How can we stop violence against Indigenous women in Australia?
Family violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is a national crisis, with a disturbingly significant over representation of Indigenous women in cases of violent assaults.
National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services reports that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence than non-Indigenous women and are 10 times more likely to die from violent assault than other Australian women. Further chilling statistics reveal that approximately 90 per cent of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is not reported.
These confronting realities are something that Worimi woman and social entrepreneur, Josephine Cashman, saw first-hand at the beginning of her legal career working as a prosecutor while representing a number of Aboriginal women who were survivors of family violence. Cashman believed these women were not receiving appropriate responses from institutions such as, police, prosecuting authorities and policy-makers.
“There was a case I worked on where the police didn’t execute a warrant for three and a half years,” Cashman says.
“And one would easily say that there has been a culture within the police, where they believe that Aboriginal victims won’t go to court or won’t follow through or there’s some ‘cultural element’ to violence which is not true.
"There has been a culture within the police, where they believe that Aboriginal victims won’t go to court or won’t follow through or there’s some ‘cultural element’ to violence which is not true."
I was quite passionate that we can’t have general deterrence in Aboriginal communities and reform for those who have been affected by crime – I saw that as a particular gap in the system.”
Since, Cashman has been committed to the wellbeing of Indigenous women and advocated for safe communities. She will be a guest speaker at the All About Women festival; a conference at the Sydney Opera House which preludes International Women’s Day and features talks, conversations and debates about equality and social affairs by leading experts. Her panel, ‘No More Violence’ which she shares with Professor Marcia Langton AM bares the question, ‘What will it take to stop violence against Indigenous women in Australia’. Cashman says she wants to explore a number of aspects which impact this issue,
“Do Aboriginal women have the same level playing field as every other Australian - I think the answer is absolutely, no.
"Do Aboriginal women have the same level playing field as every other Australian - I think the answer is absolutely, no."
“Yes, [family violence] is recurring, and part of this is to do with the conditions Aboriginal people live in. I’m interested in looking at some broader economic factors that contribute to poverty, violence and sense of hopelessness that affects some people.
You look at the worst levels of crime and it’s pretty much related to overcrowding or homelessness and lack of economic security. I mean, if you were living in the worst affected areas of the NT, where there’s 19 adults and children per room … We need services, but there’s another layer we need to move beyond and that’s Aboriginal people having appropriate housing, having opportunities for employment and having access to services and all of those other factors that play in.”
Sharing the floor with Professor Langton, the pair will discuss ways that Australia can prevent and change violent behavior and the attitudes behind it this Sunday at All About Women. Cashman says she hopes that audiences be inspired to keep hope for a better future,
“What I try to install into my son and my nieces and nephews is resilience. A lot of people get a sense of hopelessness around these issues and although we really need to acknowledge the past, we need to learn from it.
Aboriginal people especially know that we’re really resilient and that we need the opportunity to take our rightful place in Australia, which is the first citizens and the traditional owners. And I hope through this, people will be inspired to help; get a better handle on the complexity and support Aboriginal people.”
Josephine Cashman and Marcia Langton will be panelists for 'No More Violence' at the All About Women festival, Sydney Opera House. Sunday, 5 March at 12.30pm. For information, see here.