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



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Plain English questions

The above brief was re-formatted into the following plain English research questions, interviewing was then semi-structured based on the responses to these questions in order to elicit qualitative aspects of Family Violence (F.V.).

Are there violence problems in T.S. communities? What are they? Are there different sorts of problems? How does each problem happen?

What can be done to stop problems happening?

What can be done to intervene when problems are happening?

After problems have happened, what can be done to prevent them happening again? How can healing take place on both sides?

What services in place already? What is their history? How can these services be strengthened?

What are the service gaps? Who should fill these gaps? Is there a need for new services to be run by T.S.I. people? (Policies, Strategies, Campaigns.)

How much can be done from inside communities already? Who will take up the duty of care?

Consultation with Torres Strait Islanders

The diversity of project aims combined with the budget restrictions made it implausible to carry out a systematic survey of victims and/or perpetrators throughout the many island communities. An alternate approach was formulated based on the premise that there was already extensive expertise within the Torres Strait region on Family Violence problems. The author sought out as many of these experts as possible to engage into the data collection process, irrespective of whether they were Indigenous or non-Indigenous, and knowing that some of them may have been victims and/or perpetrators themselves in the past. A large range of people were interviewed, the majority of whom were Indigenous. They included public servants from Queensland Departments of Police, Health, Communities, Child Safety, Corrective Services, Disability Services, and Justice and Attorney-General; x [and] Torres Strait Islander organizations x x x x x x x x x x x x x . As well as the [above] Cx x x x x each community in the region, across-section of community-based leaders and F.V. Workers were interviewed including from xax x x x x x x x The twelve police interviewed ranged from the Assistant Commissioner and Inspector ranks down to the levels of constables and Community Police Liaison Officers, x x x

The financial constraints of the project prevented visitation to most communities. Interviews were carried out mainly on Thursday Island and including when key leaders came for meetings, or by telephone conferencing. The author did spend time at three selected communities to assess local conditions and carry out interviews, the three communities being located on a Central, Mid-Western and South-Western Island respectively.

Interviewees were given an opportunity to have their actual names appear in the report or to remain anonymous by having a pseudonym utilized. Most chose the latter, so the author has substituted fictitious initials for each interviewee’s name, whilst retaining an accurate profile of their work role in F.V. servicing. In some cases the author has also scrambled the gender of interviewees to minimize the likelihood of their identity being guessed in particularly sensitive contexts.

One individual who commenced in the role of expert interviewee was elevated to that of field research assistant and the author’s personal consultant on the project (and finally co-author) due to their in-depth knowledge, creative analysis, and commitment and leadership to addressing F.V..

The detailed list of interviewees (with pseudonym initials) follows.

List of Organizations and Personnel interviewed

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Literature review

Bibliographic sources

The research team sought to identify literature about Torres Strait Islander people seeking specific references that identified findings pertaining to the Torres Strait region and those T.S.I. communities of the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) of Cape York. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) library ‘Mura’ collections catalogue was accessed and four main search categories were entered. The first search category entered covered the broad subject matter, “Torres Strait Islander” rendering 1026 references and was further narrowed to the category search, “Torres Strait Islander Violence” with no findings located. Further searches entered sought to identify any literature with the words or phrases, “Torres Strait Islander family violence” resulting in 21 title findings and the additional search category, “Torres Strait Islander Violence” with 62 items located.

The Ngualaig Bibliography of the Torres Strait, 2004 compiled by Anna Shnukal published by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit (ATSISU) (University of Qld), is a non-selective bibliography containing 3,000 entries with a focus on scholarly published material (along with papers in electronic journals) and a range of non-academic material. The bibliography is exceptional in that where Torres Strait material is restricted to a single chapter or part of a larger work, the bibliography lists only that chapter or part along with full bibliographical details, including pagination. The bibliography is subdivided into 22 subdivisions of which six broad subject categories were relevant to this study (Shnukal 2004b).

Limitation and non-specificity of the Indigenous F.V. literature

A large number of the sources identified from the bibliographic searches applied general findings about Indigenous Family Violence without specifically identifying Torres Strait Islander peoples in contrast to Aboriginal peoples. Sources attributed these general findings to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples even in regions where Torres Strait Island populations are negligible. In the case of mainland centres where large populations of Torres Strait Islanders can be statistically identified, the literature findings were often generalised, again merging Aboriginal and T.S.I. findings together, and obscuring any specific details about distinct Torres Strait Islander cultural groups. National studies of Family Violence were often similarly generalised with no separable findings on Aboriginal and T.S.I. findings, nor of T.S.I. data from the Torres Strait versus mainland T.S. diaspora groups. Hence, in many cases definitive findings and/or conclusions could often not be made as regards to Torres Strait Islanders and the incidence of Family Violence in the Northern Peninsula Area as well as in the Torres Strait Islands, due to this practice.

