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2.10 Community safety

Why is it important?

Experiencing threats of violence, being in an environment where personal safety is at risk, or in a social setting where violence is common, has negative health effects. The level of violence experienced by Indigenous Australians is also experienced in the context of colonisation, discrimination and subsequent markers of disadvantage such as low income, unemployment, lack of access to traditional lands and substance use (Day et al. 2013). Safe communities are places in which people are more likely to experience empowerment, security, pride, wellbeing and resilience (see measure 1.13).

The Burden of Disease and Injury study (Vos et al. 2007) ranked homicide and violence as the tenth largest contributor to the total burden of disease and injury for Indigenous Australians. For Indigenous females, intimate partner violence was a health risk factor responsible for 5.4% of the burden of disease and injury, having its impact not only through homicide and violence but also anxiety and depression, heart disease, suicide and other diseases.

Findings

In 2008, 24% of Indigenous Australian adults reported they were a victim of physical or threatened violence in the last 12 months, twice the rate for non-Indigenous Australians. In 2012–13, 8% of Indigenous Australians reported family stressors relating to feeling unsafe or being a witness to violence, and 7% reported stressors related to abuse/violent crime. Similar proportions of Indigenous Australian men (12%) and women (13%) reported stressors due to trouble with the police and were 5 times as likely to report this as a stressor compared with non-Indigenous Australians. Indigenous women were more likely to report experiencing stressors due to alcohol and drug-related problems (21%) than Indigenous men (15%). A higher proportion of Indigenous Australians living in non-remote areas reported stress related to feeling unsafe (9%) compared with those living in remote areas (5%). Those who were unemployed were more likely to report feeling unsafe, witnessing violence and/or abuse/violent crime than those who were employed (18% compared with 13% respectively). These safety problems were also more likely to be reported by those who were in the lowest income quintile (16%) compared with those who were in the highest income quintile (13%).

In 2012–13, 19% of Indigenous Australians had been injured in the 4 weeks prior to being surveyed. Of those aged 15 years and over who had their injuries treated, 11% were injured while under the influence of alcohol/drugs. In terms of how the injury occurred, around 6% were injured due to an attack by another person or fighting and 11% were injured by hitting something or being hit by something. Half of all injuries treated occurred in or around the person's own home or someone else's home.

In 2013 (NSW, SA and the NT combined), police recorded 12,000 cases of assault where the victim was Indigenous. Indigenous victims of assault were more likely to report the offender being known to the victim compared with non-Indigenous victims. For Indigenous females, partners were the most common offenders. In 2008, 25% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women had experienced one or more incidents of physical violence in the previous 12 months and almost all (94%) knew the perpetrator of their most recent incident. These women were more likely to identify a current or previous partner (32%) and/or a family member (28%) as the perpetrator.

Nationally, the hospitalisation rates for assault were similar for Indigenous males and Indigenous females (10 per 1,000) during the period July 2011 to June 2013. In the NT, rates for Indigenous females were 63 times the rates for non-Indigenous females. Indigenous females in the NT account for 0.3% of all females in Australia, but represent 16% of all female hospitalisations for assault in Australia. After adjusting for differences in the age structure between populations, Indigenous males were 8 times as likely to have been hospitalised for assault than non-Indigenous males, and Indigenous females were 32 times as likely to have been hospitalised than non-Indigenous females. There has been no significant change in the rate of hospitalisations due to assault between 1998–99 and 2012–13 among Indigenous Australians in Qld, WA, SA and the NT combined.

In the period July 2011 to June 2013, Indigenous hospitalisation rates for assault were highest in remote and very remote areas (28 and 23 per 1,000 respectively) compared with 4 per 1,000 in major cities. Rates were highest for Indigenous Australians aged 25–44 years, 15 to 19 times the non-Indigenous rate for these age groups. Indigenous children aged 0–17 years were 5 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be hospitalised due to assault (AIHW 2014r).

A similar pattern to hospitalisations is evident in the number of deaths related to assault. There were 189 Indigenous deaths in 2008–12 due to assault. The mortality rate for assault for Indigenous Australians was around 7 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians in this period. Mortality rates for assault were highest among those aged 35–44 years in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Deaths from assault were 10 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians in this same age group.

