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

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The Corrective Services Office had also been running the ‘Ending Family Violence Program’ with eight at a time participating [possibly titled ‘Ending Offending and Ending F.V.’]. This Program was originally designed for Indigenous offenders as a three-day solid program, done through a set of books, but this was found to be impractical at T.I.. Men who were from outer islands were often at grade 5 literacy level. The program identifies triggers and emotions, and the men then worked on their plan. But Corrective Services staff at T.I. had changed it into a ‘hands-on’ approach, rather than using books, and had evolved it to become group-oriented sessions, still done in a three-day timeframe. Men on Court Orders came in from outer islands to do this three-day course. However [she] x said the course would be better run for one afternoon a week for eight weeks; and that her staff were trying to develop such an approach despite the problems of inter-island travel.

An issue for men in the outer islands, was that the Court required them to undertake this course at Thursday Island, but neither it nor any Department would cover the travel and accommodation costs for them to attend it. They may have a reasonable excuse not to come, usually no money, and this meant the offender did not have to do the course. Work commitments and/or financial restraints were deemed to be a reasonable excuse not to have to attend. [This is clearly a service gap.] A recent development for the Office was the receipt of some funds to take programs to the islands but this had not commenced. There was a plan to us shared charter flights and aim to get to each island cluster at least every month. A Department of Communities Officer made a similar comment: “because it is a fly-in, fly-out service, Community Service Orders are not adhered to, because no local supervisory staff [on islands]”

The Corrective Services office works closely with the T.I. Justice Group, who have once-a-year jail visits at Lotus Glen and it is hoped to have Video Conferencing visits in future.

Gaps in programmes for perpetrators

Apart from voluntarily accessing counselling at the Healing Service, there were no other external D.V. programmes [i.e. out of jail]. There were no preventative, or proactive programmes in communities to reform or prevent perpetrators. [She] x said that an Anger Management program was needed in the T.S. region. There was a State Government ‘Anger Management Programme’ in Queensland but there was no one to run it at T.I..

NPA services for returning prisoners

In contrast to the T.S.I. region, the NPA Women’s Shelter ATSI Corporation had a range of services to offer offenders when they returned from prison as T.U. describes despite the absence of a Corrective Services Office at NPA. “Offenders are coming back into the community. Work one-on-one. Look at where the problem started. Try to smother out the problem. Where can they go to? Stop re-offending by introducing them to get employment out of the community for a short period of time. Still the aim is to integrate them. But it has to come from them.

The Corporation had had many meetings with Correctional Services to coordinate training and employment – they can get a ticket in Lotus Glen, then when they come out, see what sort of programs are available eg get a backhoe license in prison, then link in with Council to get a job – self-esteem is boosted – has a job. Now need to link this to the new amalgamated Council.

Service Gaps – Perpetrator’s lack of re-integration to community

The Council from a Central Island sent a request to the Governor in Council to change the State law so as to exclude convicted child sex abusers from returning to the community; but the proposed amendment was rejected. One [interviewee] commented “What is happening about perpetrators? Ok to counsel victim, but [she] still have to go back to spouse” The data presented at different points in this report indicate that the lack of a method to socially and morally re-integrate perpetrators back into the community represents a major service gap.

Holistic approaches to F.V. service delivery

A set of holistic F.V. services in the NPA

The NPA Women’s Shelter ATSI Corporation is an umbrella organization that runs an holistic set of services through the Bamaga Family Resource Centre services Bamaga, Umagico, Seisia, New Mapoon and Injinoo i.e. all five NPA communities. Services include the NPA Women’s Shelter, Men’s Group and the returning prisoners’ programme as described earlier. The NPA Women’s Shelter Corporation Board has ten Management Committee members all female, selected from the 25 members of the Corporation, with five from each NPA community

The Family Resource Centre at Bamaga incorporates an Administration Centre, a Child Protection Service including a

Recognised Entity, a child and parent support and counselling service, an ATODs Counsellor, a parent education programme, and an intensive family support service

Partnerships with government departments were said to include the Department of Community who “come up and work out if culturally appropriate”, and the Department of Child Safety in Cairns who are coming into NPA all the time and have a positive partnership x [It was] x explained that the emphasis in the Family Resource Centre was on partnerships and sharing information Services included Family Planning Unit (sex education, two in team); Alcohol and Drugs Unit with ATODS (two in team including one Senior Councillor and an Education Officer); Child Protection Unit (four in that: (1) Intensive Family Care Leader; (2) Integrating Officer; (3) Youth Officer)). Also a Men’s Group Worker, Nutritionist Health Worker, and advertising for Mental Health Workers and Chronic Illness Team.

