As rates of family and domestic violence increase in WA, calls are mounting for culturally safe housing for both victims and offenders.
In 2018-19, WA Police reported 19,333 cases of assaults related to family violence. In 2020-21, 23,792 cases were reported.
There were 11,480 incidents of violence restraining order breaches in 2018-19, increasing by 566 cases in 2020-21.
Wungening Aboriginal Corporation, an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation, provides 24/7 short term accommodation for women and children in crisis.
For half a decade, the service has provided safety through 10 self-contained units.
Wungening CEO Daniel Morrison said the service was often stretched to capacity.
With immense pressure on the system, family violence experts and frontline workers are calling for offender crisis housing, which would include programmatic intervention.
“That’s been a massive gap for quite some time,” Mr Morrison said.
“There are a lot of accommodation facilities for women and children, which is great, and we still need more, but we do need options for perpetrators.
“It makes much more sense to leave the women and their children in their own home.
“Take the perpetrator out and give them support to overcome the reasons why they use violence.”
Family and domestic violence expert, Noongar woman and human rights lawyer Dr Hannah McGlade told the National Indigenous Times the need for men’s crisis housing was something emphasised to her “almost 20 years ago”.
“We need single men’s accommodation; Aboriginal women should not be leaving their homes,” she said.
“It’s very disruptive to women, to children’s education and their wellbeing.
She said there was a “dire need” for culturally appropriate intervention programs for Aboriginal men.
“Aboriginal men make up a very high proportion of cases in courts and are vastly overrepresented,” she said.
“We need to do better, and especially support Indigenous leadership and knowledge in violence prevention.”
The Aboriginal Males Healing Centre in the Pilbara is one of the only culturally appropriate, Aboriginal-led intervention services available to Aboriginal men in the State.
The service provides a 12- month residential healing program incorporating clinical care and rehabilitation, underpinned by Aboriginal culture and Lore.
Currently, AMHC is not government-funded.
Yuat, Wadjuk, and Pibilman man Devon Cuimara is the founder and CEO of AMHC.
Mr Cuimara said men’s programmatic intervention and crisis housing placed the “obligation on the perpetrator”.
“All you’re doing is providing a group housing facility where the offender is obliged to attend and remain when issued with a VRO,” he said.
“Presently, they’re given . . . lunch and a water bag and told to walk and stay away. It’s during this time when we see VRO breaches. The only form of detainment is punitive.
“Why do you only have those two regular ingredients? Why are there no other alternatives?”
Currently in WA, the only intervention to keep an offender from breaching an issued VRO is an arrest warrant.
WA Minister for Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence Simone McGurk told the National Indigenous Times “given the serious and criminal nature of breaching a VRO, custody is an appropriate option if a breach offence is committed”.
Mr Cuimara explained the layered nature of family and domestic violence.
“Children are visible in all of this,” he said.
“Their regular routine is taken from them and living in violence becomes the norm.
“It’s another intergenerational trauma occurring under people’s noses. There are so many layers to this. We’re dealing with incarceration, homelessness, family violence and so much more.”
Currently, the system makes “women and their children pay the price”.
However, through culturally safe programmatic intervention and crisis housing, offenders were provided a safe space to heal, Mr Cuimara said.
Ms McGurk told the National Indigenous Times the Department of Communities provided $41 million per year to 41 family and domestic violence services and programs in WA, including services “operated by Aboriginal community-controlled organisations”.
“All family and domestic violence services funded by (the Department of) Communities are required to provide a culturally appropriate and safe service,” she said.
The WA Government is developing an Aboriginal Safety Strategy to ensure “responses are culturally informed”.
The Government has also committed to “trialling a rapid rehousing project” which would work to support Aboriginal women transition “from refuges to safe and affordable housing”.
By Rachael Knowles
If you are experiencing family or domestic violence, please contact:
- National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence counselling service – 1800 RESPECT
- Domestic Violence Line NSW – 1800 656 463
- Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800
Visit respect.gov.au for more information and to download free resources.