Analysis of victims of homicide between 2007 and 2012 shows higher rates of intimate partner and other family members as being victims of homicide for Indigenous Australians (60%) compared with non-Indigenous Australians (43%). Similarly, circumstances of domestic altercation were higher for Indigenous Australian victims of homicide (43%) compared with non-Indigenous (28%). In 2012–13, 28% of Indigenous female clients cited domestic/family violence as the main reason for seeking assistance from homeless services.

Implications

Having a safe community to live in is critical to closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage. All Australian governments have endorsed the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010–2022 (the National Plan), which includes a specific focus on Indigenous family violence through Outcome 3: Indigenous Communities are Strengthened. The Second Action Plan under the National Plan (released in June 2014) contains 26 actions and has a strong focus on deepening the understanding of Indigenous women's experience of violence in order to stop it from happening.

The Australian Government's Indigenous Advancement Strategy includes a Safety and Wellbeing Programme to enhance Indigenous community safety and wellbeing through funding: community legal services, court support and counselling; early intervention and violence prevention activities; coordination of support services for victims of violence; women's safe houses; community education and community strengthening projects; and initiatives that seek to change violent attitudes and behaviours.

Figure 2.10-1 Age-standardised hospitalisation rates for assault by Indigenous status, Qld, WA, SA and the NT, 1998–99 to 2012–13
Age-standardised hospitalisation rates

Figure 2.10-1 shows age-standardised hospitalisation rates for a principal diagnosis of assault (rate per 1,000) among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians in Qld, WA, SA and NT. Data is presented annually from 2002–03 to 2012–13. Data is presented separately for males and females. For Qld, WA, SA and the NT combined there has been no significant change in the rate of hospitalisations due to assault for males, but there has been an increase in the rate for females since 1998-89.

Source: AIHW analysis of AIHW National Hospital Morbidity database

Figure 2.10-2 Deaths from assault (homicide) by Indigenous status and age, NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT, 2008–12
Deaths from assault (homicide)

Figure 2.10-2 shows deaths from assault (homicide) (rate per 100,000) among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and NT in 2008-2012. Data is presented for the following age groups: 0-4 years; 5-14 years; 15-24 years; 25-34 years; 35-44 years; 45-54 years; 55-64 years; and 65 years and over. Mortality rates for assault were highest among those aged 35–44 years in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Deaths from assault were 10 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians in the same age group.

Source: AIHW analysis of AIHW National Mortality Database

Table 2.10-1 Issues of community safety, proportion of persons aged 15 years and over, by Indigenous status, 2012–13
Male
Indig.
Male
Non-Indig.
Female
Indig.
Female
Non-Indig.
Persons
Indig.
Persons
Non-Indig.
Experienced by individual, family members and/or close friends in last 12 months:
Alcohol or drug related problems 15% 4% 21% 6% 18% 5%
Trouble with the police 12% 3% 13% 2% 13% 2%
Witness to violence 7% 2% 8% 2% 8% 2%
Gambling problems 7% 1% 9% 1% 8% 1%
Abuse or violent crime 4% 2% 10% 2% 7% 2%

Differences between Indigenous/non-Indigenous groups are statistically significant at the p<0.05 level.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2012–13 AATSIHS

Figure 2.10-3 Male victims of assault, relationship to offender, by Indigenous status, NSW, SA & NT, 2013
Male victims of assault, relationship to offender

Figure 2.10-3 shows the the proportion of male victims of assualt who knew the offender and those who did not know the offender. Data is presented separately for NSW, SA and NT and no national total is presented. Indigenous victims of assault were more likely to report the offender being known to the victim compared to non-Indigenous victims.

Source: ABS Recorded Crime—Victims, 2013 (ABS 2014j)

Figure 2.10-4 Female victims of assault, relationship to offender, by Indigenous status, NSW, SA & NT, 2013
Female victims of assault, relationship to offender

Figure 2.10-4 shows the the proportion of female victims of assualt who knew the offender and those who did not know the offender. Data is presented separately for NSW, SA and NT and no national total is presented. Indigenous victims of assault were more likely to report the offender being known to the victim compared to non-Indigenous victims.

Source: ABS Recorded Crime—Victims, 2013 (ABS 2014j)