An Officer from Queensland Corrective Services quantified recidivism amongst Torres Strait Islander prisoners as follows:-
“We have a proportion of successful completions – maybe a quarter of our clients we never see again. Of the other 75% - most are in a constant cycle of offending/court orders etc. Had one bloke on parole for months; he re-offended with domestic violence and got jailed – he is back to jail – was too far entrenched. Need a collaborative approach to clients to help them overcome their problems.”
[A interviewee] was of the view that the Court lists for domestic violence were growing every month, and was very concerned about recidivism. “Why do we have all these organizations? Something is wrong. Not doing their job. Repeat offenders every month. There are pages and pages [of court transcripts] on domestic violence, it’s increasing every month. When men come back from Lotus Glen, they go to the pub.”
Dysfunctional community syndrome
Memmott et al (2001:51) provided a brief description of ‘dysfunctional community syndrome’ for Indigenous Australia as follows:-
Dysfunctional community syndrome: Communities wherein multiple violence types are occurring and appear to be increasing over generations, both quantitatively (number of incidents) and in terms of the intensity of violence experiences, for example, victims of sexual abuse may include very small children.
Nobody was of the view that this syndrome yet existed in the Torres Strait Islander region.
Overall Violence profile of Torres Strait Islands
There was a general view amongst police that family violence was not as severe in the Torres Strait communities as in certain remote Aboriginal communities. Two Police Officers in the Cairns Police Station indicated that there was not a relatively large flow of convicted criminals who were sent by Courts from the Torres Strait region to Lotus Glen Prison near Mareeba (only for some drug crime). They said that approximately 40 Torres Strait Islander people a year are put into jail. In a monthly sitting of Court at Thursday Island twelve charges may be heard e.g. cannabis offences. They compared 20 going to jail in a week maximum at Aurukun, with 130 people in court in a week. x
A Police Officer who had a sound working knowledge of all Torres Strait Islander communities noted that with respect to Family Violence in the T.S., there were some similarities with the mainland; namely that drugs, alcohol and gambling involved the same sort of issues. However despite these similar aspects, he was of the view there were distinct cultural differences in the Torres Strait region. x
In 2007, a x Corrective Services Officer x said there were 130 known offenders in this region, i.e. Torres Strait and NPA, . 98% of these people had alcohol related offences. 75% of the offences were full domestic violence or displayed an element of domestic violence, with the offender having been either an actual victim or a perpetrator or a juvenile witness. The majority of offenders were young (Department of Corrective Services takes them from 17).
Comparisons of communities
[A] x Police Officer stated that domestic violence was the main call of service for the Thursday Island Police, in the form of assaults. He said the extent of family violence on each island is roughly proportionate to the population size; he was of the view there was no significantly bad island. However other officers were not of the same view and readily identified particular communities that were either better or worse than the average. A[nother Police Officer] x noted that “each island speaks for themselves; each island is so unique and individual” x
A[n Officer] of the Department of Child Safety contrasted the child violence profile of the Torres Strait Island Communities and the NPA Communities. This Officer stated that child intervention in the NPA was usually within a domestic violence context, with the child being a witness or victim of their parents’ fighting. Whereas child intervention in the Torres Strait had a different profile, and was commonly due to a mixture of reasons including sexual assault, excessive punishment and domestic violence.
Some interviewees identified cultural differences between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with respect to the way they responded to Family Violence investigations. A Police Officer said that Torres Strait Islander people “are not pushy people, they take a step back, we do what we’re told, not like Cape York people” . A Child Safety Officer agreed with a x Police [Officer’s] view that Aboriginal people are honest and do not try to hide facts when they are apprehended for a misdemeanour, whereas Torres Strait Islander people are more private and do not speak as freely.
The comparative frequency of violence events in each of the Family Violence categories
Given the difficulty of correlating the Family Violence categories with the available police statistics, the author utilized the tick-sheet described earlier in an attempt to get a gauge of the frequency and extent of these violence types. The technique was used at a meeting of the Island Coordinating Council , and all of the scores combined to assess where both consensus and diversity of view might be identified. We see from this figure that most recipients viewed spouse assault as occurring occasionally to frequently in their communities, psychological abuse as occurring regularly to very frequently, inter-group and same gender conflicts as occurring occasionally, child violence as occurring occasionally to infrequently, and very low or nil frequencies of occurrence for homicide, sexual assault, suicide and self-injury. However it can also be seen that apart from the homicide scores, there were many scores for particular islands that did not cluster around the norms described above. This could support the assertion that each island community is indeed unique in terms of at least some aspects of its family violence profile.
