Aboriginal Women and Family Violence – Implications
The findings of this study point to several challenges in providing assistance to both the Aboriginal women who experience intimate partner violence and the perpetrators of this violence. They include the extensive prevalence and severity of violence in the community, as well as the long-term effects on children in terms of learned behaviour. Providing explicit information and educational initiatives for all family members, not just parents and children, is essential to ending male violence against Aboriginal women.
These educational initiatives should address the matter of "what a healthy relationship looks and feels like." Many victims and perpetrators of violence lack a basic understanding of what constitutes a healthy or loving relationship. Within the focus groups, women who had "turned their lives around" indicated that information they had received about how a healthy relationship works helped them understand how to break away from the cycle of violence. Clearly, it is necessary to introduce and support such norms, not just for individuals who are experiencing intimate partner violence, but for the entire community. An approach that raises awareness among members of the whole community - including victims, perpetrators and community leaders, as well as the general public - is recommended for dealing comprehensively with violence against women in the long term. In particular, participants felt that a "culture of victimization" should not be treated as an excuse within Aboriginal communities - neither for committing abuse nor for accepting it as normal. Instead, it is believed that an increased sense of community and individual responsibility for the safety and security of Aboriginal women should be fostered.
However, even when information is available to women suffering in an abusive relationship, it can take time and repeated exposure for this information to be absorbed and for women to act on it. In many cases it takes an accumulation of violent incidents to finally push a woman to overcome the barriers to seeking help. For other women, evidence of the effects on children can be an important impetus to their seeking help. Because children are often adversely affected by male violence against women, they represent a key audience for educational materials.
Trust is an especially important issue within Aboriginal communities. It takes time to develop trust, but the process can be facilitated in a crisis situation by a friendly and familiar Aboriginal face. In the opinion of some respondents, it can be further enhanced by knowledge that the helping professional has had personal experience with violence. Nonetheless, focus group participants expressed mixed views about the need to have Aboriginal staff managing crisis facilities. Women who do not live on reserve are more likely to give priority to expertise and personal experience. By contrast, women who live on reserve tend to think that an experienced Aboriginal woman would be better equipped to deal with Aboriginal women - and be more trustworthy.
It was the consensus of all respondents that funding, tools and resources are required to provide the means and the opportunity for women to look beyond the cycle of violence and rebuild their lives. Aboriginal women believe that financial help, access to affordable housing and transportation to enable them to access services that provide education and assistance, counselling and life skills education, are the ideal means by which to approach this problem. While community-based resources may be optimal, they may not be realistic or sustainable in smaller communities. In those communities, reliable, convenient and affordable transportation to a nearby safe shelter that offers accommodation for their children is of prime importance.
The inadequacy of the criminal justice response is also a key area seen to be in need of reform, especially with regard to what is felt to be the current leniency of sentencing and insufficient engagement with the issue by the correctional and parole systems.
At this point in time, given the rare ownership of computers within Aboriginal communities, web-based resources are not effective forms of information. Rather, crisis phone lines, posters in community centres and schools, brochures and direct mail were suggested as effective means of providing information about violence to women and their partners.
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