Justice Commissioner Social Justice

Build a knowledge base to improve current practices and processes to benefit Indigenous women Professionals within the field of sexual assault are not typically the first support system for an Aboriginal women rather they rely on informal helping systems, which consist of their immediate, and extended family. However these situations often result in trauma and Aboriginal women should have the confidence to seek professional help where they are struggling without fear or discrimination. When such help has been sought Aboriginal women often find that the justice system and other parties are often unavailable, unwilling or inappropriate.

This is often due to their lack of understanding of Aboriginal people and their cultural law. Just as 'Western response to family violence like women's refuges, criminal justice responses and programs of a therapeutic nature have mostly been culturally inappropriate and ineffective' so has the initative developed in the realm of sexual violence. Any model that separates the victim from the perpetrator will only succeed in dividing Aboriginal families and communities rather than healing all the parties involved.

Establish guidelines to assist the courts and non-indigenous lawyers To avoid the rape of Aboriginal women being dismissed as 'traditional practice' and thus becoming a barrier to equality there needs to be a set of culturally appropriate guidelines made for those within the justice system. Such guidelines would ensure that culture would not be viewed in isolation but within its historical context by reinforcing the social, political and economic disadvantages suffered by Aboriginal communities and will shift the focus from misinterpreting Aboriginal law.

As part of any proposed guidelines it would be integral that they include awareness that the 'culture defence' holds no origin in Aboriginal law. To blame an Aboriginal woman's culture for the sexual offence committed against her 'is itself a racist proposition'33 Further any response to an Aboriginal sexual assault should also aim to address the determinants of the crime at multiple levels. The focus must not be on the victim or perpetrator behaviour but must also delve into the familial and cultural context in which the crime occurred.

In attempting to address these needs it would also be beneficial for professional's to adopt a strategy that would facilitate community healing that recognises that 'men, women and children are interconnected through a system of kinship and mutual obligations, and remain so'34. This could be enacted by simply allowing any decision making in the matter to include not only the principal parties but also the community to act as a support and also to act as 'cultural informers' so that professionals make decisions that are in conformity with Aboriginal lore and cultural traditions rather than making decisions based on erroneous stereotypes.

35 Conduct a comprehensive analysis of cases to determine which Indigenous women and children present as victims of sexual assault Cripps's research into the support services were available found that the 'majority were grossly inadequate when it came to meeting the needs of Indigenous women'. A majority of the services researched held no information on the experiences or consequences of violence in Aboriginal communities, which then resulted in the unable to adopt an appropriate approach that recognised these issues.

Cripps states that 'this lack of awareness may go some way to explaining why Indigenous women often choose not to utilise mainstream services'. Federal and State governments would find an increase in Aboriginal women utilising services if they were willing to facilitate or encourage partnerships with local Indigenous communities through Aboriginal organisations. Each State and Territory in Australia has Aboriginal organisations laced within them that hold strong ties to their local communities as well as fellow organisations.

Their stronger networks could be utilised to provide awareness of what services are available as well as being able to provide advice to mainstream services on what changes need to be made in order to make these services culturally appropriate. Establish restorative programs to ensure that members of the community are kept within the community A restorative justice program would be flexible enough to meet the needs of Aboriginal people and rebuild community control and relationships. The essence of the program must be to provide support to the victim, offender and community to heal the harm caused by sexual assault.

One key element of the program would be that the perpetrator must be willing to genuinely acknowledge responsibility in order to demonstrate remorse principally to the victims but also to the community, this 'shaming' mechanism is required in order for the perpetrator to provide adequate restitution. The process would be a combination of negotiation and mediation in order to provide each concerned party an opportunity to have their say in an environment that is personal and meaningful to them.

The venue does not need to be a conference room it could be a room within a local organisation or perhaps such as the former Maya Healing Centre36, it would provide an open forum in an environment that included Aboriginal artworks and comfortable furniture. By having a venue each party feels comfortable in and feels their cultural identity is being recognised. Such a venue would provide reinforcement that parties are encouraged to present their views which would give the offender the unique opportunity to feel and see the harm they have caused which can work towards behavioural and attitudinal change.

Additionally, by conducting the program in an Aboriginal venue controlled by Aboriginal people it will lend the community the sense that they are seeing and feeling real change that will contribute to the balance of harmony within their community. CONCLUSION The sexual abuse of Aboriginal women cannot go unnoticed or dismissed as an 'Aboriginal problem' it is a problem for the whole of society. The criminal justice system is not equipped to deal with the cultural issues that lead to such abuse.

A new approach is required one that recognises the needs of the victims and empowers the Aboriginal community to rejuvenate their cultural lore. By empowering the community to develop an approach that they believe will work and fits their needs we will see results.


1. Articles/Books/Reports 'Addressing the needs of Indigenous women exiting prison, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Social Justice Report 2004' Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. http://www. hreoc. gov. au/Social_Justice/sj_report/sjreport04/2WalkingWithTheWomen. html

'Submission to the Northern Territory Law Reform Committee Inquiry into Aboriginal Customary Law in the Northern Territory by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission' Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission http://www. hreoc. gov. au/legal/submissions/sage/customary_law/submission. html 2009-2021, National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children (Australia) and Australia. Dept. of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Canberra: 2009