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



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1.7 School education programmes on Family Violence

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

1.8 Counselling in appropriate parenting and child discipline methods

Iina recommended that in order to promote an awareness of child abuse prevention, good parenting practices need to be encouraged through the establishment of culturally appropriate parenting programs (Iina 1996:17-18). A [government] Officer x whilst discussing child discipline, highlighted the need for an educational programme on alternate disciplinary techniques: “Excessive discipline is used. Because a man was flogged by his father, he thinks he can do it too. We tell them ‘There is a good way of discipline’, [and] they say ‘come and teach us another way to deal with kids’, [but] there is no education or awareness programmes about this” x

1.9 Recognition of T.S.I. child rearing practices in legislation and policy

In the early 1990s, Iina strongly recommended that customary child-rearing practices such as traditional adoption needed to be acknowledged within legislation at the local, State and National levels (Iina 1996:11). Iina also recommended that documentation be made of Torres Strait child rearing practices and that the cultural methods of child rearing practices “be retained and reviewed so as to include past and present methods of child rearing” (Iina 1996:15-16). However such a recommendation needs to carry the caveat that there are a range of issues associated with adoption that need to be sensitively handled.

“This is not to suggest that in the changed circumstances of contemporary society that customary adoption is unproblematic. Indeed, many writers have pointed to problems reconciling such traditional practices within contemporary society within the legal framework of the mainstream society...” (Hunter et al 1999:44.)

The current study also confirmed the need to strengthen traditional rules around adoption (kupai omasker), as this is a recurring cause of Family Violence when such rules are not observed. There is a need to revisit the original research on this topic and review how these rules can be strengthened in conjunction with either existing or suitably amended legislation.

1.10 Careful agreement-making about adoption and temporary childcare arrangements

Some stated that in disputes involving the care and safety of children, there should be a statement of principles which all Councils of Elders should adhere to when assessing a situation to provide advice to a Court or other such authoritative body (Ban 1993c:25). The solution proposed by Islanders was that all forms of childcare should be registered or documented in some way so that confusion would not take place when the two families enter a dispute about the intention of the arrangement, although some argued that this should be optional. (Ban 1993c:21.)

Ban reported older Islanders who spoke of the oral tradition where a person’s word was stronger than any piece of paper. [But] it was widely acknowledged that in the present day, Islanders have gone back on their word, and that there were different interpretations over time of what the original agreement was. It was agreed that registration forms include T.S.I. and English words for ‘adoption’ and ‘temporary care’, both parties should sign the forms and state the reason(s) why adoption or temporary care arrangement is taking place, and that such forms to be witnessed by either Elders, or by parties nominated by the families or a J.P.. However the introduction of such registration forms would require a significant education program for Island people to understand the benefits of completing the forms, whilst the negative implications of not completing such a form should also be explained. (Ban 1993c:21,22.)

1.11 The need for Indigenous role models in the T.S. region

A finding of the current research was that there is insufficient promotion of active Indigenous role models for young people, who could influence youth values about F.V.. Appropriate T.S.I. role models should be used in regional and national educational campaigns. A number of interviewees recommended that Indigenous sporting icons needed to be used as role models to assist with the goal of decreasing Family Violence. x There is also an argument to role model couples or whole families, as well as selected leaders and the Narbit in certain T.S.I. clans.

1.12 Improved management of family finances

One recommendation was the introduction of Financial Management programs for families to ensure adequate food and school needs are met, before money is filtered on gambling or substance abuse.

1.13 Improved Islander health

Consider increased support for Denalaig Niar-Idid, the Inside-out Challenge Program for Torres Strait families to overcome chronic ill-health and to promote cultural and family values.

1.14 The training of Torres Strait Islanders in F.V. response and counselling

In the late 1990s, McFarlane pointed out that due to the relative lack of law enforcement resources in the Torres Strait, there was a high level of T.S.I. involvement in dealing with problems as they arise. However, the local people were generally not trained, nor did they have the resources or authority to deal with the more serious law enforcement problems. McFarlane recommended that wherever possible, T.S. Islanders should be trained and retained by the relevant agencies to assist in the performance of their roles. (McFarlane 1998:6.) The current research independently established this same need. One recommendation is to establish a TAFE or JCU course at Thursday Island to upskill workers in counselling and Family Violence issues. It is believed that such a course has been requested before over the years for counselling upskilling and intervention skills. Village Committees and other island-based D.V. and F.V. workers should be brought into T.I. for upskilling and supporting x

1.15 Proactive Community Policing

A Police Officer outlined the need for more proactive police services programs in the Torres Strait. The Police should “assist in developing village programmes for D.V. protection – making close connections with families; [and engage] communities in partnership with Police”. This Police Officer also stated “Police media campaigns have occurred in the past (e.g. slogans) but a familiar face is just as important as educational materials” x Another suggestion from a[nother] Police Officer was for police to reintroduce their ‘adopt-an-island’ strategy, thereby providing a continual and personalized police presence. However in order to achieve proactive community policing, there is a need for more Police in the Torres Strait region.

