The main two reasons were fear of child protection services and the threat of being left homeless. Other barriers to reporting domestic violence included financial vulnerability because the male partner is contributing financially, and the risk of retaliation by a violent partner.
While some of those concerns are shared by non-Indigenous women experiencing family violence, Ms Eastman said the “historical and present fear of child removal” was particularly heightened for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women because of the intergenerational trauma of the Stolen Generations.
The University of Melbourne study found many Aboriginal women experienced people reporting situations to child protection services without sufficient investigation and child protection workers making assumptions based on racist stereotypes, putting children at risk of removal without understanding the context.
Ms Eastman said the research demonstrated having child protection and family violence services co-located – as with the Victorian government’s Orange Door model – was “too much of a barrier” for Aboriginal women.
“Of course we need to protect children as much as possible but I think that’s something that needs to be assessed in a separate space, because it’s pretty frightening for women to leave a violent relationship,” Ms Eastman said. “Let’s get the women safe in the first place.”
Ash Johnstone, the Indigenous spokeswoman for Women’s Safety NSW and an Aboriginal-focused domestic violence worker in the Illawarra, said she had helped clients who themselves had been removed as children as part of the Stolen Generations. Aboriginal communities still experienced “disturbingly high” rates of child removal, she said.
Government figures cited in the research show 16 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children received child protection services in 2017-2018 – eight times higher than non-Indigenous children.
Ms Johnstone said the Monash research would apply to cities such as Sydney, not just to regional towns. “When you’re talking about those historical factors of distrust, that’s going to be prevalent whether you’re living in an urban city environment, or whether you’re living in a remote area,” Ms Johnstone said.
The difference you’ll have is your access to services and support will be more limited, the more remote and rural you are.”
Ms Johnstone said it was important to have more Aboriginal frontline workers in domestic violence services and for non-Indigenous workers to have awareness of the issues and training about how to communicate clear intentions.
In a second study, the researchers looked at the 20-week behavioural intervention programs for men and found a lack of programs that cater for Indigenous men.
“With the royal commission into family violence, there’s a lot of money that’s going into behaviour change programs, but none of them are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific,” Ms Eastman said.
Ms Johnstone said many of her counterparts across the state also talked about the lack of Aboriginal-specific behavioural change programs.
“It needs to be more than just a non-Indigenous program where they do some cultural awareness training – that’s just not good enough,” she said. “There needs to be more specialist services and more staff who themselves are Indigenous for those kinds of programs to work.”
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer for The Sun-Herald, focusing on social affairs.