Indigenous women of this group. Of the 157 Indigenous women in a cohabiting relationship who had not experienced domestic violence prior to the pandemic, 15% did so during the period, compared with 2.6% of non-Indigenous women. Further analysis showed that, compared with non-Indigenous women, the odds that an Indigenous woman who had previously experienced domestic violence would experience violence during lockdown was 5.5 times greater, while for those who had not previously experienced violence the odds were 2.4 times greater (Morgan & Boxall 2020).
Over the period of July 2019 to June 2020, there were 55,301 Indigenous Australian children receiving child protection services, 32% of all children in Australia receiving services. This represented a rate of 166 per 1,000 population. Over this same period, 14,323 Indigenous Australian children were the subject of substantiated notifications, a rate of 43 per 1,000, an increase from 38 per 1,000 in 2018–19 (Figure 3). Please note, there was a break in the time trend for substantiation data, due to a change in processes in New South Wales in 2017–2018.
As at 30 June, 2020:
This bar chart shows that in 2020, there were 43 per 1,000 Indigenous children in substatiations, 385 per 1,000 Indigenous children on care and protection orders, 270 per 1,000 Indigenous children in out-of-home care and 166 per 1,000 Indigenous children receiving child and protection services. The rate ratio with non-Indigenous children was highest for children in out-of-home care (11.1) and lowest for children substantiations (6.9).
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ATSICPP), advocated by the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC), promotes the placement of Indigenous children on out-of-home care orders with Indigenous or non-Indigenous relatives or kin or other Indigenous caregivers. “The ATSICPP recognises the importance of connections to family, community, culture and country in child and family welfare legislation, policy and practice, and asserts that self-determining communities are central to supporting and maintaining those connections” (SNAICC 2017). Priority is given to placement with Indigenous, or non-Indigenous kin, followed by placement with other Indigenous members of the community, which is followed by placement with Indigenous family-based carers. If none of these options are viable, the child may be placed with a non-Indigenous carer or in a residential setting.
As at 30 June 2020, 63% of Indigenous children in out-of-home care were placed in accordance to the ATSICPP, a similar proportion as to previous years. This proportion has been relatively stable since 30 June 2017 (AIHW 2020). SNAICC completes annual reviews on the implementation of the principle across Australia. They note that in 2020, while there has been a significant effort to improve adherence to the principle, implementation remains poor and limited. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be separated from family and culture at alarming rates, and there are a lack of comprehensive approaches to involving children, families, and communities in decisions and services related to the care and protection of children.” (SNAICC 2020).
Concerns that children will be particularly vulnerable during COVID-19 are based on experiences from previous crises including disease outbreaks, natural disasters and financial downturns. Suspicions about child abuse or neglect are often reported by schools, child care centres, and other people or services children regularly come into contact with. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected daily life through restrictions on people’s movements and interactions —potentially limiting opportunities for child abuse and neglect to be detected and reported. The number of school notifications decreased normally as the April 2020 school holidays started, but upon returning to school the increase was larger than was seen in 2019. Numbers for substantiations and out-of-home care orders remained relatively stable across the period (AIHW 2021). For a more in depth analysis, please see Child protection in the time of COVID-19 or Child protection.
While most Indigenous Australians have not been incarcerated, young and adult Indigenous Australians experience contact with these systems, as both offenders and victims, at much higher rates than non-Indigenous Australians (AIHW & NIAA 2020). People in contact with the criminal justice system are at risk of poorer health and wellbeing outcomes for themselves, their family and their broader community.
Young Australians who have been sentenced, or are awaiting sentencing, may be placed under supervision within the community or detention facilities. While the youth justice system primarily deals with those aged 10-17, some people aged 18 and over might remain in this system if their sentence extends into adulthood, or be placed there as an adult based on the court’s discretion. The statistics presented in this snapshot concern Indigenous youth under supervision following sentencing (See Youth justice). For Indigenous Australian youth aged 10–17, on an average day in 2019–20:
There were 1,600 Indigenous Australian male youth aged 10–17 under supervision on an average day, compared with 456 females. Indigenous Australian males constitute the majority of those under supervision, 77%; this proportion was similar for those under community-based supervision, 75% (1,245), but was higher for those in detention, 89% (327).