During the research it was pointed out there was were several qualified Police in Queensland who were from Murray Island xnd, but there was no accommodation on many T.S. Islands to facilitate the repatriation of such State Police. A[n interviewee] x confirmed: “[We] need a State Police presence in the community – even just one Policeman. CPOs are ok but illiterate – they can’t write a statement, so they let things go; and don’t report it”

1.16 Training for Community Police Officers (CPOs)

It was clear that CPOs need a lot of training to improve their performance e.g. in incident report statement writing. A Violence Outreach Worker said that the CPOs need to be better observers, to learn how to tackle issues more effectively, and to understand different responses to particular problems e.g. mediation versus police intervention x (However at the time of the study it was unclear whether the Police Service was intending to discontinue the CPOs altogether.)

1.17 Educational programmes in general

In the mid-1990s, Iina recommended that Torres Strait Islander organizations and government agencies should work together on developing appropriate and simple information on child abuse and neglect that could be accessed to all community members through Torres Strait Islander organizations and agencies. Information seminars and workshops should be held and discussions held amongst major Torres Strait Islander stakeholders as to “the best way to get information to people in the community” (Iina 1996:21). In particular, information should inform people about the various forms of abuse, highlight alternatives ways for parents to discipline their children (such as withholding or reducing pocket money), warn people not to trust others simply because they hold positions of authority or responsibility in the community, and urge parents to give priority to their children. Local organizations could help with the interpretation of resource materials to generate understanding amongst children and their parents on the issues of child abuse and neglect (Iina 1996:viii,21).

One consistent recommendation has been that mainstream F.V. educational messages (e.g. posters, pamphlets) need to be adopted and/or redesigned for the Torres Strait to suit the local cultural and lifestyle context. In order to maximize the impact of educational messages and information on F.V. it is also desirable to draw on all forms of regionally available media. For example it was suggested that music should be used to get out messages to the ‘Warrior/Nurturer’ age group x There was also a suggestion to use the regional newspaper ‘Torres News’ since it had a sympathetic Editor It was pointed out that strong advertising campaigns operated in the T.S. via TV and radio; and these could be utilized for educational purposes

1.18 The need for community information sessions on F.V.

A[n interviewee] emphasized the need to raise the awareness of services and to know whom one can phone, and argued that this was best achieved through a visit and a public meeting x. Iina also recommended public and community seminars held by Torres Strait Islander organisations focusing on issues of child abuse prevention, and encouraging the reporting of child abuse in the communities (Iina 1996:18).

1.19 Adequate outreach network budgets

Selected NGOs and government agents require an annual travel budget to both outer and inner islands (in the order of at least $50,000 annually), so as to be able to work in a cluster of islands at a time; also to have two meetings per year by bringing representatives into T.I.

1.20 Reducing the cost of transport to outer islands for service agencies

Cost sharing of charter planes to islands by government and NGO agencies was a recurring recommendation during the study. One government officer suggested that the planning of such could occur through ‘Regional Managers Forums’. She noted that Child Safety travelled regularly via charter but some agencies such as Police and Health often had to bring people back (i.e. prisoners/patients) . Another option was to establish (or re-establish) and utilize community video conferencing more frequently, especially for the Healing Service, the Courts, and Women’s Centres.

1.21 Care with Alcohol Management Planning

It was recommended earlier in this report that the introduction of any AMPs in the T.S. Region should be accompanied by in-depth consultation, impact studies and ongoing monitoring to ensure positive outcomes.