Sometimes the research specifically avoided separating the findings between the distinct Indigenous cultural groups of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in order to circumnavigate around the prospect of biased perception of exclusion, surrounding both cultures and research. Any research into Indigenous issues, particularly those that centre on the highly sensitive nature of Family Violence, ethically needs to ensure confidentiality in order to protect an individuals’ organisation or community identity. It follows then that the majority of literature on this subject implicitly fails to identify individuals and in some instances, individual communities, rural townships or urban centres. Although this approach may have the ethically commendable objective of inclusiveness, it fails to render any significant body of work that identifies Torres Strait Islander Family Violence as a distinct phenomenon. Therefore, the number of Family Violence related studies that specifically address or identify the Torres Strait Islands as a region, along with the related NPA communities, are relatively few. Correlations are unable to be drawn from many of the literature findings and connected to the study region of the current project.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Taskforce on Violence Report (Qld, DATSIPD 1999)

One of the most recent significant research reports into Family Violence in Queensland is The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Women’s Taskforce on Violence Report (Qld, DATSIPD 1999). This report once again generalised the majority of research findings to apply to all Indigenous peoples in Queensland. The Report identifies in the section, Research Submissions and Consultations (Qld, DATSIPD 1999:20-22), that consultations were held through visits to a total of 21 Deed of Grants in Trust (DOGIT) communities/Reserves along with 28 rural and isolated communities. In both of these listings, the Islands of the Torres Strait are listed separately under each respective sub-heading. Those places specifically noted pertaining to the current research region, include the DOGIT communities located in the NPA, these being Bamaga, Old Mapoon, Injinoo, New Mapoon, Umagico along with reference to, “… the Islands of the Torres Strait” (Qld, DATSIPD 1999:20-22). The latter generalized reference to “… the Islands of the Torres Strait” recurs in the body of the report making a total of ten references comprised as follows:

Two refer to the impact of colonisation on Torres Strait Islander peoples and family structures (Qld, DATSIPD 1999:61,63);

Two refer to the delivery of services from Thursday Island to the outer islands with both noting inadequate health services in medical emergency situations after the occurrence of violence (Qld, DATSIPD 1999:152,189);

Two references are made to the outer islands of the Torres Strait with regard to inadequate legal and police services (Qld, DATSIPD 1999:183,198);

One refers to nutrition and the cost of essential food provisions (Qld, DATSIPD 1999:153);

One refers to holistic health services (Qld, DATSIPD 1999:168);

Two refer to recommendations for policing services to the outer Islands of the Torres Strait (Qld, DATSIPD 1999:209,232-233).

Some 23 specific geographic regional issues were summarised in Appendix 4:Regional Issues (1999:287-295), but this section excluded any summary of findings specific to the Torres Strait Islands or the Northern Peninsula Area.

It should be noted that the ATSI Women’s Taskforce on Violence consisted of a total of 50 women of whom there were only two representatives from the Torres Strait Islands, Ms Cath Titasey (Torres Strait Islands) and Ms Kailang Dorante (Thursday Island). The Report’s ‘Appendix 2: Submissions List’ (Qld, DATSIPD 1999:269-284) identifies a total of 43 report submissions, yet it is without any submission from any individual or organization in the Torres Straits. ‘Appendix 3: Consultations’ (Qld, DATSIPD 1999:285-286) lists 14 individuals some of whom were both members of the ATSI Women’s Task Force on Violence and the smaller Task Force Working group who were responsible for consultation in three defined regional areas consisting of remote, rural and urban settlement types. Notably one representative, Ms Kailang Dorante was identified as the consultant for the Torres Strait Islands, but a list of individual Islands consulted in the Torres Strait other than Thursday Island is not included. Ms Edwina Tolkaikan (sp: Tolkalkan?) was identified as the Task Force representative from Aurukun and Working Group consultant for Aurukun and surrounding areas, however, this reference is too general to conclude whether any of the NPA communities were consulted. The exact level of coverage of the Torres Strait region in the Report is therefore not clear, but appears to be under reported.

In summary, the ATSI Women’s Taskforce on Violence Report, although comprehensive in its broad and specific conclusions about the communities consulted, merged its Torres Strait Islander findings with the Aboriginal findings for the majority of the research, tending to be inclusive of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It did not include consultation references that specifically identified any of the NPA communities. A total of ten references to the Islands of the Torres Strait were made in the study in which generalised findings are made across the Torres Straits with only two specific references to Thursday Island and the outer islands of the Torres Strait. However, where geographic regional issues were summarised, they excluded any summary of findings specific to the Torres Strait Islands, or the Northern Peninsula Areas. (Qld, DATSIPD 1999.) Whilst the Report is very useful for a whole-of State perspective, it is of limited use for application in a regional perspective of the Torres Strait as required in the current study.

