Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Non-Disclosure of Violence in Australian Indigenous Communities

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Non-Disclosure of Violence in Australian Indigenous Communities

Article excerpt

Foreword | Violent crime statistics drawn from police data do not show the large amount of violent crime and victimisation that is never disclosed to police. Within this 'dark figure of crime' are human experiences that can leave victims without help and support, perpetrators not coming to justice and cycles of violence continuing unbroken. This paper explores some of the reasons for the high rates of non-disclosure of violence in Indigenous communities. It begins by examining reasons for nondisclosure in the broader Australian community before discussing how factors specific to Indigenous Australians influence individual decisions to disclose violence. As well as using Australian and international literature to build an understanding of why people choose not to disclose, the paper uses scenarios developed by the Australian Crime Commission from their work with Indigenous communities to illustrate the circumstances in which these choices are made. The paper concludes by considering ways of encouraging disclosure through services, training and education and community responses. It emphasises the need to locate these within broader efforts to address the cycles of intergenerational violence that can so heavily impact the lives of Indigenous Australians.

Adam Tomison


The problem of violence and child abuse in Australian Indigenous communities has been well-documented (eg Aboriginal Child Sexual Assault Taskforce 2006; Gordon, Hallahan & Henry 2002; Memmott et al. 2001 ; Robertson 2000; Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Task Force 2003; Wild & Anderson 2007).

The extent to which Indigenous Australians suffer violent victimisation has been widely reported elsewhere and will not be examined in detail here. For the purposes of this paper, it is sufficient to note that overall, Indigenous people experience violence (as offenders and victims) at rates that are typically two to five times those experienced by non-Indigenous people and this can be much higher in some remote communities (Bryant & Willis 2008; Memmott et al. 2001 ; Wundersitz 2010). Indigenous women in particular are far more likely to experience violent victimisation, and suffer more serious violence, than non-Indigenous women (Bryant & Willis 2008; Gordon, Hallahan & Henry 2002; Memmott et al. 2001 ; Mouzos 2001 ; Wundersitz 2010).

Information from surveys and inquiries suggests a high proportion of violent victimisation is not disclosed to police (eg ABS 2005, 2002, 1998, 1996; Uevore 2003; Mullighan 2008; ABS NSCU 2005; Wild & Anderson 2007). Rates of non-disclosure are higher in Indigenous than non-Indigenous communities, with studies indicating that around 90 percent of violence against Indigenous women is not disclosed (Robertson 2000; Taylor & Putt 2007), nor most cases of sexual abuse of Indigenous children (Aboriginal Child Sexual Assault Taskforce 2006; Gordon, Hallahan & Henry 2002; Wild & Anderson 2007).

This paper will draw on the published literature, complemented by case studies developed by the Australian Crime Commission's National Indigenous Intelligence Task Force, to examine reasons why violent crime is not disclosed by Indigenous victims and how greater rates of disclosure can be encouraged.

The disclosure by victims or witnesses discussed here is distinct from the separate, but related, issue of mandatory reporting undertaken by health, child protection and other service providers.

Reasons for under-reporting in the general community

Before considering the particular factors that influence reporting of violence in Indigenous communities, it is important to consider the broader literature on under-reporting. Indigenous victims may choose not to report for any or all of the reasons the broader Australian community does not report and this section is therefore relevant to Indigenous as well as non-Indigenous victims. However, Indigenous victims experience a range of other barriers to reporting and may also experience the barriers relevant to the broader Australian community in distinctive ways. …

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