1.22 The need for more diversionary activities for children and youth

It was recommended earlier in this report that F.V. strategy needs to identify and if possible implement, diversionary activities for children as a proactive measure against vulnerability. It was agreed by interviewees that there are insufficient diversionary programmes in the Torres Strait communities, including a lack of sport. One suggested diversionary activity was to engage young people in land and sea management – ‘care for country’ – through use of Rangers and thereby empower TOs in the process, by acknowledging continuity of cultural connection to country

1.23 Expanding and building Men’s groups and programmes

In the mid-1990s, Iina recommended developing a men’s reference group that would hold workshops on how to stop men from committing violence and abuse on their families (Iina 1996:18). One of the service gaps identified in Chapter 5 was the 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). Charles Passi outlined a case for men’s groups:-

“Age 21-50 is warrior class where leaders and role models fight to protect and build. Women’s side are healers and nurturers, who care for the community. Government got a lot of money for women. Mothers who smoke and drink, stuff up life for picaninny. There is school and youth money. There is support for aged. But not much support for male adults. Women have shelter; where can men go? Jail. We got a strong, proud culture but we no longer practice it. [We] Put up lie. Men have got to become part of the solution. It is the initiation process we’re now missing. Should take picaninny to bush, and say: ‘This is what you’ve got to do’ – prepare them fellers. ‘This is how you treat your woman.’ And on woman side, ‘how to become a good wife’. That’s all missing. School is there for teaching, but kids are not taught lifeskills. Only people who can fix up our problem is us. We got to fix it up. Need to bring all of our men together. Not just keep looking at government and argue policy.”

x [An interviewee], commented similarly:-

“[In earlier times an] initiate is told: “When you do this, this is the consequence”. Must know what’s expected of them. Strong laws were to prevent/intimidate [i.e. the punishment seldom had to be used]. [Today] young people not properly prepared for marriage. When in-laws come into family, they don’t know what to do; stress builds up, shame, go drink. Need workshops to explain to young people – know your role, know what to do when an incident comes up.”

1.24 Increasing the role of T.S.I. Churches in addressing F.V.

In discussing a regional F.V. model, Charles Passi asked: “Where does the priest fit into the model?” Charles pointed out that some of the largest NGO organizations in the T.S. Region are the churches, and that Torres Strait Islanders believe in the Bible, and that the Bible gives sound advice on F.V. . The T.S.I. researcher Cutts had pointed to the social capital of the Torres Strait Churches some ten or so years earlier:-

“Religion seems to be the only widely acceptable means to challenge domestic violence. Certainly, when you consider the number of religious sects practiced in the Torres Strait and the social control mechanisms associated with religion, the potential to challenge and to bring about positive change is considerable” (Cutts 1996:145).

Charles Passi noted that denominations of active churches in the Torres Strait region include three orders of Anglicans (including the Diocese of North Queensland and the autonomous Church of the Torres Strait), the Independent Church, the Catholic Church, the Uniting, and the Assembly of God A[n interviewee] x commented that “In [the] before time, we used to stand up in one church [unified], but now smaller churches have had an effect

It was recommended earlier in this report that a F.V. Response Strategy in the Torres Strait needs to recognize and respect the strong integration of Christianity into T.S. culture and the network of social capital throughout the Strait, made up of church leaders and practitioners, whilst being mindful that the church community also contains a minority of F.V. perpetrators. A Regional F.V. Strategy could facilitate integration of the word of the Bible into culturally appropriate service provision and seek to gain the active involvement of the Churches in tackling Family Violence.

Charles Passi noted that the Church of the Torres Strait has a parish in each community, and local priests could be trained to be counsellors for F.V. victims “instead of [victims having to] swallow/drink pain or come to Thursday Island.” He added that the Bishop of this church was prepared to subject his priests to a Blue Card process to get a network of people who were eligible to be trusted. Charles Passi had a vision to empower the Parish Priest on each island and for those persons to become part of Village Committees. He said the Priest is already supposed to be a counsellor e.g. a marriage counsellor, so therefore, set up a community organization that incorporates the Priest Support for this proposal also came from [another interviewee who] went so far as to say that “It is effective to publicly admonish a perpetrator e.g. by a priest in a service – the perpetrator will then stay at home with shame.”

The Bishop of the Church of the Torres Strait said: “We need to look back at our physical, cultural, and spiritual tradition. Healing has to happen. Can’t take [perpetrators] from ‘bush to bush’ – from one prison to another prison. The Bishop went on to say the churches and the health clinics are the only human resources to turn to, on the remote island communities. The Priests “must provide the listening ear, be present in terms of emotional need; and try and turn the soil so when we plant, we plant properly, the soil is fertile.” The Bishop wanted to sponsor the Village Committee Model. x Charles Passi added: “If the boat is sinking, we got to help bail - the church needs to do outreach work.”

A recommendation of the current report is therefore to carry out further study consultation to gauge the views of each community on such a proposal.

