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Institutional racism in Australian justice systems linked to the deaths of 151 Indigenous women, study finds

Giovanni Torre -

National Indigenous Times respectfully advises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people this article contains references and descriptions to deceased persons.

A Monash University study has found systematic racism within Australia’s justice system is linked to 151 Indigenous women’s deaths, prompting calls for greater accountability of authorities in responding to domestic and family violence.

The article, 'Indigenous women and intimate partner homicide in Australia: confronting the impunity of policing failures', published in Current Issues in Criminal Justice, reveals that Indigenous women are more likely to experience violence than any other Australians.    

Monash Indigenous Studies Centre Director Professor Kyllie Cripps, a proud Palawa woman and study lead, said the findings highlight the vulnerability of Indigenous women to intimate partner homicides, with most of the 151 deaths over 20 years entirely preventable.    

“This study reveals that in almost all instances Indigenous women experiencing intimate partner violence have engaged a range of services or responses to help them in their situations. The most significant being our first responders – police,” Professor Cripps said. 

"It takes immense courage for our women to reach out for support, it is incumbent upon our first responders, indeed all of us with the capacity to support victim survivors, to genuinely hear them, and to be responsive in ways that respect their right to life, to be safe and to be treated with dignity.”  

The study examined policing practices across Australia and found them to be underpinned by systematic racism that undermined their responsiveness to intimate partner violence, highlighting the need for greater accountability of law enforcement to help stamp out systematic racism and to better respond to the needs of Aboriginal women.    

Almost two-thirds of the Indigenous women examined in the study died from blunt force trauma and prolonged assaults. The report found the offenders brutally kicked, punched, hit and stomped on the Indigenous women, using whatever else was at their disposal including rocks, pieces of furniture, power cords to inflict harm.    

The study found that preventing the deaths of Indigenous women from intimate partner violence is only possible if systems are in place to address and prioritise their safety.    

Professor Cripps said the justice system failed Indigenous women at intersections with the law, policy and practice, and arguably contributed to the deaths of Indigenous women.    

“The stories in this paper highlight that at every stage of policing practice, there are opportunities for improvement. While some officers are already doing good work, it needs to be done more consistently as our women’s lives are put at significant risk,” she said.    

Almost 48 per cent of the deaths examined in this study occurred within significant city limits which could have allowed for greater access to emergency and police services compared to the other 53.3 per cent of regional and remote settings where services are more limited.    

The study findings align with the comments of a coroner, who oversaw 17.9 per cent of the examined cases, labelling the actions of police as akin to “systematic racism” or at the very least, “lazy policing”.    

Seventy-two per cent of the women were killed by their de facto/husband, almost 16 per cent died at the hands of boyfriends and 12 per cent killed by ex- and other intimate partners.    

Alcohol was involved in 69.5 per cent of the deaths examined in this study, consistent with broader Australian population data that reports more than 60 per cent of male homicide offenders who have killed a female intimate partner have engaged in problematic drug and/or alcohol use in the lead-up to or at the time of the homicide.    

The study calls for sustainable and systematic reform to improve training, accountability processes and practices, and ongoing commitments to examine each and every death that involves Indigenous women and girls through Domestic and Family Violence death reviews that include Indigenous experts as part of that process.      

The article examined 151 coronial court investigations and inquests across Australia from 2000 to 2020, grouped into themes including the actions of police, who are first responders.    

National Indigenous Times has contacted Commonwealth Attorney General Mark Dreyfus for comment.

The full report is available online.


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