Australian Culture / Society

Family violence: an important issue portrayed in Warwick’s « Samson and Delilah »

Family violence occurs every day and in every corner of the world, whether you believe it or not. But it is even more alarming in Australian Aboriginal communities, where many women and children are left alone in their misery and hardly protected by the Australian government. An Aboriginal community website CreativesSpirits found that 7% of surveyed Aboriginal respondents believe domestic violence is NOT a crime. As shocking as it sounds, it is essential to spread the word and stop violence in Aboriginal communities.

Sticks and violence

.Credit: Samson & Delilah’s official website

Many recent movies have dealt with Aboriginal culture and their way of life in communities.  Warwick Thorntorn’s 2009 “Samson and Delilah” illustrates the difficult lives two teenagers endure in a remote Aboriginal community near Alice Springs. Although many harsh realities are shown in the film: the presence of violence in Aboriginal communities is difficult to ignore. One might expect indigenous to be treated badly in everyday life, but this takes a new turn when Thornton reveals how violent aborigines can be within their own families, their own communities. