Content warning: This article contains reference to domestic and family violence and sexual assault. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.


A new report from the Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) led by First Nations researchers has examined the importance of self-determination in family violence healing programs.

The report is one part of a larger review into First Nations healing programs that respond to domestic and family violence and sexual assault.

The research was led by Macquarie University academics Professor Bronwyn Carlson, Madi Day and Dr Terri Farrelly.

The report notes that whilst mainstream programs lean towards legal intervention, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs focus on healing.

“One of the key things that you see in these community-led programs is that concept about relationality and reciprocity,” Professor Carlson told NIT.

“How do we bring people in, keep them in, keep them safe and give them a future that they are able to thrive in? That is at the core of these programs, it isn’t punitive, it’s not about tarnishing someone’s life so they cannot move beyond it.

“It’s about how we allow this person time and space, and the proper resources, to fully heal and thrive in the world and in doing so, pass that same healing onto their families, children and relationships.”

However, whilst Indigenous community-led programs are effective, they are rarely funded properly.

“If they are it is rare that they have funding beyond 12 months or at best three years,” Professor Carlson said.

“Stats are lacking for these programs because people who are on the ground may not have the expertise, skills or resources to actually collect the statistics to create something that shows the good work they’re doing; all the people they’re helping and why they need funding.”

Professor Carlson notes community-based programs reflect the understanding that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples “have a future free from violence”.

“In our history there was a time when there wasn’t violence against us. Whereas non-Indigenous folk, in their entire history there has been violence against us,” she said.

“All Indigenous people do is invest in the future, but what we are tackling is a system, among many systems, that see no future for us. That is the big problem.”

The Federal Government has established a Closing the Gap target that intends to see domestic and family violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children reduced by 50 per cent by 2031.

Professor Carlson describes the target as “Government rhetoric”.

“No violence against women is acceptable and they need to rethink that,” Professor Carlson said.

“Even in that thinking to reduce it, they still see violence against Indigenous people as an acceptable percentage of what takes place.

“Indigenous women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family and domestic violence, if you reduce that only 15 percent are going to hospital — is that okay? Six per cent are likely to die, so only three per cent are going to die — is that okay?

Professor Carlson said this type of thinking is the product of the mainstream assumption that domestic and family violence in Indigenous communities is solely an Indigenous issue.

“When we talk about family and domestic violence and sexual assault in the Indigenous realm, out there in mainstream Australia there is that thought that it is our business and is only between us,” she said.

“It is outrageous, most perpetrators are non-Indigenous … what happens is people then don’t have the same care factor. They think it’s just us.

“It’s a sad reflection of how Australian society thinks of Indigenous people more broadly.”

The Professor says the report has been supported by a ‘knowledge circle’ of “staunch researchers and activists and service providers” who are able to provide advice and reflect on the research.

This circle includes Yuin man and Associate Professor of Sociology in Indigenous Health John Gilroy, Yuin woman and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong’s Ngarruwan Ngadju First Peoples Health and Wellbeing Research Centre  Dr Marlene Longbottom, and Noongar human rights lawyer and academic Dr Hannah McGlade.

ANROWS chief executive Heather Nancarrow told NIT supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children has been a “priority for ANROWS from the outset”.

“We absolutely recognise the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led research by and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said.

“We want to invest in supporting strength-based approaches to addressing the drivers of family violence.”

Nancarrow said the organisation is focused on supporting the importance of choice for those who have experienced domestic and family violence. 

“Some women, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, will choose not to go down the legal path for a variety of reasons. There needs to be … Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family violence legal services, like Djirra, that are there to support women in culturally safe ways,” she said.

“However, it should never be the only response. Legal justice doesn’t always result in an outcome that feels like justice for people.

“It’s about identifying what works and in what circumstances, and we are looking to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led research to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and kids and families are not left behind in efforts to significantly reduce and ultimately eliminate violence against women.”

Read the report here.

If you are experiencing family or domestic violence or sexual assault, please contact:

  • National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence counselling service – 1800 RESPECT
  • Domestic Violence Line NSW – ‍1800 656 463
  • Spartan First Suicide Prevention Crisis Line – 1800 370 747
  • Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800
  • Sexual assault helplines for your State or Territory –

Visit for more information and to download free resources.


By Rachael Knowles