The ABC published an article in line with the Four Corners Documentary, ‘How Many More’ which premiered Monday the 24th of October and discusses the high rates of death among Indigenous women.

In both the article and documentary, it bravely pointed out that Indigenous women are murdered at 12 times the national average and the authors astutely call it an “Indigenous femicide”. Details are given on the harrowing and horrible deaths of three Indigenous women at the hands of their partners or ex-partners throughout the article. But, it focuses almost exclusively on why in many cases it’s the Police’s fault, how a missing Black woman isn’t taken seriously (whereas a missing White woman is), and even how “colonial logics” contributes to a lack of effort and care regarding Indigenous women experiencing violence primarily from their partners.

What is extremely relevant but barely touched on, sadly, are the other contributory factors. These include the fact that these women are dying almost exclusively at the hands of Indigenous men, substance and alcohol abuse is a factor in the vast majority of cases along with welfare dependency, and that there is a cultural component that many fear bringing up. Pointing these out in no way shifts blame from Police Officers who didn’t take calls for help seriously or from a lack of funding for women’s shelters. Because these are important factors and deserve an appropriate amount of blame and attention. But what is far more systemic is what I’ve just listed, these negative outcomes can be found across the country in remote Indigenous communities. And the suffering they cause is almost unfathomable.

Justice Judith Kelly is a Northern Territory Supreme Court Judge appointed in 2009. On the 26th of August of this year, she gave a speech at the 2022 Women Lawyers Drinks in which she describes in detail many of the reasons why Indigenous women are killed and injured at such astoundingly high rates. Given her position and experience, what she lists as contributors should be taken with the utmost seriousness. The first is an ideology of “supposed antiracism” that treats Aboriginal people as if they’re permanent victims and labels people and entire institutions as racist with no evidence. This cult-like movement dismisses fundamentally important realities in favour of an unfounded belief in systemic racism.

The second is that some people in these communities, who themselves are primarily Indigenous Australians, often turn a blind eye to instances of domestic violence. In her speech, she focused on two instances in which this occurred. In one of them, twenty people saw or heard the victim being assaulted and crying for help without intervening or calling triple zero. Justice Kelly goes on to point out that two Indigenous men were shot by Police between 2000 and 2022 with massive amounts of press coverage and nationwide protests. But, within that same period, 65 Indigenous women were killed by their partner without even a modicum of press coverage and outrage.

The third is the fact that Indigenous men are the perpetrators 99% of the time in these cases. Something I didn’t see mentioned once in the ABC article. Justice Kelly notes that Indigenous people make up about 30% of the Northern Territory population but are 80-90% of the prison population. She goes on to point out that the vast majority of Indigenous inmates are male and a large percentage of them are incarcerated for committing violence against Indigenous women. Again, this wasn’t mentioned in either.

The fourth is the significant cultural component I touched on in several paragraphs above. Justice Kelly states:

“There is still, in some quarters, a view that the use of physical violence to ‘discipline’ wives (and others who have done the ‘wrong’ thing) is justified and is lawful under customary law. There is also a widespread belief that the infliction of violence in retaliation for violence – whether formally in organised payback or haphazardly in individual assaults, raids, or vendettas – is lawful (and at times obligatory). The blood feud is alive and well in the Territory and, by and large, the participants believe that they are justified by customary law.”

She goes on to list a number of individual cases and books wherein it’s clearly evident that this cultural component is alive and well. And further extends to the point wherein it’s often the male perpetrators’ interests that take priority in the communities eyes as opposed to the female victims.

I did not see a single one of these facts mentioned in the ABC article or documentary. As annoyed as I am at the fact that these fundamentally important realities aren’t discussed I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s fantastic that a spotlight is at least shone in that direction but unless it’s illuminating far more important contributors how is it actually going to change anything?

It’s important to acknowledge failures by the Police and local governments as that does and did happen and already has been acknowledged. But in all three cases focused on in the documentary it was clearly evident that alcohol was involved with zero mention. That the abuse was perpetrated by Indigenous men in all three cases and that Indigenous men commit domestic violence at higher rates when compared to the general population. That question wasn’t even slightly hinted at and neither were the factors that lead to higher rates of domestic violence. Things like perpetual welfare dependency and substance abuse.  

Nothing will change in these communities if our national broadcaster puts out an article and documentary highlighting a justifiably called “femicide” without even acknowledging critical truths contributing to it. The Police may well have failed in their duties to protect in these three instances, but why were the women killed in the first place?

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