Other linked NPA structures included:-

Healthy Lifestyle Shop and Programme (educational re chronic illness);

Healing Centre at Injinoo (D.V. Educator, Counsellor, Art Therapist);

A Programme Manager who oversees and does professional development work – TAFE course set-up; and

A Child Care Coordinator who provides services to three Childcare Centres.

All Units support one another’s projects and each programme impacts on all others. The NPA Women’s Shelter said they were regularly asking their communities what they wanted to see in their communities, and looking at new projects all the time.

In addressing F.V. problems, a range of work approaches were employed depending on the context of community location and household type and size. The problem had to be broken down into its various causes and symptoms truancy, health, housing, etc, to make an overall assessment of the situation. There was said to be “no straight level [for problem solution], all up and down in communities”. The first step was to try to educate the family to work out problems for themselves before the various service Units get involved. Linkages often had to be activated between families and across communities. x

An NPA spokesperson described an outcome of the work of the NPA Family Resource Centre that would fall into [the author’s consultant’s] plan for self-healing communities.

“Each community is looking after the other communities. People report neighbours if something happens. We like to see a therapeutic community. The Family Resource Centre targets key social issues and delivers positive message to targeted groups e.g. young fathers and young mothers, children. For example we did alcohol and drug workshops in schools. [We also taught] that it is wrong to stroke somebody without permission. But some are still afraid to speak out. This is a touchy subject with kids. A lot of activities have occurred in [NPA during] the last six months – a lot of families took place – there is some change in families. We are trying to implement things all the time.”

[An interviewee reported] that in the last three months [September-November] few Family Violence cases have arisen; there has been a decrease in F.V.. “We work closely with Police.” x

A member of the NPA Women’s Shelter Board said: “We’ve been educating them, giving them options and choices, do it over and over again, that’s the key. They come in [to the office], make calls, get information about what’s happening. x [We have been instructed] to go into their homes, doing parenting skills. They won’t come to us. We have morning teas with their next door neighbours. Teach skills – parenting skills, discuss gambling, D.V., etc, we’ve been going full on for three years. Now we are seeing the changes. Fruits are coming through. Products are coming through.”

Stability in the NPA organization was identified as a key factor to success, facilitating continuity of service and visions over a long period that has outridden successive government policy changes. The Co-ordinator x said she had been in the organization for 18 years, and “the Management Committee is as ancient as I am in; the team has stuck together.” When we started we were fighting over one car, but we made an agreement to work as a team, and put aside differences. We have some young girls on the Committee now. We always have to have a long-term plan but only go one step at a time. We break the plan into little bits. We started with a Play Group – then we got five Child Day Care Centres. They are still there. We were part of Mura Kosker, with Ellie [Gaffney at the beginning]. We know how it can work. You have to get the messages out.

“We didn’t want to see women coming through [the Shelter] every weekend. There had to be outcomes and changes. We had to try to help the family unit; try to help stop the cycle of violence. There has been a big change this year. The Management Committee comes from all five communities and they tell people to ring the Police. The Police don’t tell the perpetrator who it was who phoned them up. The Police have been pulled out to a lot of domestic violence incidences [due to increased community reporting]. If children are present, they fax the Department of Child Safety who are coming weekly on follow throughs. This has changed our workload. Have given an ‘in’ to families who would not normally come into the Shelter. The community is watching; this helps make them [perpetrators] pull up their socks. Anyone might report who is a witness. People have become good at reporting. When people are turning a blind eye, then things get worse. Everyone needs to pull up their socks. It has taken us a long time to get people to ring up and report.” x

Service gap: Men’s retreat

The NPA Men’s Group coordinator reported that Injinoo community had funds for a ‘Cooling Centre’; he said it was an ideal location since there was no hotel or canteen at Injinoo, and he saw multiple possible uses for it

Service gap: Sporting diversion and sporting role models

x [An interviewee] said that the issue of not enough sports was often raised in NPA. There is a need to get back more football by negotiating with Qld Rugby League. Indigenous sporting icons needed to be used as role models to assist the NPA with a goal of decreasing family and domestic violence. x [The interviewee] commented: “When sports events are happening, families participate and attend; this helps get the kids back on track and then helps get the parents on track.” x

A Policeman said: “Should have a diversion program; Magistrates can use their discretionary powers. Jail is not working. They go back to the old ways.” x

A holistic response combining health and F.V.

A unique and culturally specific project was outlined to the author by [a Department of Health Officer] . A number of names were given for this programme: ‘Danalaig Niai-Idid’, which means “Our Way to live longer”, and it was also called the ‘Inside/out challenge program’. x [The Department of Health Officer] said the project was to build a healthier community through (1) building infrastructure and environment, and through (2) building the people. His goal (a) was to reduce the rate of chronic disease, and his goal (b) was to reduce the number of children with chronic disease risk factors (e.g. obesity). Programme funds had been obtained from Australian Department of Health and Aging to assist with this programme.

