Family Violence in the Torres Strait (with special emphasis on causal factors)



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x. [An interviewee] commented on the history of Mura Kosker and the debate on whether T.S.I. services should be centralized or de-centralized given the limited resources. Once a range of programmes were administered under Mura Kosker e.g. the Women’s Shelter and Kazi. The D.V. programme was the first to be separately incorporated splitting off the Lena Passi Shelter from Mura Kosker. Kazi was then separately incorporated in 2002. This was a positive step for independence, but it created more practical problems: three Management Committees, three AGMs, three of everything. [One interviewee] x. was of the view that these services should be re-integrated back together within or in conjunction with the Healing Centre. The Mother’s Union was also set up by Mura Kosker in 1988 and remains a part of the Church.

The Coordinator of the Lena Passi Shelter was asked whether there was a women’s network at T.I.: She replied that women always turned up to the annual D.V. meetings and marches once a year, on International Women’s Day. However there were no regular meeting groups of women occurring of which she was aware.

“Everything was started from Mura Kosker – Lena Passi, Kazi, Homeless Shelter. Lost our elderly female leaders [now]. Haven’t had a boost from young people to take over.”

The Lena Passi Women’s Shelter

The Lena Passi Shelter (an NGO) at T.I. runs a D.V. Refuge and a Homeless Refuge, both for women. The D.V. Refuge has five rooms, each with two beds, and the Manager said this Refuge had not been emptied since she had been working here [six months from February to August 2007]. The Lena Passi Manager said she would not turn away any victim of D.V.. One repeat client resident at T.I. was coming abused almost nightly at the time of interview However a Social Worker from another T.S.I. NGO said the shelter was at times full, and sometimes victims had to stay with relatives ; but perhaps this pertained to an earlier period.

Most of the D.V. clients at the Shelter were from the outer islands rather than from Thursday Island; in a ratio of about 70:30 (Outer Islands to T.I.). This was in contrast to the Homeless Refuge whose clients had a ratio of about 10:90, Outer Islands versus Thursday Island. The clientele in both Refuges are restricted to females.

There were five part-time shelter workers (all of T.S.I. and/or Aboriginal descent). The Manager was trying to get 20 hours paid time a fortnight for her staff – but at present it was better to have two people at ten hours per fortnight so there was some ‘back-up’ if one person fell ill or suffered ‘burn-out’ x

The role of the Lena Passi Shelter

The Manager of the Lena Passi Shelter explained that the Shelter was established on the principle of keeping families together, which made it a unique Shelter and unlike any other on the mainland. It recognized that all members of a community had to live on the same island, both victims and perpetrators. Thus resolving conflicts was the preferred outcome. The Manager of the Lena Passi Shelter also said the main role of the Lena Passi Shelter was as a Crisis Centre, not a Prevention Centre. The Shelter did not have a trained counsellor. The Shelter policy was to refer on; staff did not normally counsel victims about their childhood experience. However the Manager was concerned that the available counselling services at Thursday Island were very limited. A Social Worker at T.I. confirmed that the Lena Passi Shelter was more of an accommodation venue than a counselling Shelter or a place where professional support staff worked out what to do next x

The Shelter Manager said most female victims had a plan of some sort – for example, they wanted to find accommodation in Cairns or surrounds so they were sent on to the Cairns Shelter. However a lot of the women go back to their island home situations. The Shelter Manager said most women who stay in the Shelter “give the feller a break” – they say “I’ll go back and it will be ok”. In the case of women from island communities it is common for the husband to come in to T.I. in a dinghy. The husband gets a sister or a female relative to come up to the Shelter to tell them their husband is here waiting for them. Shelter staff suddenly find that the women clients have gone back to their communities with their husbands, without giving notice.

The Manager said that if a male visitor needed or wanted counselling, the Shelter Manager said she could only refer them on, but could not give them accommodation. Men could go to the local Jumala Dubbins Aboriginal Hostel at T.I. (not far from the Shelter).

