Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Violent and Tragic Events: The Nature of Domestic Violence-Related Homicide Cases in Central Australia

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Violent and Tragic Events: The Nature of Domestic Violence-Related Homicide Cases in Central Australia

Article excerpt

Abstract: Violence and abuse (1) among Australia's Aboriginal populations and communities, especially across Central Australia, have increasingly been the focus of government, academic, social and criminal justice, law enforcement and media reporting. Despite the weight of these reports and other evidence, such as the lengthy daily court lists of assault offences, there continues to be a culture, within both the Aboriginal and the non-Aboriginal community, of minimisation and blindness about the nature and extent of domestic or intimate partner- related family violence. (2) The very private nature of most domestic and family violence incidents within a social and cultural environment that sanctions acts of aggression and violence contributes to the minimisation and blindness. This paper focuses on how problems such as domestic and family violence in Aboriginal communities in Central Australia can be better understood by examining specific domestic violence-related homicides that occurred between January 2000 and November 2008. (3) The domestic-related homicides involved women and men, married and/or recognised by their families and the wider community as being married, from close and inter-related families in the remote cross-border communities of the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. From 1994 until 2006 I was involved in establishing and managing a program and service (4) aimed at improving the protection and safety of Aboriginal women who experienced domestic violence in this region. I knew the victims, the offenders, and one or both of their families in eight of the homicides that occurred in that period.

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Why examine homicides from a remote region that spans three jurisdictions with a total Indigenous population of approximately 6000? What will the features and characteristics of a relatively small but disproportionately high number of homicides tell us that are distinctive from and/ or similar to domestic-related homicides in other regions of Australia? Although the national and jurisdictional data collation and reporting provides a useful comparative framework, they cannot be disaggregated to a regional or local level (Wundersitz 2010) to reflect the regional and local distinctions and trends or the demographic and cultural specificities that can provide a nuanced understanding and inform tailored policies and program responses. The quantitative data indicate broadly the extent of the offending but do not provide an understanding of the specific risk factors to the violence or identify the protective factors that can prevent violence. This paper concentrates on providing insights into the phenomena of domestic violence or intimate partner violence in Central Australia and its cross-border region through a case-based ethnographic approach to examining the characteristics and situational factors of the homicides and the distinctive socio-cultural features that influenced and enabled the violence.

The cross-border region

This region is best known as the NPY (Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (5)) Lands or cross-border region of the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. It falls within the larger Western Desert region that extends from the north of South Australia and the south and western area of the Northern Territory across what is known as the Ngaanyatjarra Lands in Western Australia. (6) The Indigenous population in this region is currently estimated to be 6000 and although highly mobile across Central Australia and extending to the regional centres of Alice Springs, Port Augusta, Coober Pedy, Laverton and Kalgoorlie, there is very little outmigration. Aboriginal people in this region share very strong social and cultural bonds through their continuing access and affiliations to their ancestral lands, common spoken languages, (7) and a wide and intricate network of kin that is maintained and strengthened through marriage, regular customary and religious ceremonial activities, (8) and highly anticipated regional sporting events. …

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