1.49     Throughout this report a number of terms or phrases are frequently used. These are summarised here.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

1.50     The Terms of Reference refer to ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ and the ALRC has adopted this phrase throughout this Report. The ALRC acknowledges the diversity of cultures, traditional practices and differences across communities and the various clan, language and skin groups represented throughout Australia and the Torres Strait. In using the phrase ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’, the ALRC does not intend to diminish or deny the importance of this cultural and linguistic diversity.

1.51     The recognition of diversity is rarely apparent from data and analysis of persons involved in the criminal justice system. Data rarely makes a distinction between Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people. This deficit has prevented the ALRC from identifying whether research and analysis is relevant to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, or whether those from different Aboriginal cultural backgrounds may be represented differently in the criminal justice system.

1.52     The abbreviation ‘ATSI’ has been used to refer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in some tables and graphs in this Report.

‘Culturally appropriate’, ‘culturally competent’ and ‘culturally safe’

1.53     The Terms of Reference ask the ALRC to have regard to existing data and research in relation to, among other matters, the ‘availability and effectiveness of culturally appropriate programs that intend to reduce Aboriginal; and Torres Strait Islander offending and incarceration’.

1.54     Throughout the Report, the ALRC uses the terms ‘culturally appropriate’, ‘culturally competent’, and ‘culturally safe’ in relation to programs, projects, pilots, initiatives and reforms. In using these terms, the ALRC is referring to the requirement that matters be developed, organised and implemented with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and, where possible, facilitated and owned by those communities.

1.55     These terms lack an objective definition. The Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Andrew Jackomos, describes cultural safety as

an environment that is safe for people: where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge and experience, of learning, living and working together with dignity and truly listening.[39]

1.56     Maryann Bin-Sallik suggests that

[c]ultural safety extends beyond cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity. It empowers individuals and enables them to contribute to the achievement of positive outcomes. It encompasses a reflection on individual cultural identity and recognition of the impact of personal culture on professional practice.[40]

1.57     Jackomos has suggested that, for Aboriginal people, cultural safety and security requires:

Environments of cultural resilience within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities;

Cultural competency by those who engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.[41]

1.58     The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has defined cultural competence as meaning ‘a set of congruent behaviours, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or amongst professionals and enables that system, agency, or those professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations’.[42]

1.59     COAG has suggested that cultural competence is

essential for services and programmes offering support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners and ex-prisoners. Such prisoners and ex-prisoners may lack a level of bi-cultural understanding to be able to switch between Indigenous and mainstream ways of thinking, acting and communicating. This creates an additional level of disadvantage, particularly when dealing with sensitive issues or stressful situations.[43]

1.60     While the ALRC relies upon the definitions above in its understanding of the terms ‘culturally appropriate’, ‘culturally competent’, and ‘culturally safe’, the specific use of these terms by the ALRC in this Report is in reference only to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

Trauma-informed approaches

1.61     Many of the discussions and recommendations contained within this Report refer to the effects of trauma upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Some recommendations require those implementing the recommendations to take a ‘trauma-informed approach’ or provide a ‘trauma-informed response’. It is necessary to understand what is meant by ‘trauma-informed’ approach or responses that are specific to, and meet the needs of, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Professor Helen Milroy—a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia—has described Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s experiences of trauma:

We are part of the dreaming. We have been in the dreaming for a long time before we are born on this earth and we will return to this vast landscape at the end of our days. It provides for us during our time on earth, a place to heal, to restore purpose and hope, and continue our destiny. Our country and people have suffered many traumas since colonisation, the magnitude of which is beyond words. Looking through trauma is like being trapped in the back of a mirror, there is no reflection of self. It is like being trapped in darkness, unable to see where to go or what is there, surrounded by ‘not knowing’, paralysed by fear. When we are wounded, our story is disrupted and life becomes fragmented. We may not be able to find our way forward and may start to see life through warped mirrors. We have to understand that trauma is only a part of our story and our story is part of a much greater story that has a different beginning, is enduring and will continue well beyond our lifetime.[44]

1.62     The Mental Health Coordinating Council (MHCC)—a peak body for community mental health organisations in New South Wales—describes the effects of trauma as

that which arises from interpersonal abuse and/or neglect in childhood, as well as victimisation in adulthood, can lead to serious long-term consequences and many survivors adopt extreme coping strategies which can persist into adult life (as an attempt to manage overwhelming traumatic stress). These strategies include suicidality, substance abuse and addictions, self-harming behaviours, dissociation, and re-enactments of past abusive relationships. Trauma can be trans-generational for individuals and/or affect whole communities.[45]

1.63     Trauma can overlap with, but may not include, people who have complex needs. As the MHCC noted:

Complex Need refers to individuals who present with an inter-related mix of diverse mental health and physical health issues, developmental and psychosocial problems. Many people with complex needs have histories of trauma (emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse), as well as other types of childhood interpersonal trauma including but not limited to chronic neglect and the effects of family violence.[46]

The Stolen Generation: understanding intergenerational trauma

1.64     Professor Judy Atkinson has emphasised the importance of understanding the nature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences of trauma:

While many Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian children grow up in safe homes and live in safe communities, there are some who do not. In the case of Indigenous children, some families and communities are unable to, or are still working to, heal the trauma of past events, including displacement from Country, institutionalisation and abuse. The Stolen Generations also represent a significant cause of trauma. In 2008, an estimated 8% of Indigenous people aged 15 and over reported being removed from their natural family and 38% had relatives who had been removed from their natural family…This trauma can pass to children (inter-generational trauma).[47]