Let us turn to the second tick sheet which was prepared by [a] Social Worker and Counsellor who x [has had the experience with] daily phone calls and visits from Torres Strait Islander people requiring information and counselling on Family Violence matters. this worker also scored spouse assault as occurring frequently for all of the region and psychological abuse as occurring very frequently, the worker x. scored inter-group and some gender conflicts as occurring occasionally (also as above), and child violence as also occurring occasionally. Low frequencies of homicide and suicide also concur with the ICC scores above. However x [the worker] scores self-injury higher than above, putting it at occasionally (rather than rarely), and the biggest difference in his scoring is that he rates rape and sexual abuse as occurring regularly in contrast to the scoring norm of the ICC (which put it at rare to non-existent). We can also discern that the worker’s scores are generally ranked a step higher in frequency than the ICC scores in a number of cases. Apart from the anomaly on the sexual assault score then, there is fairly close correlation in these two score sets. Allowing for the widespread reports of under-reporting of Family Violence, we can rank these findings on the relative frequency of Family Violence types in the Torres Strait Islander region from most to least frequent, as follows:-
1. psychological abuse (very frequently);
2. spouse assault (frequently);
3. rape and sexual assault (regularly) [following L.A.’s score];
4. inter-group and same gender conflicts (both occasionally);
5. child violence (occasionally, although in some communities rarely);
6. self-injury (rarely, although in some communities occasionally); and
7. homicide and suicide (rarely).
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)
Figure 6: Combined scores from ‘tick-sheet’ survey of perceived frequency of violence types in Torres Strait Island communities, scored by 14 Counsellors attending an Island Coordinating Council Meeting held on 5/12/07. Representative communities were x Scores consisting of a large number of dots represent a higher level of consensus.
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
Figure 7: Assessment of extent of Family Violence in all Torres Strait communities by a the Social Worker x
Police statistics on Reported Offences Against the Person1
The Queensland Police Service kindly provided combined data on Reported ‘Offences Against the Person’ for the Torres Strait Region and the NPA, for the years 2005 to 2007 (see Table 3). The four offence categories that the data were broken down into, are: (1) ‘Assaults’, (2) ‘Robbery’, (3) ‘Sexual Offences’, and (4) ‘Other Offences Against the Person’ (including ‘Kidnapping’, ‘Abduction’ and ‘Deprivation of Liberty’, ‘Extortion’, ‘Stalking’, and ‘Life Endangering Acts’). The categories of most likely relevance to Family Violence analysis here are ‘Assault’ and ‘Sexual Offences’. It can be seen that the number of robberies, which do not readily fall under Family Violence, are conveniently (for this analysis) relatively small (7 out of a total of 998 offences or 0.7%). “Other Offences’ constitute a higher proportion of the data (10.8%), but because of their mixed nature and the difficulty of ascertaining whether they fall under ‘Family Violence’, do not yield any definitive findings for the current study.
Although the data were retrieved on a monthly basis over the three-year period, no clear seasonal pattern is readily discernable in the data. This is in contrast to Indigenous violence findings elsewhere; for example in the Barkly Region of the N.T. where the current author found winter peaks in family violence data corresponding with, and partly attributable to, the football season (Memmott 2007).
Fortunately the Queensland Police Service were able to differentiate the data into Sub-regions by island clusters (and the NPA), corresponding with the preceding analysis in this chapter. Data were separated for reported ‘Assaults’, ‘Sexual Offences’, and ‘Total Offences’, respectively shown in Tables 4, 5 and 6.
A common feature of all three tables is that recorded offences appear to be disproportionately high for both the South-Western Islands and the NPA. These two Sub-regions experience much higher reported offending than the other four Sub-regions of the outer islands. These two Sub-regions combined, account for 71.6% (almost three quarters) of the total offences (including 67.5% of Sexual Offences and 73% of Assaults). There are three obvious explanations for this disparity. One is that the Thursday Island township in the South-Western Islands has the largest population of the region with 2551 out of a total of 10,510 persons, and the NPA is not far behind, with 1937 people (as recorded in the 2006 census). There are also three Police Stations (at Thursday Island, Horn Island, Bamaga) in these two Sub-regions as well as a range of alcohol outlets, resulting in a high likelihood of alcohol-related offences, combined with more intense policing than the other Sub-regions (noting that Badu does not have a formal Police Station but a QATSIP ‘outpost’). The third complementary explanation is that under-reporting is more likely in all those communities where there is no formal Police presence, particularly in the outer islands, as was clearly emphasized by all interviewees (see start of this Chapter). Calculation of the rate of offences per 1,000 persons for the various Sub-regions for the period 2005-07 (Table 6) indicates that NPA (at 177.6 offences), followed by the South-Western islands (at 110.7 offences) clearly have the highest reported offences per capita with the NPA rates being more than double that of each of the outer island regions.