1.25 A Family Violence Resource Centre proposal

Charles Passi said that in earlier years he had mooted the idea of Mura Kosker becoming a Research and Resource Centre for the region (with an emphasis on research). However at the time of the current study, Charles was proposing to establish a Torres Strait Family Resource and Research Centre under the corporation of The Church of the Torres Strait, including a family planning role. He was also proposing a form of adapted initiation ceremony which integrated the process of baptism, with the role of godparents and the customary Awa role (albeit with the limitation of not changing the high mass aspect of the ceremony as per the request of the Bishop). Charles was hoping to explore support for these ideas initially through a Conference which would lift the profile of this F.V. initiative.

2. Early intervention responses (‘stop it just before it happens’)

“The best interventions are often said to be those where action is taken quickly in relation to an incident of violence. It is often community members who are best positioned to implement swift action.” (Memmott et al 2001:83.)

2.1 Increasing the capacity of Women’s Safe Houses or Shelters to prevent F.V.

The Lena Passi and NPA Women’s Shelters encourage women to attend the Shelters once they can read the signs of male spousal violence erupting, i.e. take a proactive role in preventing D.V. from happening. This strategy should also be adopted in any new Safe Houses or Shelters.

2.2 Proposed Men’s Facilities as a diversionary strategy

An identified service gap in the T.S. Region was the need for men’s houses in particular communities to be used by both male D.V. victims as well as those men who self-evaluate their propensity or vulnerability to recidivous behaviour (as a perpetrator) and are able to take avoidance action on reading the signs of their anger and jealousy i.e. a ‘cooling down’ place. Thus such a house could fulfil two roles, one as a reactive response and one as a proactive response. For example there was unanimous agreement from amongst the interviewees for such a need at T.I. where there is no existing Sobering-Up Shelter . A request for such a facility was also received for the NPA communities:- “There is nothing for men in the NPA, men get battered too; no place for them to go and chill out. Don’t have to growl missus, can book themselves into a Shelter”

2.3 The introduction of community-based patrols

The current report has recommended to maintain the Kuki Patrol at Thursday Island and strengthen its mutually supportive operational methods with the Police (e.g. introduce two-way radio contact). However community-run patrols could be set up in many more communities, as has been done in Aboriginal Australia. A[n interviewee] identified the need for occasional community-based Night Patrols in selected Island communities; for example it “would be good if there was a Night Patrol on pay-week night” Such patrols usually have a preventative role on the mainland, calling the police once physical violence has erupted. There is a potential in the T.S. to set up Awa Patrols (empowered uncle and aunties).

3. Late intervention responses (‘help just after it happens’)

3.1 Establishment of more Women’s and Men’s Shelters or Safe Houses

These have been discussed above as potentially having an early intervention role. However a more conventional role of Women’s Shelters is one of a reactive role, i.e. sheltering after violence occurs. An outstanding service gap is the absence of Safe Houses for women and children on any of the Torres Strait Islands except T.I. There is clearly a need for secure Safe Houses for women and children in most T.S.I. communities. For example [one interviewee] x x said:- “A positive proposal is to have a Women’s Shelter house here [Central Island] but nothing has happened about this. This was Kailang Dorante’s dream to have a Shelter set up…would love it to happen here...” x The need for a Men’s Shelter at T.I. has also been canvassed. In most cases, such Shelters or Safe Houses would only have to be relatively small-scale.

3.2 Improving Reactive Policing

The need for the Police to reinstate a more proactive policing role in the T.S.I. communities was discussed earlier. A range of recommendations have also been made herein about improving reactive policing i.e. intervention once F.V. occurs. An increased Police presence is necessary to decrease the Police response time to F.V. matters, including during after-hours, throughout the Torres Strait region, especially on the outer islands. A previous recommendation of this report was to empower Police to improve their response time to outer islands, and generally increase Police presence in all communities. There is also a clear need to review the CPO system and replace it with a more effective T.S.I. policing system (e.g. QATSIP policing as on Badu), but at the time of the survey there was said to be such a review in progress within the Queensland Police.

4. Late prevention responses (‘stop it happening again’)

4.1 A renewed 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, and the development of a new Corporate Plan in conjunction with a Regional Violence Response Strategy. Any Corporate Planning process needs to review how to reintegrate NGOs such as Mura Kosker, Lena Passi, Kazi through the Healing Service (need to work out a structure) so as to have a more holistic service approach. There is a need for a closer working relation of NGOs and government departments with the Healing Service

4.2 Improved Counselling Services in general

Earlier in the report it was recommended that improved counselling outreach for all victims is required, and in particular, new community-based counselling services are required 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. In the mid-1990s, Iina had recommended the establishment of counselling services that focus on individual and group sessions for parents and individuals (Iina 1996:18). [An interviewee] outlined something of the need for newly married couples:-



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