1.65     The Bringing Them Home Report outlined the deleterious effect of child removal:

One principal effect of the forcible removal policies was the destruction of cultural links. This was of course their declared aim. Culture, language, land and identity were to be stripped from the children in the hope that the traditional law and culture would die by losing their claim on them and sustenance on them.[48]

1.66     Professor Ann McGrath has described policies of child removal that operated within the Northern Territory as ‘the ultimate racist act’.[49] Professor Pat Dudgeon, Dr Michael Wright, Dr Yin Paradies, Darren Garvey and Professor Iain Walker have argued that ‘[McGrath’s] statement can be generalised to the rest of Australia.’[50]

1.67     Lorraine Peeters, Shaan Hamann and Kerrie Kelly have noted that the trauma inflicted by successive government policies of child removal was effectively denied until the publication of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC), some 80 years after the first sanctioned child removals began:

The trauma generated by these policies was experienced by thousands of children over a 62-year period up until 1972. However, the source of this trauma was not acknowledged until the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) drew attention to policies and practices of forcible removal in 1991. The Royal Commission reported: ‘The horror of a regime that took young Aboriginal children, sought to cut them off suddenly from all contact with their families and communities, instil in them a repugnance of all things Aboriginal, and prepare them harshly for a life as the lowest level of worker in a prejudiced white community’… Following removal, children were placed in non-Aboriginal institutions and foster and adoptive families and many were assigned new names and birth dates to prevent their families from locating them. The children were told either that their families had rejected them or that they were dead.[51]

1.68     The effects of the Stolen Generations have been lasting and intergenerational. As Professors Robert Parker and Helen Milroy note in relation to health and wellbeing outcomes:

The WAACHS [Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey] reports on the psychological wellbeing of members of the Stolen Generations and their families. The survey noted that members of the Stolen Generations were more likely to live in households where there were problems related to alcohol abuse and gambling. They were less likely to have a trusting relationship and were more likely to have been arrested for offences. Members of the Stolen Generations were more likely to have had contact with mental health services. The survey commented that children of members of the Stolen Generations had much higher rates of emotional/behavioural difficulties and high rates of harmful substance use.[52]

1.69     Intergenerational trauma related to Stolen Generations processes can sometimes manifest indirectly:

Indigenous children may… experience a range of distressing life events including illness and accidents, hospitalisation or death of close family members, exposure to violence, family disintegration (with kin networks fragmented due to forced removals, relationship breakdown and possibly incarceration) and financial stress [I]t can be difficult to distinguish between direct and indirect trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, where there is an ongoing reality for many of ‘dislocation, dispossession, deprivation and discrimination’. These sources of trauma are historical and multigenerational, but are also relevant to the current sociological climate within Australia.[53]

1.70     The Bringing Them Home Report recommended that ‘services to redress these effects had to be designed, provided and controlled by Aboriginal people themselves’, and highlighted that ‘only Indigenous people themselves are able to comprehend the full extent of the effects of the removal policies’.[54]

Trauma-Informed Care and Practice

1.71     Trauma-Informed Care and Practice (TICP) is ‘an approach whereby all aspects of services are organised around the recognition and acknowledgement of trauma and its prevalence, alongside awareness and sensitivity to its dynamics’.[55] Approaches incorporating TICP have been described by the MHCC as

a strengths-based framework that is responsive to the impact of trauma, emphasising physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both service providers and survivors, and creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment. It is grounded in and directed by a thorough understanding of the… effects of trauma and interpersonal violence and the prevalence of these experiences in persons who receive mental health services.[56]

1.72     MHCC further noted that:

Key principles of trauma-informed care include safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment. A TICP framework recognises the impact of power differentials in service settings, maximises self-determination, supports autonomy and empowers individuals to learn about the nature of their injuries and to take responsibility in their own recovery…TICP is informed by an understanding of the particular vulnerabilities and ‘triggers’ that survivors of complex trauma experience, with services delivering better outcomes, minimising re-victimisation and ensuring that self and community wellness and connectedness can be promoted. TICP… acknowledges and clearly articulates that no one understands the challenges of the recovery journey from trauma better than the person living it. This requires that practitioners are attuned to a person’s experience and to the dynamics of trauma and acknowledge, respect and validate that experience.[57]

Family violence

1.73     For the purposes of defining family violence within this Report, the ALRC adopts the definition of family violence used in the 2001 report, Violence within Indigenous Communities:

‘Family violence’ was broadly defined to encapsulate not only the extended nature of Indigenous families, but also the context of a range of violence forms, occurring frequently between kinspeople in Indigenous communities. The notion of ‘family violence’ may be summarised as follows:

  • family violence may involve all types of relatives. The victim and the perpetrator often have a kinship relation

  •    the perpetrator of violence may be an individual or a group

  •    the victim of violence may also be an individual or a group

  •    the term ‘family’ means ‘extended family’ which also covers a kinship network of discrete, intermarried, descent groups

  •    the ‘community’ may be remote, rural or urban based; its residents may live in one location or be more dispersed, but nevertheless interact behave as a social network

  •    the acts of violence may constitute physical, psychological, emotional, social, economic and/or sexual abuse

  •    some of the acts of violence are ongoing over a long period of time, one of the most prevalent examples being spousal (or domestic) violence[58]