Decolonising Responses to Aboriginal Family Violence: The Role of Law and Culture
Prof. Harry Blagg1
1Law School, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia
This paper draws on qualitative research funded by Australia’s National Research Organisation on Women’s Safety Limited (ANROWS) on the role of Aboriginal Law and Culture in preventing and healing family violence. The research was conducted in partnership with six Aboriginal communities across northern Australia, and involved participatory yarning methodologies. Over 160 Aboriginal Elders, ‘cultural bosses, and persons of significance participated in the process. The research team included three prominent and respected Aboriginal people with connections in northern Australia and three non-Aboriginal socio-legal researchers. It concluded that Aboriginal family Violence needs to be ‘uncoupled’ from the dominant feminist discourse, that situates violence against women in terms of gender inequality, male power and patriarchy. We conclude that achieving meaningful reductions in family violence hinges on a decolonizing process that shifts power from settler to Aboriginal structures, and acknowledges the salience of Aboriginal Law and Culture in creating healed communities. Many Aboriginal women reject the move to criminalise ‘coercive control, and other features of ‘carceral feminism’, arguing that family violence needs to be understood within an historical framework intersected by colonialism, systemic disadvantage, cultural dislocation, the forced removal of children and the intergenerational impacts of trauma. Key features of a decolonising process include: the creation of community led safety plans; expansion of ‘on-country’ healing options; greater use of community organisations as ‘first responders’; Aboriginal courts; greater use of diversion from mainstream systems; screening and assessment for cognitive disabilities, drug and alcohol use; local agreements on the use of community sanctions administered by Elders; refuges and shelters entirely managed by Aboriginal women’s organisations; a seat for men in local family violence initiatives.
Harry Blagg is Professor of Criminology and Director of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples and Community Justice in School, UWA. Recently completed projects include a study of Diversionary Pathways for Indigenous youth believed to be FASD in the Kimberley Region of WA, funded by the Criminology Research Council of Australia, an evaluation of innovative community owned responses to Aboriginal family violence, and a project on the Role of Aboriginal Law and Culture in Responding to Family Violence, both funded by ANROWS. He has an ARC Discovery looking at the role of Aboriginal Night Patrols (with Thalia Anthony and Juanita Sherwood).