‘No one is keeping count’ of murdered Indigenous women

Rudi Maxwell |

Indigenous NT women are often isolated and living with homelessness, an inquiry has been told
Indigenous NT women are often isolated and living with homelessness, an inquiry has been told

Without radical change, the epidemic of domestic violence against Indigenous women in the Nortern Territory cannot be properly addressed, a senior police officer has told an inquiry.

But police are a massive part of the problem, Greens senator Dorinda Cox – a former West Australian officer – said during the Senate committee hearing in Darwin on Thursday.

The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and children heard from NT Police commander for domestic violence and youth services Sachin Sharma.

Mr Sharma, who previously gave evidence at an NT coronial inquiry into the deaths of four Aboriginal women in 2023, said preventing domestic violence required radical change. 

Greens senator Dorinda Cox
Greens senator Dorinda Cox says there are no Aboriginal people in the NT police executive. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“We cannot keep the status quo in circumstances where it is known that the incidence of intimate partner domestic violence in the NT is more than seven times the national average,” he said.

“The epidemic of domestic violence in the NT and the overwhelming demand on services and the need for better co-ordination across all government agencies, stakeholders, external providers and communities. 

“We believe that radical change is the only acceptable way forward.”

NT police were implementing changes to the way they related to Indigenous communities, Mr Sharma added.

But Senator Cox asked how effective they could be when there were no Aboriginal people in the police executive.

Earlier, the inquiry was told Aboriginal women in the NT had one of the highest rates of domestic, family and sexual violence in the world.

“And we have the highest ranking person at substantive sergeant – can we see how fundamentally wrong that looks?” Senator Cox said, referring to NT Police,

“I know how your organisation works – I’ve worked on the inside.

“It is fundamentally flawed when we sit here and you say ‘we’re running out cultural awareness, we’re doing these things with community engagement’.

“What is happening in the Kumanjayi Walker case (a coronial inquest into the police killing an Aboriginal teenager) is front and centre of the absolute challenge you have about the culture of your organisation and not one Black person in your organisation is going to be able to challenge that unless they’re on your executive or you’re going to have a First Nations commissioner.”

The NT has the highest rate of domestic violence in the country and one of the highest in the world. (Aaron Bunch/AAP PHOTOS)

Other witnesses on Thursday detailed how racial stereotypes, lack of cultural understanding, inadequate resources, disadvantage and grossly inappropriate policing meant Indigenous victims of violence were falling through the cracks.

Dr Chay Brown, a specialist domestic family and sexual violence researcher affiliated with the Australian National University and Tangentyere Council in Alice Springs, said Indigenous women in the NT were disproportionately represented in term of violence.

They are eight times more likely to be assaulted than non-Indigenous women and almost 13 times more likely to be killed by their intimate partner.

“As shocking as these figures may be, they only tell a fraction of the story or the very tip of the iceberg,” Dr Brown told the hearing.

“This is because approximately only 10 per cent of domestic family and sexual violence is reported to formal agencies like police. 

“And when it comes to intimate partner violence or domestic violence homicides, the reality is that no one is keeping count.”

Rachael Hill, from the North Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Service, said there were only 19 safe houses for women fleeing violence in the 49 communities they worked in – and only three were Aboriginal-controlled organisations. 

“These are chronically underfunded, understaffed and undervalued yet when properly funded, they were a source of employment, a symbol of women’s rights and a source of community pride, such as the Galiwinku women’s space,” she said.

“The one takeaway message … is that the only way to tackle domestic violence in our 49 remote communities is community.

“Community-controlled and community-led solutions … everything else will be temporary, transcendent and transactional.”

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

Lifeline 13 11 14

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028