Earlier programs run by Lena Passi were said to include: ‘Walk Away Cool Down’, ‘Reclaim the Night’, ‘International Women’s Day’, and ‘D.V. Week’. Lena Passi used to get money for D.V. prevention which was used for pamphlets. The pamphlets were [inappropriately] sent to low literacy communities.

The role of the Lena Passi Court Support Worker

The Lena Passi Court Support Worker, described the Court Support Worker’s role as to look after the Shelter’s clients, see to their needs and wants, assist them, and to give them the best advice; and also to advise people of the standard problem: “Not to go back to their partner and fall into the same trap.” [However note the propensity for victims to do this, as pointed out earlier.] The Lena Passi Manager explained that the role involves engagement with the client, and helping them to overcome communication barriers e.g. with the Police. Also assisting them to fill out forms (e.g. Centrelink). Whereas the Court Worker goes to the Court, the victim does not actually have to appear in Court, but only has to submit a statement to the Court. The evidence is given to the Court by the Police. (Most of the work of the Court Support Worker is actually done at the Lena Passi Shelter itself, not in the Court).

The Lena Passi Court Support Worker also assists in facilitating D.V. Orders but the D.V. Order is mainly the result of Court work: the Police deliver a temporary restraining order on the perpetrator straight away, before the Court considers a more permanent Order.

The role of the Shelter Support Worker

The Lena Passi Manager described the role of the Shelter Support worker as providing after-hours support and carrying out the same role as Court Support Worker, but including on weekends and nights, whenever victims come in. (It was said that Tuesday mornings was a common time for people to arrive from the outer islands.)

The role of the Lena Passi D.V. Outreach Workers

Lena Passi Shelter has four part-time outreach positions, located at (i) Warraber to service the Central Islands, (ii) Saibai to service the Top-Western Islands, (iii) Murray Island (but this position was vacant at time of interviewing) to service the Eastern Islands, and (iv) St Pauls to service the Mid-Western Islands . The Manager said there had been no funds in the recent past to bring the Outreach Workers in for meetings or for up-skilling, training etc. The Manager conducted one-on-one meetings with them on the phone. Only in 2007 were some funds allocated for training. Training was needed on the different legislations relevant to D.V. and F.V.. x

One of the Outreach Workers, x was based in the Mid-Western Islands, and said she was paid for ten hours work a week from Lena Passi, but also said she did extensive unpaid overtime. She flew into T.I. for a meeting or workshop every now and again at her own expense [Another worker] who was based in the Mid-Western Islands, said he was paid for only ten hours a fortnight by Lena Passi, but he said he was a full-time violence worker because violence can happen at any time .

[He] x said he was working from his home, and identified his need for a counselling office. [He] said his practice involved a visit to his client whom he usually identified as a couple, and talking to both of them together i.e. the male and female partner, and trying different counselling techniques. [He] x emphasized the need for the D.V. Outreach Worker to provide a good role model: “…if you’re doing something wrong in front of them they won’t respect you.” [He] . is also a Deacon in a local church and his roles as D.V. Outreach Worker and Deacon clearly overlap in his approach to his job. He held regular workshops for couples and parents, as well as nightly Church-based activities

Getting Victims to the Women’s Lena Passi Shelter at T.I. from the Outer Islands

A D.V. Worker in a Central West Island said once someone is bashed (e.g. at St Pauls or Kubin) she phones the help line. When the charter plane arrives, she escorts the woman (sometimes with up to six children) to the airport and then accompanies them to the Shelter at T.I.. Female victims from Kubin come to her house at St Pauls, even though the airstrip is at Kubin, to get away from D.V.. When the plane comes, they go back to Kubin with the D.V. Officer and Police Officer to Thursday Island. (Note: When a victim flies in, it was said that ‘D.V. Connect’ only pays for three of the victim’s children’s airfares – but often there are up to five or six children.) One Social worker gave an account of a woman evacuated to the hospital who had been beaten within an inch of her life, and of another victim who had received severe internal injuries x

A female Counsellor from a Central Island identified the time between the D.V. incident and the arrival of the plane as one of vulnerability for the victim. She said she did a lot of voluntary work in this regard: “waiting for time for plane to arrive, fear of [more] violence – we not protected”

Service gap: This last comment highlights the need for secure Safe Houses for women and children in many such T.S.I. communities.