After the South-Western Islands and the NPA, the Mid-Western Islands clearly have the next highest offence scores, accounting for 11.7% of all ‘Offences Against the Person’ for 2005-07 throughout the Torres Strait Islander and NPA. However on a per capita basis, the rate of offences is a little higher in the Eastern Islands (85.3 offences per 1,000 persons) than in the Mid-Western Islands (at 77.4 offences per 1,000 persons).
Let us turn now to the three most remote island clusters (Top-Western, Central and Eastern), these being the Sub-regions which have the least number of reported offences in our study region. In terms of ‘Sexual Offences’, the combined data for 2005-07 suggest that approximately double the number of total reported incidents have occurred in the Eastern and Top-Western Islands respectively compared to the Central Islands, despite the strong qualitative reporting outlined previously for this category of offence in the Central Islands (the latter also indicates the need to not underestimate unreported crime). With respect to ‘Assaults’ for the same period (2005-07), there is almost double the total number of incidents occurring respectively in the Eastern and Central Islands compared to the Top-Western Islands. Of the three most remote island clusters then (Top-Western, Central, Eastern), the total recorded figures for all ‘Offences Against the Person’ for 2005-07 are highest for the Eastern Islands cluster (see Table 6). Nevertheless the Eastern Islands account for only 6.8% of the total number of ‘Offences Against the Person’ for the Torres Strait Islander and NPA combined region (followed by Central Islands 5.7% and Top-Western 4.1%). The number of offences per 1,000 persons tell us that the Eastern Islands (at 85.3 offences) have a higher rate of total offences then the Central Islands (55.6) and the Top-Western Islands (53.3) (see Table 6).
Table 3: ‘Reported Offences against the Person’1 according to Queensland Police data for the Torres Strait Region (including Northern Peninsula Area), 2005 to 2007. (* ‘Other Offences’ include Kidnapping, Abduction and Deprivation of Liberty, Extortion, Stalking and Life Endangering Acts). Note: These figures are not official Police Service statistics. Official Police Service statistics are produced to Police boundaries and therefore these figures should be treated as estimates only. Figures are preliminary and may be subject to change. Source: Queensland Police Service unpublished data.
Reported Number of Offences Offence Categories
Month/Year Assault Robbery Sexual Offences Other Offences Against the Person* Total of all Offences Against the Person1
Jan-05 11 4 15
Feb-05 16 19 3 38
Mar-05 19 14 3 36
Apr-05 7 7 1 15
May-05 18 6 15 39
Jun-05 13 3 1 17
Jul-05 25 3 9 37
Aug-05 22 1 3 26
Sep-05 21 2 23
Oct-05 35 1 3 5 44
Nov-05 30 1 1 5 37
Dec-05 28 2 1 31
TOTAL 2005 245 2 65 46 358
Jan-06 12 3 1 16
Feb-06 13 5 18
Mar-06 18 1 3 10 32
Apr-06 22 3 2 27
May-06 12 4 2 18
Jun-06 22 3 1 26
Jul-06 23 1 4 1 29
Aug-06 12 11 2 25
Sep-06 25 2 4 31
Oct-06 12 8 5 25
Nov-06 27 1 20 3 51
Dec-06 18 3 3 24
TOTAL 2006 216 3 64 39 322
Jan-07 31 5 7 43
Feb-07 21 5 26
Mar-07 16 7 3 26
Apr-07 14 5 1 20
May-07 16 1 5 1 23
Jun-07 16 2 1 19
Jul-07 22 15 4 41
Aug-07 16 5 1 22
Sep-07 16 6 22
Oct-07 10 2 1 13
Nov-07 26 1 11 1 39
Dec-07 15 6 3 24
TOTAL 2007 219 2 74 23 318
Grand Total 680 7 203 108 998
Table 4: Assaults recorded by the Queensland Police Service in the Torres Strait Region divided by Sub-regions, for 2005 to 2007. Note: These figures are not official Police Service statistics. Official Police Service statistics are produced to Police boundaries and therefore these figures should be treated as estimates only. Figures are preliminary and may be subject to change. Source: Queensland Police Service unpublished data.
