“All we want for Christmas is a happy family home free from violence”, could well be a Christmas present request that some Indigenous families would want above all else this year.
But unfortunately a real request that has fallen on deaf ears - of “All we want is for the violence to stop” - was made to the Queensland Government in December 1999 in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Task Force on Violence Report.
Just to give you a quick snapshot of what I’m talking about I provide some disturbing statistics of recorded offences against people in Queensland in the four police divisions with highest rates, compared to Queensland average (all rates are adjusted to give incidents per 100,000 population) for 1996–97.
Source Extract from Criminal Justice Commission 1998 (unpublished QPS data)
Regrettably these figures have not diminished in recent times. The New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report (October 2005) showed a recorded rate of domestic assault increased by 40 per cent in Sydney and more than 50 per cent statewide between 1997 and 2004. It also showed that 36 per cent of incidents involved alcohol and violence were more prevalent in Indigenous communities.
You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to understand the enormous psychological consequence excessive violence of this nature would have on an entire population living on edge on most CDEP or Family Allowance pay nights. For those lucky few who have not been a victim of acts of violence, they would nevertheless still be traumatised by the inescapable piercing cries of pain which break the still of night, from the assaulted and powerless juvenile and elderly witnesses pleading for help.
I recently had a conversation with an Indigenous friend I hadn’t seen since high school who gave me an uncomfortable account of her past 30 tumultuous years of unsuccessful and painful relationships. Not that I particularly wanted to hear of such sadness but she found me to be a good listener and left no stone unturned to acquaint me with her depressing journey.
She told me she tolerated the first 15 years of hell at the hands of her unstable high school sweetheart before finding the courage to leave while she still had her sanity. She said she forgave him for the first assault as she justified the loss of his job as perhaps a passable excuse for the unanticipated violent outburst. “But I’m not quite sure why I stayed with him even when he continued assaulting me a couple of times a week, every week of the year, after all-day drinking sessions with his mates”, she said.
She said her children knew when he was drinking and left to visit friends for the night to be out of harm's way. I noticed a deep sadness in her eyes when she recalled how she fearfully waited alone at home cowering in her lounge room chair for him to arrive and commence his usual verbal abuse: “You’re a useless so and so”. And then she momentarily cringed when describing the physical pounding which was still as vivid in her mind as if she was describing an episode from the past 24 hours.
Her minimalist approach to telling the shortened version of the prolonged abuse inadvertently drew my attention to her unsightly facial scars, a permanent reminder of that violent era, which ran a centimetre in length across both eye brows.
Continuing her story she explained, “I never sought protection from friends at their home especially after my first experience that resulted in him tracking me down in our small community”. She added, “After a forced entry into the house, he beat me in front of my dear friends and then bashed them as well”.
She emotionally informed me that the next day her children would routinely return home to get dressed for school and attempt to patch her wounds while their inebriated father slept soundly sprawled across blood-spattered sheets on the double bed in their rented Aboriginal housing company house.
My friend told me her next partner, a non-Indigenous man, never once assaulted her physically but the years spent with him were just as traumatic. She recounted the verbal abuse and incredibly selfish mind games he played with her, remarking, “His name calling and questioning my worth as a human being still echoes in my head, and gives me migraines when I think about it today, even though I’ve had no contact with him for over a year”. She made a peculiar comparison to her first abusive partner by saying that he was at least decent to her and their children when he was sober for a couple of days. “But”, she continued “the same could not be said of my second drop-kick partner who was full on with the mind games 24-7”.
My friend took some delight in saying, with a toothless grin, that she was now living alone. She concluded ashamedly by revealing “my sons became teenage statistics in the prison system and my daughters had children to a couple of no-hopers whilst still children themselves”. Only time will tell whether the vicious cycle of violence will be continued into the next generation of this unlucky family whose only mistake their loving mother made was an extremely poor choice of partners.
Any Indigenous man who can’t grant their family their Christmas wish of “a happy family home free from violence” this coming festive season isn’t really a man, but a coward. These perpetrators need to be aware that they could be one punch away from finding themselves in a new court-ordered environment where they may well be on the receiving end of bigger men inflicting harder blows. Only after they have been on the receiving end of abuse might they appreciate the real psychological pain their partners and children still carry with them today.
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