Listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Voices: A Self-Directed Learning Guide

Listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Voices: A Self-Directed Learning Guide

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This self-directed learning guide has been prepared by Djirra in partnership with Safe and Equal, for family violence workers who have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women as their clients.

Aboriginal definition of family violence

Family violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples carries its own self determined definition that must be understood and embedded into specialist family violence service responses and across the broader system. Aboriginal definition of family and the forms of family violence are broader than those used in the mainstream.

The Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Task Force defined family violence against Aboriginal people as “an issue focused around a wide range of physical, emotional, sexual, social, spiritual, cultural, psychological and economic abuses that occur within families, intimate relationships, extended families, kinship networks and communities … [i]t extends to one-on-one fighting, abuse of Indigenous community workers as well as self-harm, injury and suicide”.[1] This definition acknowledges the spiritual and cultural perpetration of family violence by non-Aboriginal people against Aboriginal partners, children, young people and extended family members, abuse of Elders, and lateral violence within Aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal self-determination, choice and cultural safety are critical for ensuring the safe and just outcomes for victim survivors from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

It is the responsibility of non-Aboriginal family violence services to critically reflect on where they may be perpetuating colonising approaches and discriminatory practices and work to promote culturally safe service responses and develop practices that are aligned with the leadership and goals of Aboriginal communities.

For Practitioners

Self-reflection and supervision are important mechanisms for practitioners to explore and continue learning about how to provide culturally safe responses[2] to Aboriginal victim survivors. As a practitioner, working directly with Aboriginal victim survivors we invite you to consider the following and continue the conversation with your leadership team:

  • Are you aware of your personal experiences of privilege, and discrimination when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? How do you manage unconscious bias, racism, and discrimination that you may have about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and communities?
  • What do you know about the traditional owners of the country you live and work on? What do you know about the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in your region? Do you share your knowledge with other colleagues in your organisation? Knowing may give you a better understanding of the people you are working with, show to them that you value their community, and help to create a culturally safe space for Aboriginal victim survivors and staff.
  • What is the following data telling you about the systemic oppression of Aboriginal people and their experiences with institutions? How can you partner with Aboriginal victim survivors to address their family violence experience in the context of these systemic levels of discrimination and oppression?
    • Aboriginal people are being jailed at 13 times the rate of non-Aboriginal people in Australia (ABS)[EMH slide]
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women represent 34% of the prison population, despite comprising only 2% of the Australian population. Almost every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman in prison has experienced physical or emotional abuse, including family and sexual violence. Studies indicate that of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison, over 80% are mothers. [Djirra Instagram post 12.03.21]
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 8 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to have received child protection services, and are being removed from families at a rate faster than during the Stolen Generation. [EMH slide]
  • Do you contribute to create a culturally safe place for Aboriginal people in your service? Do you advocate for change in your work environment to practices that are not accessible, inclusive or are discriminatory towards Aboriginal people? Do you raise your concerns to leadership? Creating accessible, inclusive, and equitable services for everybody is everybody’s responsibility.
  • Have you contributed to building relationships and collaborating with Aboriginal workers or Aboriginal services in your local area? Having these relationships provides opportunities for second consultations and coordinated support to Aboriginal victim survivors.
  • When you ask victim survivors if they and their children identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, do you explain why this information is needed? Recognition of their heritage and right to maintain or restore connections with culture, Country, family, kindship and community is a key element of supporting Aboriginal self-determination in practice, however, it is their right to decide whether to provide this information.
  • Many of the existing tools in the family violence context use language that may not be culturally appropriate. ‘Victim survivor’ and ‘perpetrator’ for instance are terms that Aboriginal people may not identify with. Asking victim survivors about what term they prefer shows that you respect their agency and their culture.
  • Do you provide information and opportunities for Aboriginal victim survivors to take the lead and make decisions about matters that affect them? Do you listen to Aboriginal victim survivors and their concerns and advocate on their behalf when, for instance, they are afraid of statutory agencies? Aboriginal people have experienced a history of systemic oppression from those agencies (power down). Through your practice you can switch this by listening, encouraging, and partnering in solutions that come from them (power within).
  • Do you include the Aboriginal definition of family violence in your risk assessment and information sharing decisions? Without embedding this in you practice you may miss key elements of the risk Aboriginal victim survivors are managing.
  • Do you document the role of multiple forms of oppression experienced by Aboriginal victim-survivors that exacerbate risk or prevent safety, and share this information with other services? The way you document may have a direct effect on how victim survivors see themselves and their situation, on how other services see victim survivors, and on victim survivors’ outcomes.


Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way – Strong Culture, Strong Peoples, Strong Families, is an Aboriginal-led agreement to address family violence in Aboriginal communities.

Strengthening Cultural Safety in Family Violence Services Assessment Tool Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural safety framework: Cultural safety continuum reflective tool has standards and examples that can support your organisation in this work.

Supporting Aboriginal Workers – This video was produced by the City of Darebin and delivers advice on providing a safe and inclusive workplace for Aboriginal staff.

[1] Department of Health and Human Services (2018). Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way – Strong Culture, Strong Peoples, Strong Families (the Aboriginal 10 Year Family Violence Agreement 2018-2028). Melbourne, Vic: State of Victoria. P. 20.

[2] A culturally safe environment is one where Aboriginal people feel that their culture and its expressions are respected, where there is no challenge or need for the denial of their identity, they are empowered to have agency, and service providers take responsibility for understanding the importance of culture, Country, and community to support Aboriginal victim survivors. (Strengthening Cultural Safety of FV services Assessment Tool & Everybody matters)



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