[The Department of Health Officer] said x [that] the Department of Health was trying to bridge the gap concerning the premature death rate of Torres Strait Islanders and that this needed to encompass all relevant issues. “[T.S.I. people] die 20-35 years younger due to chronic diseases. Deal with the markers and factors of chronic disease. Some 80% of children are with damaged kidneys. This will lead to F.V.. Also diabetes. 80% of pregnant women have factors of chronic disease; this affects the foetus. F.V. is from people who are sick all the time, because of the stress. How did grandparents [of T.S.I people] live to be 100 years old? What was the discipline etc, in the family unit and the method to hold the family together? [They] didn’t have F.V. as bad then. Chronic disease came due to lifestyle changes. [T.S.I people] came to act like White people, not Torres Strait Islanders.” x

[The Department of Health Officer] Rx said [an employee of the Department of Health] invented this programme in response to his own health problems. [This employee] then first subjected himself and his family to the programme, thereby creating a powerful means to teach others by example. x x x x x x x.


The first part of the program in a community involved carrying out health tests and feeding back the results to the clients and interpreting those results:-

“[The] x program is to go around the islands and look at ways to deal with obesity, blood pressure, overweight, blood sugar and cholesterol. Bring the test information back and workshop the results with the Community. Individuals get their feedback and then doctors consult. Family information comes from the screening. [There are] Project Officers in Murray Island, Darnley Island, York Island, St Paul, TRAWQ and Seisia.”

People were then invited to join the ‘Inside/out challenge program’. This programme has been set up at Murray, Darnley, Thursday, Yam Islands and Bamaga with a few participatory families in each place. [He] described the programme further as follows:-

“Go back in time”. Six aspects of well-being involve: emotional, cultural, spiritual, economic, physical, and social well-being. Go back to island way of thinking. Run on family basis – for joint support. Use twelve month strategies. Develop the strategy from the six well-beings and the four health conditions. I don’t say ‘program’ or ‘project’ [with Torres Strait Islanders], but ‘lifestyle’. Set up counselling for them also; build support into the program. Use the Pastors in the church, Social Workers, and Elders in the community.” x

Summary of service gaps and barriers

The following service gaps and barriers have been identified in this Chapter. These will combine with the many findings from the previous chapters to build a regional Family Violence Response Strategy in Chapter 6.

Child Safety Response

A network of Childcare Workers, coordinated and trained through an NGO such as Kazi are needed to provide a powerful prevention and response service to Family Violence problems.

There is a need to evaluate primary and secondary school programs that can be appropriately used for preventative education against F.V. in the T.S.I. region. Such an evaluation may result in a defined need to develop culturally specific and appropriate educational materials that draw on T.S.I. kinship practices and values.

Women’s Services

There is a need for secure Safe Houses for women and children in most T.S.I. communities.

A Torres Strait Regional Healing Service

If there was a large service gap before the Healing Service started, there is an even bigger one now that it has closed. It is recommended that the Healing Service be re-funded and re-started after a redesign of its modus operandi, the development of a new Corporate Plan in conjunction with a Regional Violence Response Strategy design.

Counselling Services

Lack of sexual abuse counselling service for child victims/witnesses in the region. Child victims are prone to become offenders, and without counselling, the cycle of offending may continue.

Improved counselling outreach for all victims is required, and in particular, new services for children, men, and most importantly for couples intending to marry or already married (or at least in a spousal relation), and for whole families.

A more extensive ATODS service is required for the Torres Strait Region as well as a de-tox centre at a central location.


There is a need to review the CPO system and replace it with a more effective T.S.I. policing system (e.g. QATSIPs). At the time of the survey there was said to be such a review in progress within the Queensland Police.

The Police need to reinstate a more proactive policing role in the T.S.I. communities.

An increased Police presence is required to decrease the Police response time to F.V. matters, including during after-hours, throughout the Torres Strait region, especially in the outer islands.

Men’s programmes

A Men’s Facility is required as some sort of a half-way house that can also facilitate an alternate sentencing option for offenders.

There is a need to foster the development of Men’s Groups in all communities of the Torres Strait region in order to address F.V. amongst other goals.

There is a lack of a culturally effective programme that reintroduces perpetrators back into the community, and, facilitates either a reconciliation process with the family of their victim(s), or a form of restorative justice.

There is a need for a men’s house in particular communities to be used by both male victims and those potential perpetrators who are capable of self-evaluating their propensity or vulnerability to recidivous behaviour and taking immediate avoidance action (i.e. a ‘cooling down’ place).