NPA Women’s Shelter

The NPA Women’s Shelter is operated by the NPA Women’s Shelter Corporation Board at Bamaga. It contains, on one side, four self-contained units for women with children, and each unit sleeps ten. On the second side is a hostel for single women, which sleeps seven. There are 55 beds in total for women and children. This Shelter was opened in June 2006. Prior to that, starting in 1992 a three-bedroom house had been used as the Shelter, but it was very crowded; there were 18 people there during one Christmas.

“There is a fluctuation of use, in the new Shelter with usually three to four families every weekend. There was a recent period of four or five months with hardly anyone. It was quiet during the first half of the year, but when the dry season arrives, lots more substances are coming in. There was more use in the dry season this year. The roads dry out and the marijuana starts coming in. More work and thus money also coming into the community. The majority weren’t badly beaten. This is because we educate the ladies to pick out the warning signs and come in early. So many do not have anything [physical] happen to them. They come for a retreat or ‘time out’. Some women have mental health issues and come in for time out and rest. A new generation are coming in now, a younger generation. Problems can start on a Thursday when CDEP pay [is distributed]; Thursday to Sunday is often peak usage, but sometimes Monday and Tuesday as well.” x

One Worker from the Shelter described the Shelter response as follows: “Women (with children) coming to the Shelter, suffering mental and physical abuse by partners. Fathers are usually drinking, with drugs involved, and money involved. Sometimes children get injured. Marijuana mostly; heavy stuff, which comes from the south (not PNG).”

The Torres Strait Regional Healing Centre

The T.S. Regional Healing Centre is also known as ‘Keriba Dhoenidhan Bi “Healing Light” – Torres Strait Regional Healing Service’. The Healing Centre was established in 2004 and had its funding administered through the auspices of TRAWQ (an NGO at T.I.), which administered the government programme grants, paid creditors and administered salaries etc. In terms of its leadership and vision, the Healing Centre was under the directorship of three ‘Project Partners’ – all NGOs with female managers, viz (i) Mura Kosker, (ii) Port Kennedy Association, (iii) Lena Passi Shelter. Mura Kosker is a multi-purpose women’s organization; Port Kennedy Association Inc. looks after the people of the suburb of Port Kennedy at T.I. and Lena Passi runs the Women’s Shelter and a D.V. program. The Coordinator of the Healing Centre (which was unincorporated) reported to the Project Partners. (It did remain somewhat ambiguous and unclear to the author whether the Partners were in fact the actual NGOs or their Managers as individuals.).

The Healing Centre closed down in early 2008 due to TRAWQ going into liquidation, but despite its shortcomings, had an important role in addressing F.V. in the Torres Strait Region.

The early phase of the Healing Service

Various views were obtained on the origin of the Healing Centre and its early ideology. The Torres Shire Mayor explained: “Charles Passi worked for Mura Kosker. He had the original concept for the Healing Centre as a family-based ‘incubator’, for healing to be delivered to children, to bring a sense of responsibility, or children will get hurt. [He was] arguing for a customary structure, to target it as a holistic community, a self-healing entity, with each individual having roles and responsibility – traditionally men, women, gardeners, fishers etc all knew their roles.” A Social Worker, who later worked for the Healing Centre also acknowledged [him] as the creator of Village Committee Model and formally thanked [him] for coming up with this good idea x

A Social Worker involved in the start of the Healing Centre said that originally the main function was defined as helping people to recover from D.V.. There was to be a focus on women and children, and on community outreach. But there was also a recognized need for a male social worker to work with men. A two-prong attack for both victims and perpetrators was to be based on counselling and community development, but this did not eventuate. x

The original Mission Statement of the Healing Service is contained in Appendix 2 of this report, but it needs to be recognized that much of its vision was unrealised due to a lack of resources.

