New research reveals harrowing stories of murdered Indigenous women and the failure of police to act

Indigenous women are eight times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be murdered, according to national statistics. Figures compiled by the Australian Institute of Criminology show a significant proportion of these are attributable to intimate partner violence.

I conducted a study, published this week, that examined the deaths of 151 Indigenous women and girls from across Australia over a 20-year period beginning in 2000. Almost all of these women and girls were subjected to intimate partner violence, whether at the hands of their husband or de facto spouse (72.2%), boyfriend (15.9%) or ex-partner (5.9%). The offenders were both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

My research also revealed that in almost all of these instances, Indigenous women experiencing intimate partner violence had engaged with police to help them in their situations. However, a lot of women did not receive the support that potentially could have saved their lives.

Of those women whose stories we studied, 61.6% died from blunt force trauma assaults that went on for hours. The offenders used not only their bodies to inflict injury, but also whatever was at their disposal, such as rocks, pieces of concrete, fence palings and pieces of furniture.

The significance of this finding is that it speaks to the possibility of witnesses (other household members, neighbours, passersby) having the opportunity to intervene by calling 000 on behalf of the victim. Certainly there was evidence of this in the cases we examined.

At the time of writing, 106 offenders among the 151 cases have been held accountable through the justice system for the deaths of these women. However, it should be noted not all were convicted of murder or manslaughter.

We know from the case files that 41.7% of the cases we investigated are mothers. Seven of the women were also pregnant at the time of their deaths.

The records also show 25% of these women’s children witnessed violence in the home, potentially including the murder itself. This finding is important, as it reinforces the need for trauma-informed care for children in these situations.

Indigenous women have also been arrested when they have called for help, either through being misidentified as the perpetrator, or due to other matters such as overdue fines.

In one instance, Yamatji woman Tamika Mullally was beaten almost to death by her partner, but police arrested her and her father, who had come to help her. Her baby Charlie was later killed by her partner while she and her father were in police custody.

Our study found there was a consistent practice of non-compliance with police general orders relating to domestic violence. For example, officers were not doing background checks on whether restraining orders were in place to determine the level of risk a victim may be in.

We also found police often did not follow through on victims’ requests for domestic violence orders to protect them. Some officers asked the victim whether they really wanted their partner to go to court, forcing victims to second-guess their own decisions about their safety.

A coroner (name witheld) who conducted 17.9% of the inquests and investigations into the cases in this study reported that in his experience if it was not institutional racism that was confounding the actions of police, “it was lazy policing”.

Source: New research reveals harrowing stories of murdered Indigenous women and the failure of police to act

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