General F.V. Strategy Design

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

A T.S. F.V. response strategy needs to ensure all communities are equitably targeted, especially the more remote ones (outer islands).

Additional proactive services

There is insufficient promotion of active Indigenous role models for young people which could influence their values about F.V..

There are insufficient diversionary programmes in the Torres Strait communities.

There is a lack or sport in a number of communities to provide adequate diversionary activities. Indigenous sporting icons needed to be used as role models to assist with the goal of decreasing family and domestic violence.


Collectively, the combination of all of these service gaps indicates a general deficiency in the Torres Strait region at the time of study, of both the quantity and quality of violence programs and models.

Final point

Having outlined these ‘service gaps’ it should be noted that [an interviewee] x from the Healing Service strongly made the point that there were no service gaps in the Torres Strait per se. He said there are already many service proposals to fill such ‘gaps’, but what was lacking was funding to implement the services (i.e. there are service structures and concepts but they are not funded). In a broad sense, what he was saying was that there is a pre-existing community capacity in the Torres Strait region to address Family Violence programs if it can be adequately planned and resourced. Although not all may agree with this view, the need for programme resourcing is an inescapable and challenging aspect of the reality of the F.V. problem complex in the Torres Strait.



This chapter addresses the following two questions in the researcher’s brief:-

What would be a geographically suited and culturally specific model of service, policy and campaign response for the Torres Strait and what range of service provision would this include?

If the Department were to fund such a model, what kind of preliminary community development work is needed to ensure the sustainability of the service?

The proposals in this chapter have been developed from local knowledge, advice and recommendations, from Torres Strait leaders, experts and consultants, as well as from the analysis of all of the preceding data and from other available models used by indigenous cultures.

To remind us of the complexity and intensity of the F.V. problems in the Torres Strait, it is worth re-capping the findings of Chapters 1 to 5 with two selected problem statements:-

“We’re currently leaderless in T.S.. People are leaving D.V. to smoulder. No-one has got the guts to stand up and fight for it. T.I. is 20 years behind the mainland. But we can hide [conceal] our [F.V.] problems better…We’re a small community. Our teamwork should be much better and our communication should be more open. Everyone knows when something [F.V.] happens...[But] we’re not looking for answers in our own backyard. We’re still looking for answers from Canberra or Brisbane, [and then] blaming government.”

“[There are] great needs in terms of social infrastructure. Struggling to get to people on the outer islands … because no access to resources. How can we work in to get a political punch to say there’s an issue here?”

Ingredients in the design of a F.V. response model

Memmott et al (2001:Sect 4) carried out a national literature review of Indigenous community-based strategies for resolving, combating or preventing Indigenous Family Violence, and for treating the harm and stress arising from such violence. This search of the literature on Indigenous violence programs revealed a number of recurring strategic findings, namely the need for:

community-driven programs;

community agencies to establish partnerships with each other and with relevant government agencies; and

composite violence programs that provide a more holistic approach to community violence. (Memmott et al 2001:4.)

“A sensitive aspect is how State (or Territory) government agencies may best trigger violence prevention programs in communities where they are obviously needed, while at the same time creating a climate whereby the programs are truly community-originating, motivated and controlled. In providing services in this way, the authors…recommended that government agencies take a regional approach to supporting and coordinating local community initiatives, and assisting communities to prepare community action plans with respect to violence. Another key level of government involvement is through partnerships between Indigenous program personnel and mainstream services such as police, judiciary, prisons, ambulance and hospitals.” (Memmott et al 2001:4.)

Memmott et al (2001:4) go on to advocate for the implementation of composite response programs, particularly in communities displaying multiple forms of increasing violence. They assert that this to be the emerging and preferred approach that reflects a more systematic way of combating violence, combining both preventative (proactive) and intervention (reactive) methods, which target different age and gender groups.

The argument for a community-based and culturally-based violence response

In 2001, Memmott et al also argued for a community-based approach, stating … “that to solve violence in Indigenous communities, it is necessary to work from the premise that an Indigenous community is as intelligent and capable of solving its own problems as any other community…The question that should be asked is what is disempowering Indigenous people from solving their own problems” (Memmott et al 2001:4).

One key part of the rationale for a community-based violence response is to restore the social capacity and social capital within each community so that community members play an active role, especially with respect to preventative violence responses. The existing lack of adequate NGO services and government services in the Torres Strait region (generally found to be not sufficient in quantity and/or quality in Chapter 5), is another underlying aspect of the premise of the argument to promote the need for community-driven responses to F.V., albeit combined with whatever available mainstream services there are.

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