The objectives and goals of the Healing Service according to its Mission Statement (see Appendix 2) were as follows:-

To establish a service that is culturally appropriate and in line with traditions and customs;

To enhance existing services in the region;

To establish counselling and mediation service in the region;

To establish a database that will highlight social issues in the region;

To coordinate the social services forum in the region;

To decrease the number of Family Violence cases within the region; and

To ensure community involvement, community participation and community ownership of social problems within their community.

The Village Committee Model

A Healing Centre staff member said Village Committees were originally established in 2005 at Darnley, Ugar, St Pauls, Kubin, Badu, Saibai, (but not Murray or Central Islands). They were there to help combat D.V. in the communities. (L.D., 23/8/07.) A Project Partner also said that the Healing Centre had workshops at these places, but also added Mabuiag, plus several Workshops in T.I. . (This evidence for any workshops was not sighted by the author.)

One Social Worker said the plan for the Village Committee involved male and female representatives on every island; someone who could be contacted by victims, and who would handle any issue concerning any form of Family Violence. The Healing Centre at T.I. together with the support agencies would call together stakeholders to prepare an Action Plan for each community and then implement it. [The author’s consultant] said that the Steering Committee of the Healing Centre should be a member of each Village Committee. [He] explained that the Project Partners were sitting in a Reference Group, and information from Village Committees was to be then tabled through the Healing Centre at two forums per year x

A large workshop was held in May 2006, involving two people being brought in from each T.S.I. community to participate, identify the issues in their communities, propose solutions, and to become part of the healing network of Village Committees . However there was no opportunity to teach them even basic counselling skills. They returned to their communities with the best of intentions, but there was no ongoing travel budget to bring them back in again, or for anyone from T.I. to visit them on a regular basis. The Social Worker added “there was no money left to go back to islands to do what we wanted; this restricted counselling to people who were on, or who came to T.I..” This Workshop was in fact an attempt to implement the Village Committee Model.

In December 2007, x. [one interviewee] spoke as if these Village Committees were still operating: “Two workers are out there, in all of them [communities]. [But he said he had] never visited to see it in action.” [He] conceded that the Village Committees may be waiting for a workshop to keep going and may be dormant. No evaluation had been done of the Village Committee scheme. It was clear that various individual Councillors from outer islands were not aware of the proposal. Nevertheless there was widespread support for the concept of the Village Committees amongst those of the author’s interviewees who knew about the original proposal. For example a[n officer] from the Department of Health said the Village Committee was a very good model for the Healing Centre – “there were numerous meetings, with lots of people involved [at the time].” x

Service gap: All F.V. programmes in the T.S.I. need a program evaluation component.

The later phase of the Healing Centre

The Worker at the Healing Centre, x., was interviewed about the later history of the organization.

He said that in mid-2004 there was only the Coordinator there by herself at the Healing Centre. [He] x. came in 2005 to work at the Centre, starting in November/December. [He] x. came from Cairns via Mabuiag after working there for two years. [He] x and [a more experienced female Social Worker] were employed at the Centre for two days a week, but were there nearly every day, sharing the role of Counsellor. [He] x started in the Healing Centre as a Social Worker (he had a Bachelor of Social Work from JCU), but was placed under [a more experienced social worker] as a consultant. [The worker] x was working three days a week, doing counselling. However [his] role was to be an ‘ice breaker’ by going out to encourage people to come into the Centre, especially men but also women. His goal was to re-group the men, and to encourage the men to get together for men’s meetings. [He] x talked to all vicars, priests, T.O.s and Councillors. [He] x kept a ‘sign-on’ book (or Visitors Book) at the Healing Centre. [He] . said he had good ties with Meriam people and he also had ties to the Central islands; he was comfortable working with his people in the west and far west islands. But no trips occurred for him to the Central and Eastern islands, since there was no travel budget. x

In the meantime the [other workers] both resigned and were not replaced. The available funds were then used to employ [another worker] x who was carrying out all of the counselling services, both face-to-face and by telephone, and x a receptionist and trainee worker.