Key literature on Torres Strait Social Organization

A key body of ethnographic literature for the Torres Strait was collected by the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition which visited the study region during April-October 1898 and was funded and planned from Cambridge University (England). This Expedition was designed “as a multidisciplinary project” which “generated an enormous corpus of information” on Torres Strait Islander life. Described as an “unprecendentedly comprehensive anthropological study”, expedition members (under the leadership of A.C. Haddon) researched their fields of expertise which included ethnology, physical anthropology, psychology, linguistics, sociology, ethnomusicology and anthropogeography, with the results being compiled into a six volume Report (1901-1935) (Herle & Rouse 1998:1,3.) Rivers’ contribution on the Expedition was the collecting and recording of local genealogies which “[h]e soon realised…were crucial to understanding a variety of sociological data as well as the fundamental organising principle of social groups” (Herle & Rouse 1998:17). Herle and Rouse state that the Expedition Reports “continue to be an important source for researchers in the area” and are “a crucial source of historical and personal information for contemporary Islanders” (1998:18).

Finch (1977), Singe (1979) and Beckett’s (1987) work in the Torres Strait further document various aspects of Islander social life in the mid 20th century including religious customs, social organization, subsistence and kinship amongst others. Finch’s (1977) publication titled “The Torres Strait Islands” is drawn from information that he collected from consultations with Islanders during his visits to the Torres Straits, as well as from a small list of authors. Finch covers the early cultural history of the Torres Strait through to descriptions of the Islands and their people in the 1970s. Finch however was an educationalist who was primarily motivated with improving cultural resources for schools and colleges, which might explain his lack of scholarly attention to citing all of his sources.

The anthropologist Beckett provides the most scholarly and in-depth analysis of cultural and social change in the Torres Strait at a systematic level. Beckett said that his first visit to the Torres Strait in 1958 was to “take up the task that [Haddon] had left for his successors” (1987:x). His fieldwork (1958-1961) mainly took place on Murray, Badu and Saibai. Linguists, Rod and Judy Kennedy (1986), give a comprehensive account of the role and responsibilities of particular individuals in regards to family obligations, ceremonial matters such as organising and holding feasts, work relationships and the relationship with the church. Their work derives from 13 years of living and working with the Western Torres Strait Islanders and learning their culture and the Kala Lagaw Ya language. The Kennedy’s publication was intended to “assist in the process of listening to Islanders” and “display sensitivity to Islander culture and help to provide a backdrop for discussion with, and questions of, Islanders” with the aim of helping Westerners understand Torres Strait Islander culture. (Kennedy & Kennedy 1990:v, ix.)

A more recent piece of definitive research of significance to the current study, has been “Torres Strait Islander Parenting: Buai Sei Wagel” (‘family for the future’) which aimed to explore the practices that Torres Strait Islander parents and kin used in the rearing of their children and the beliefs, attitudes and values which underpin these practices (Hunter et al 1999). The Buai Sei Boey Wagel project was undertaken by researchers from the University of Queensland and the Australian Institute of Family Studies with guidance from the Torres and Northern Peninsula Area Health Council. It was funded by the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health of the Commonwealth Department of Health. The Australian Government’s Department of FaCSIA funded a second recent large-scale project which recognised the fundamental role of the extended family structure in Torres Strait Islander culture and the importance of the kinship system and family members’ rights and responsibilities in caring for and raising children. FaCSIA resourced the “Growing Up in the Torres Strait Region” study (CRC et al 2006) as part of the wider ‘Footprints in Time’ research which aimed to provide a longitudinal examination of Indigenous families’ lives across a number of sites in Australia. The Torres Strait component was carried out by the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health and its research partners.

The T.S.I. adoption literature

The unique adoption practices of the T.S.I., together with attempts to have these practices legally recognized by the Queensland Government have generated a small but relevant body of literature on this topic. Traditional adoption in the Torres Strait was first recorded by the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition at the turn of the 19th Century when they undertook their exhaustive study. Since that time there was very little written about the practice up until the late 20th century, other than minor articles by anthropologists. Then McDonald (1980) wrote a thesis on the study of adoption and social organisation of Islanders living in the Top-Western Island cluster of the Torres Strait. She found that adoption was an important way in which Islanders expressed social relations, and was one of the last remaining institutions which had not been lost due to social upheaval since white contact.