Rates of supervision for Indigenous Australian youth aged 10–17 have trended downwards since 2010–11, although this rate of change stagnated from 2016–17 to 2018–19. The rate for Indigenous youth declined by 29% from 199 per 10,000 in 2010–11 to 140 per 10,000 in 2019–20 (Figure 4). A relatively greater decline was seen between 2018–19 and 2019–20. This may be partly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a substantial impact on the operation of courts; however more data is required to determine the impact of the pandemic on youth justice data.
Though the rate of Indigenous Australian youth aged 10–17 in supervision has decreased, in 2019–20 Indigenous Australians were 16 times as likely as non-Indigenous young people aged 10–17 to be under supervision on an average day (140 per 10,000, compared with 8.5 per 10,000, respectively).
This time trend chart shows that the rates of Indigenous Australian youth aged 10–17 under supervision and community supervision on an average day has decreased over the period, from 199 to 140 per 10,000 and 165 to 116 per 10,000, respectively. The rate of those under detention remained relatively stable from 2010–11 to 2018–19, roughly 32 per 10,000, but decreased to 26 per 10,000 in 2019–20.
As at 30 June 2020:
In 2020, the age-standardised rate of imprisonment for Indigenous adults was 13 times as high as for non-Indigenous Australians (2,081 compared with 156 per 100,000 population) (Figure 5).
Between 30 June 2006 and 30 June 2020, the age-standardised rate of adult Indigenous Australian imprisonment increased by 63%, from 1,333 to 2,081 per 100,000 (Figure 5).
This time trend chart shows that the rate of Indigenous Australian adults under imprisonment has increased over the period, from 1,333 to 2,081 per 100,000, and was higher than the rate for non-Indigenous adults. The rate for Indigenous Australian men has been higher than that for Indigenous Australian women over the period, the male rate peaked at 3,796 per 100,000 at 30 June 2018, while the female rate peaked in the same year, at 437 per 100,000.
In response to COVID-19, there have been various restrictions implemented across Australia in order to limit the spread of the disease. There is the potential that these restrictions have impacted the criminal justice system, although no analysis in relation to Indigenous Australians has yet been undertaken. Additionally, in March 2020, the NSW Government amended the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1993 to allow for early release of vulnerable, low risk inmates to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 if an outbreak were to occur (NSW DCJ 2020). In the meantime, NSW corrective services is closely monitoring COVID-19 risks in the community, and is ready to adjust operations as necessary (NSW DCJ 2021).
For more information on Indigenous community safety, see:
For more information on child protection, see:
For more information on contact with the justice system, see:
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2015. Leading cause of premature mortality in Australia fact sheet: assault. Cat. no. PHE 204. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2020. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle Indicators 2018–19: measuring progress. Cat. no. CWS 77. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2021. Child protection in the time of COVID-19. Cat. no. CWS 76. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW & NIAA (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & National Indigenous Australians Agency) 2020. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework. Canberra: AIHW.
Bricknell & Doherty 2021. Homicide in Australia 2018–19. Statistical Report no. 34. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 9 July 2021.
Commonwealth of Australia 2017. National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Commonwealth of Australia 2018. Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s Report 2018. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Healing Foundation 2018. Intergenerational trauma. Viewed 16 June 2021.
Morgan & Boxall 2020. Social isolation, time spent at home, financial stress and domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Viewed 9 July 2020.
NSW Department of Communities and Justice (NSW DCJ) 2020. COVID-19 Emergency laws introduced to parliament to boost community safety.
NSW DCJ 2021. Corrective services. Viewed 16 June 2021.
SNAICC (Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care) 2017. Understanding and applying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle. Viewed 16 June 2021.
SNAICC 2020. Reviewing implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (2020). Viewed 16 June 2021.
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