I am Tameka Brown. I’m the senior solicitor at Djinda Service, which is the Perth Aboriginal family violence prevention legal service. I’m based at the women’s legal service WA and we run Djinda in partnership with Relationships Australia.
Being a specialist family violence unit, we assist Aboriginal women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in the Perth metropolitan area who have been victims of or [who] are experiencing family violence or sexual assault. And we help them with their children’s matters, whether that’s in the Family Court or the Children’s Court and [with] child protection involved, with violence restraining orders, and also criminal injuries, compensation matters.
The stats show that Aboriginal women experience a higher rate of family violence. So, there’s identified need there. And, we’ve had those services in the state for a while and the regional areas, but there was a lot happening in the Perth Metro area that was falling through the cracks and they identified that we needed a specific service in this area.
So, a lot of the families were dealing with their parents, their grandparents, their great grandparents have been through the same things. And that obviously affects then how they raise their children and their connections with their family or their community. There’s a lot of history there that affects people’s view of the world or how they treat other people or how they interact with these services. And it’s a big barrier to overcome.
The current generation have a much broader understanding of what family violence includes. And obviously our legislation has been amended in recent years to broaden what we mean by family violence and what falls under that definition. But previous generations, so when we have our older clients coming through, they associate family violence with physical violence, and quite often through our discussions with them in the instructions we take, we’ll identify that they’ve actually suffered a lot more family violence in, there’s been financial control, the social isolation, the mental abuse and, and gaslighting is a big one that we’re seeing now where the perpetrators essentially try to make the victim feel like they’re crazy. They’ll hide their keys. So, the person spends three hours looking for their keys and then they’ll put them back to a really obvious place where they’ve looked before, and undermining their assertions, and making them not so sure of themselves. So, that one is quite hard and can take a while for people to realise that’s happening. Or again, they don’t realise, and we give it a term, when they come and see us, then they do more research and then realise that there’s a lot more going on that they’d never associated with these experiences, and it falling under family violence.
A lot of women can’t see a way out, aren’t sure what their options are. Finance is a big issue and people not being able to access finances to set themselves up again, ‘cause quite often these women live with nothing; the controls being such that everything’s in the other party’s name.
And I think too, for a lot of women, they struggle with the fact that this person was someone they loved. Might be, you know, the parent of their children, there’s always going to be that connection with them. So, you need them to better themselves and try to get on top of the behaviour, the feelings, the mental health associated with a lot of these situations.
Part of it too is they are groomed to a point where they don’t know any different. They struggle to understand what a healthy relationship is, and too, a lot of them stay to be protective in their own way to protect their children: if I’m copping it, my child’s being left alone. There’s that almost subconscious behaviour, protective behaviour, which I think in a lot of situations isn’t properly acknowledged. Yes, it might not be what we see exactly as being the most protective thing that they can do, but in their situation with the resources they have, it is. It is being protective and takes a lot of strength on their part to do that as well.
I think there’s an element of people still seeing it as a private issue and not a public issue and falling outside of criminal ramifications. I mean, there’s bigger issues across the various cultures, religions, with family violence and how people consider it or what they’re options are. A lot of people feel that they will be persecuted more than the person who’s done the wrongs. And in some ways, we do see that quite often, it is these people who’ve experienced family violence that have to jump through more hoops to prove that they can protect their children or they can stay away from the perpetrator when they’re the one, the perpetrator’s the one chasing them down and not getting the message and no one sort of talking to them about the implications of that.
A lot of time they get so, so tired fighting the system, and just feel like they’re not getting anywhere that a lot of them give up. And their outcomes are much worse when that happens, and families break down more.
There’s a lot of, a lot of frustrations, and it is hard when someone you’ve tried to help does go back to their relationship, but we know that it does take a lot of times for people to get out and stay out. So, we need to still be conscious of giving that person a positive experience and knowing that they can trust us and that we can work with them so that when they get to that point where they do want to finally leave, they know they can come back to us and we can help.
But it is hard. It gets exhausting at times because you want to do more, but your hands are so tied. And there’s really… yeah, you just hit that brick wall and you know this person’s unsafe and you feel… a bit hopeless, I think.
Community elders do have a role in this space, both in informing service providers what is appropriate in how we provide our service and our best way to tackle things, but also educating the younger community members, providing guidance, and again, someone who they can talk to and our engagement with them can lead people to our service. I do think it’s essential really, particularly, for a service for a specific cultural group. You need to stay connected with that and make sure you’re implementing best practice as a worker.
I think everyone has a part in this, and improving the message that’s out there, being more aware around family violence, being more aware around cultural issues, you know, trying to speak to the right people and not making assumptions; being informed. I think we all play our part in it and we can all step in and do something if we see, you know, things happening or correcting someone if they’re saying the wrong thing.
I think what’s really important about this project and what we would we’d like to see out of it, and I think in everything we do in our work and our networking with services and our community legal education, is just getting more information out there so people understand what family violence is, can identify it easier and know that there’s options out there to get support or get legal advice or to try and better their situations. They don’t have to keep putting up with what they have. And, even if it’s only a couple of people we reach, that’s still a few more that we wouldn’t have reached otherwise. And I think that that’s a really important thing and we need to keep having these conversations or people will be complacent and we’re not gonna change anything.