Paul Ban’s Masters Thesis titled “The Application of the Queensland Adoption Act 1964-1988 to the Traditional Adoption Practice of Torres Strait Islanders” (1990), provided a significant “contribution to the development of knowledge in this area” and served to highlight the importance of understanding this customary practice “within the totality of Islander culture” (Ban 1990:1, 2). In his thesis, Ban defines traditional adoption practice and draws on the similarities and differences between Westerner and Islander adoption, setting these within a conceptual background of race relations in order to explain the difficulties the western legal institution has in understanding traditional Islander adoption. His later work - a number of reports and papers on Torres Strait Islander family life (Ban 1993a) and customary adoption (Ban 1993b, 1993c; 1994), highlight the need for the traditional practice to be recognised in Queensland legislation.

Ban’s (1993c) “Report to Queensland Government on Legal Recognition of Torres Strait Islander Customary Adoption” provides information on the problems experienced by Torres Strait Islanders regarding traditional adoption and the possible solutions that the Islanders have to those problems. Ban’s report (1993c:13,14) outlines the history of adoption legislations in Queensland as well as the series of policies used by successive administrating departments. On the cover of this report to the Queensland Government are the words ‘Danalgau Pui’ in Kala Lagaw Ya (the language of the Central and Western Islands), and ‘Idid Ira Lu’ in Meriam Mir (the language of the Eastern Islands): The author’s T.S.I. consultant (H.M.) indicated these phrases translated as a general literal title of ‘Things of Living’, whilst the specific interpretation of the title is ‘Tree of Life’ (H.M., 7/12/07).

Ban’s (1993c:11,12) report draws on the findings of a number of anthropologists who have worked in the Torres Strait, whom together have highlighted the most common features of Torres Strait Islander customary adoption, being that:

adoption provides a sense of stability to the social order of Torres Strait Islander society and is seen to have a useful function;

adoption is characterized by the notions of reciprocity and obligation;

adoption occurs frequently within Torres Strait Islander society;

adoption generally occurs within the wider extended family network; and

the intention of adoption is one of permanent care rather than temporary care.

Iina Torres Strait Islanders Corporation (1996), based in Brisbane, was engaged by the National Child Protection Council to develop a Proposed Plan of Action to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect in Torres Strait Islander communities. Twelve key issues were highlighted by Iina as areas that required consideration in the prevention of child abuse. They included the need for documentation of customary child rearing practices, the case for acknowledging traditional adoption practices in legislation, and the importance of the role of parenting and the extended family in T.S.I. culture. (Iina 1996.)

CHAPTER 2: PROFILE OF FAMILY VIOLENCE IN THE TORRES STRAIT REGION

Introduction

The Terms of Reference asked “What is the incidence and prevalence of domestic and family violence in Torres Strait Islander communities?” This question has been addressed in this chapter by a combination of fieldwork and statistical analysis.

The analysis throughout this chapter divides and differentiates family violence into the following specific types of violence:-

Spouse assault

Homicide


Rape and sexual assault

Child violence

Suicide

Self injury



Same-sex, one-on-one, adult conflicts

Inter-group violence

Psychological abuse

Economic abuse

Cyclic violence

Dysfunctional community syndrome.

Brief definitions of these individual categories of violence will be outlined later in this chapter.

On occasions the author used a simple tick-sheet measure (see Figure 2 below) of the extent of the different forms of Family Violence with responsible interviewees who were considered to have substantial experience of Family Violence in specific communities. x x x x x .

How often do violence events happen?

Categories of Indigenous Violence

Categories of Indigenous Violence Non-existent Rarely happens (every few years) Occasionally happens (a few times a year) Happens regularly (about once every one or two months) Happens frequently (about one a week or fortnight) Happens very frequently (almost everyday or a few times every week)

Spouse assault (husband/wife, wife/husband)

Homicide (killing someone)

Rape and sexual assault (including on children)

Child violence (assault)

Suicide

Self-injury (eg slashing)

Same-gender, one-on-one, adult conflicts (male/male or female/female)

Inter-group violence (families, gangs)

Psychological abuse (includes threats, untrue gossip)

Cyclic violence (following one’s parents)

Figure 2: Proforma of simple ticksheet used by the consultant to request Torres Strait Islander interviewees to gauge the extent of Family Violence in particular communities.

There was consensus among those consulted in the current study that there was a large amount of unrecorded family violence in the Torres Strait Region. The following comments by interviewees from a cross-section of services sum up this lack of family violence reporting.

Everywhere in the islands there are a lot of unrecorded incidences – people won’t come forward and volunteer information. Sometimes they are scared; the victim goes from one experience to another. x x.



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