[He] x said the Shelter received clients with written referrals from the Departments of Child Safety and Health, from Probation and Parole, doctors, nurses, health workers and from the Lena Passi Women’s Shelter. Counselling work built up over time. After the May workshop, [he] said the numbers of inquirers and clients started to ring into the Healing Centre on a more frequent basis. When people phoned in, the Healing Centre staff were instructed to get the name, phone number, and location of the client first – as it might be their last $2. So staff could then phone back to their islands and contact Village Committee members to seek assistance for them. x

The numbers of inquiries escalated. [He] x made a differentiation between an informal ‘participant’ using the Centre’s resources and a ‘client’ receiving counselling at the Healing Centre e.g. one person might come for photocopy – they were a participant. Youth were also starting to come into the Healing Centre. Various participants were referred on. [He] x said he was directing some women to the women’s organization Mura Kosker, e.g. on civil issues. If clients needed spiritual guidance, then they were sent direct to the Bishop. x

x. [He] said that “often clients did not say things up front, and resisted being re-directed anywhere; they would say “don’t want to talk to them” – there was sensitivity about whom they would talk to. [He] x had techniques to draw their concerns out gradually. Many were using the Healing Centre to ‘off-load’ [their worries]. The Healing Centre was also getting old people aged in their 70s x [He] said “often they [the client] might talk about another person – but really they would be talking about themselves.” x

x x x x x

In December 2007, [he] was not able to provide a written quantitative analysis of his clients over the period 2006-07, but he provided the following details from memory to profile his service. He said since the Village Committee workshop (May 2006), some 200+ people had been given information and advice. [He] x said he had received calls from all island communities since he had worked at the Healing Centre. In 2007 he saw or talked to an average of 20+ people per day, the majority being from Thursday Island. His phone inquiries were often more from the outer islands. He experienced inquiries and problems on all types of F.V., but he found his work concentrated on (a) abuse in families (“family don’t say things”), and (b) child abuse (“neighbours don’t report – they say “not our business”). As well as providing counselling, [he] x referred people on to such places as Mura Kosker, Health Department, and Child Safety.

[He] . said the Healing Centre promoted the message “it’s your right to talk to someone about it” x. He said the Healing Centre gave an environment for people to talk about their problems, and that he was “always picking up pieces of pain; that pain had been fragmented” Many of the problems discussed were not necessarily directly to do with F.V. but more to do with the underlying issues and causal factors. For example the staff also did family budgeting but were not well qualified in this area

The issue of appropriate counselling personnel (gender and cultural background)

[He] was sensitive to the circumstances of being a male counsellor, but seeing female victims on a regular basis. “There was an argument of needing a woman to talk to a woman - based on an assumption. But women are happy to see me – [I] always made sure a female staff member there at the time. If [I] had an approach from a woman, then used x x [the female workers at the Healing Centre] or a volunteer support worker, x [to be present during the interview]. [We] would like a female counsellor but there was no money after [another worker] left. Some women do want a woman Counsellor, or are [others] ok with either female or male. Always ask them first” [ethical approach].

Nevertheless some Justice Group members were of the view that it was unprofessional for a man to be counselling women at the Healing Centre, noting that some of the same people had gone back to Court and provided anecdotes about their lack of satisfaction

The issue of having an appropriate set of choices for counselling is always complex in Indigenous communities. For example, x a worker at the Healing Centre, gave her views on counselling as follows: “[I’ve] been a D.V. victim myself – it goes back to parent [values]. I went to a Social Worker for counselling. In their mentality – the men are afraid to come forward. For women it doesn’t matter who we talk to. For a man, [he is] afraid to talk to own colour – safer talking to a white person. Most of us women are coming out now; but it is the man who is afraid of coming out now…because everyone is related.” x



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