Violence not confined to remote communities

Date: May 29 2006

By Farah Farouque

VIOLENCE plagues Aboriginal women and children in Melbourne and regional Victoria in the same way as remote communities, says the manager of the state's only refuge catering solely for indigenous women.

Rose Solomon, head of the Elizabeth Hoffman House, which also has an outreach service, said it was not uncommon for indigenous mothers, and years later their daughters, to seek help.

"While the profile of the community is different, and there are many more mixed relationships, the issues of family violence we are dealing with in Victoria are not very different from up north. It is an absolute disgrace," Ms Solomon told The Age. "Aboriginal women will present with horrific injuries such as broken noses, long-term scars from previous violence or even self-mutilation. And the problem is not just the blokes, it's the community violence as well."

The Age visited the high-security refuge in an outer Melbourne suburb at the weekend. Single mother Sharlene, 21, nurses her toddler, and unsentimentally catalogues her family history: a grandmother who was murdered; a mother who was taken away from her Aboriginal parents to live with a white family and has been in and out of an abusive long-term relationship.

Sharlene also fled a violent relationship with a non-Aboriginal man after falling pregnant. Her late teenage years were spent moving between friends' homes and a period when she abused amphetamines and marijuana.

She had been living with her mother, who suffers from mental illness, but was forced out after her mother decided to reconcile with her violent stepfather.

There are 10 children at the refuge. The oldest, Tammy, 12, offers chocolate crackles to the visitors. Childish merriment contrasts with mothers' grim stories.

Tammy's mother Brenda, 35, fled her home after being stalked by her ex-partner. It's not the first visit to the shelter for the mother of three. A Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Taskforce report, released two years ago, found indigenous Victorians are eight times more likely to be victims of family violence than those in the non-indigenous community.

Muriel Bamblett, from the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, said challenges facing the indigenous population could be seen in the over-representation in the child protection system.

While the state has one of the smaller indigenous populations nationally — about 27,800 — indigenous children in Victoria are 10 times more likely to be removed from their homes and put in care than other children. This is the worst rate nationally.

"That in itself should tell you something," Ms Solomon said.