Better health and ageing for all Australians

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (HPF) 2012

Tier 2—Community capacity—2.10 Community safety

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Why is it important?:

Experiencing threatened violence, being in an environment where personal safety is at risk, or in a social setting where violence is common, has negative health effects. These effects have been noted among Indigenous peoples in Australia (Willis 2010).

Wilkinson (1999) discusses the relationship between income inequality and violence and also notes the link between experiences of discrimination and racism and high levels of family violence found in marginalised and oppressed groups. The level of violence in Indigenous societies must be seen in the context of colonisation, post-colonial history and discrimination, and subsequent markers of disadvantage such as low income, unemployment, lack of access to traditional lands, and substance use. Krug et al. (2002) note that 'violence is the result of the complex interplay of individual, relationship, social, cultural and environmental factors'.

The Burden of Disease and Injury study (Vos et al. 2007) ranked homicide and violence as the tenth largest contributor to the total burden of disease and injury for Indigenous Australians. As a health risk factor, intimate partner violence was responsible for 5.4% of the burden for Indigenous females, having its impact not only through homicide and violence but also anxiety and depression, heart disease, suicide and other diseases.

Findings:

In 2008, 24% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 18 years and over reported they were a victim of physical or threatened violence in the last 12 months. The proportion declined with age, from 33% of those aged 18–24 years to 8% of those aged 55 years and over. After adjusting for differences in age structure, Indigenous Australians aged 18 years and over were twice as likely to have reported being victims of physical or threatened as non-Indigenous Australians.

Indigenous adults who had been arrested in the last five years were more likely to have been a victim of physical or threatened violence (32%) (see measure 2.14) than those who had not. Those aged 15 years and over living in remote areas were slightly less likely than those in non remote areas to have been a victim of physical or threatened violence in the last 12 months (22% compared with 25%) but they were more likely to report assault as a community problem (37% compared with 19%). After adjusting for differences in the age structure of the two populations, Indigenous males were 1.6 times as likely as non Indigenous males to report having been a victim of physical or threatened violence. Similarly, Indigenous females were two and a half times as likely as non Indigenous females to report having been victimised.

Analysis of incidents of domestic assault recorded by NSW Police between 2001 and 2010 show that Indigenous Australians are over-represented as both victims and offenders of domestic assault and that this has not changed over the last decade (Grech et al. 2011).

The rate of males and females hospitalised for the principal diagnosis of assault during the period July 2008 to June 2010 were similar (11 per 1,000). After adjusting for differences in the age structure between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous males were eight times as likely to have been hospitalised for assault than were non-Indigenous males, and Indigenous females were 34 times as likely to have been hospitalised than non-Indigenous females (see measure 1.03). There has been no significant change in the rate of hospitalisations due to assault since 2002–03.

In the period July 2008 to June 2010, hospitalisation rates for assault were highest for Indigenous Australians aged 25–54 years. In these age groups, rates for Indigenous Australians are 14 to 18 times as high as non Indigenous Australians.

A similar pattern is evident in the number of deaths related to assault. There were 178 Indigenous deaths in 2006–10 due to assault. The mortality rate for assault for Indigenous Australians was around nine times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians in this period. Mortality rates for assault were highest among those aged 25–44 years in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. In this age range deaths from assault were 14 to 18 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians in the same age group.Top of page

Implications:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are much more likely to be a victim of violence and to be hospitalised for injuries arising from assault. Males and females experience these problems at similar rates. Compared with other females, Indigenous females experience vastly higher rates of violence. Poor community safety is a major contributor to the burden of disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Program provides assistance to Indigenous victim–survivors of family violence and sexual assault through the provision of legal assistance, court support, casework and counselling.

All Australian governments have endorsed the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010–2022, which includes a specific focus on Indigenous family violence through Outcome 3: Indigenous Communities are Strengthened. Within the Commonwealth, the Indigenous Family Safety Program funds innovative Indigenous family safety initiatives focused on addressing alcohol problems; more effective police protection; working with local community leaders to strengthen social norms against violence; and coordinating support services to aid the recovery of people who have experienced violence. In 2010–11 funding included $7.6 million over two years provided for additional Mobile Child Protection and Remote Aboriginal Family and Community Workers in the Northern Territory; $7 million for 32 Indigenous Family Safety Service projects; $1.6 million over three years as part of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children; and $20 million over three years to assist Indigenous communities implement Alcohol and Substance Abuse Management Plans. Under the Stronger Futures—Child, Youth, Family and Community Wellbeing Package the Australian Government has committed more than $443 million over the next ten years to support the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children, young people and their families in remote Aboriginal communities in the NT.

Case studies in the NT found that many people in remote Indigenous communities felt that a permanent police presence is critical to reducing the incidence of alcohol related crime (Pilkington 2009). The Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Prevention Framework includes strategies for primary prevention, early intervention and crisis intervention. This framework identifies key factors required for success from the literature including that activities should be led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, include a whole of community approach, be grounded in cultural respect and cultural strengthening, promote non-violent social norms, strengthen protective factors, improve access to resources and systems of support and include timeliness, accountability and evaluation (DHS 2012).
Figure 110—Age-standardised hospitalisation rates for assault by Indigenous status, Qld, WA, SA and the NT, 2002–03 to 2009–10
Figure 110—Age-standardised hospitalisation rates for assault by Indigenous status, Qld, WA, SA and the NT,   2002–03 to 2009–10Top of page
Source: AIHW analysis of AIHW National Hospital Morbidity database
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Figure 111—Deaths from assault (homicide) by Indigenous status and age, NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT, 2006–10
Figure 111—Deaths from assault (homicide) by Indigenous status and age, NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT, 2006–10
Source: AIHW analysis of AIHW National Mortality Database
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Table 30—Issues of community safety, proportion of persons aged 18 years and over, by Indigenous status, 2008 (Indigenous), 2006 (non-Indigenous), experienced by individual, family members and/or close friends in last 12 months
Experienced by individual, family members and/or close friends in last 12 months:
Indigenous Male
Non-Indigenous Male
Indigenous Female
Non-Indigenous Female
Indigenous Persons
Non-Indigenous Persons
Abuse or violent crime
6.7
1.9
8.4
2.8
7.6
2.3
Witness to violence
8.4
2.1
9.5
2.3
9
2.2
Trouble with the police
16.6
2.8
12.9
2.5
14.7
2.6
Member of family or friend spent time in jail
12.7
12.8
12.8
Source: ABS analysis of 2008 NATSISS. Non-Indigenous comparison from 2006 General Social Survey
Table 31—Issues of community safety, proportion of Indigenous persons aged 18 years and over, by remoteness, 2008, experienced by individual, family members and/or close friends in last 12 months
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Experienced by individual, family members and/or close friends in last 12 months:Major CitiesInner RegionalOuter RegionalRemoteVery RemoteTotal
Victim of physical or threatened violence in last 12 months:
26.1
24.4
24.3
24.1
19.4
24.1
Abuse or violent crime
9.2
6.7
7.2
8.3
5.7
7.6
Witness to violence
10.3
7.7
8.1
11.9
7.4
9
Trouble with the police
15.1
15
14.2
17.3
12.6
14.7
Member of family or friend spent time in jail
12.9
12.9
12.3
14.5
12
12.8
Source: ABS analysis of 2008 NATSISS.
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