Table 5: Sexual Offences recorded by the Queensland Police Service in the Torres Strait Region divided by Sub-regions, for 2005 to 2007. Note: These figures are not official Police Service statistics. Official Police Service statistics are produced to Police boundaries and therefore these figures should be treated as estimates only. Figures are preliminary and may be subject to change.
Source: Queensland Police Service unpublished data.
Table 6: Total Offences Against the Person1 recorded by the Queensland Police Service in the Torres Strait Region divided by Sub-regions, for 2005 to 2007. (‘Total Offences’ includes Assault, Robbery, Sexual Offences, Kidnapping, Abduction, and Deprivation of Liberty, Extortion, Stalking and Life Endangering Acts). Note: These figures are not official Police Service statistics. Official Police Service statistics are produced to Police boundaries and therefore these figures should be treated as estimates only. Figures are preliminary and may be subject to change. Source: Queensland Police Service unpublished data.
Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) 124 99 121 344 177.6
Totals 358 322 318 998 104.3
In conclusion, it is clear that the highest rates of recorded offences against the person are clearly in the five mixed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of NPA, followed next by the South-Western Islands (including Thursday Island). Numbers of reported crimes are considerably lower in the outer island clusters with the more reported incidents occurring in the Mid-Western Islands commensurate with its higher population (concentrated at Badu). However while the numbers of incidents are around half or a little less in the Eastern, Central and Top-Western Islands compared to Mid-Western, the per capita rate of offence is relatively high in the Eastern Islands, even higher than in the Mid-Western Islands (although not as high as NPA or South-Western).
Table 7: Summary of Total of Offences Against the Person1 by Sub-region (as extrapolated from Tables 1 to 6).
(2006 Census) No. Offences Against the Person
(2005-2007) Average no. Offences Against the Person per year
(2005-2007) Average no. of offences per year, per 1,000 persons
Eastern Islands 797 68 22.7 28.5
Central Islands 1025 57 19 18.5
Top-Western Islands 770 41 19.7 25.6
Mid-Western Islands 1511 117 39 25.8
South-Western Islands 3353 371 123.6 36.9
Northern Peninsula Area 1937 344 114.6 59.2
Totals: 9567 998 332.6 34.8
Recommendation: That any long-term Violence Response Model for the Torres Strait Region includes a quantitative profile of Family Violence in individual communities and sub-regional clusters of communities (building on that produced in the previous chapter) to assist with programme design and evaluation, and which can be periodically updated.
CHAPTER 3: CULTURAL CHANGE IN THE TORRES STRAIT
This section goes part way to addressing the following two questions in the researcher’s brief. The second part of the second question is addressed further in Chapter 4.
To what extent did Domestic and Family Violence exist in Torres Strait Islander culture prior to colonization?
What were the specific causes of Family Violence pre-colonization and how have these altered post-colonization?
This Chapter commences with an overview of customary social organization in the Torres Strait, including on aspects of villages, kinship, descent and marriage, totemism and clans, and feasting. It then briefly summarizes selected aspects of cultural change during the 19th and 20th centuries in economy, government and religion. A section covers customary violence and some evidence on post-contact violence. It concludes with an account of the persistence of customary kinship behaviour, including adoption practices.
The above questions are thus largely addressed from historical and anthropological literature research; however towards the end of the Chapter the author will draw increasingly on commentary from his own consultants and informants, particularly in relation to kinship and social organization.
Customary social structure
The following is a brief description of key aspects of customary social organization in the Torres Strait Islands, extracted from authorative anthropological and ethnographic sources. It is not possible to be comprehensive on these matters in this report, and it should be noted that there were variations in customs both between island clusters, as well as through the early contact and post-contact periods.
The island communities of the Torres Strait were never united under one leader or ruler in early contact times (early to mid-1800s). The population of each independent island was usually divided into varying sized groups of people who lived fairly close together in a number of separate villages. For example, on Murray Island, it is reported there were well over 20 such villages, while at Saibai, there were only two. “Islands on which there was a number of villages were usually further divided into districts of a few adjacent villages” (Finch 1977:14).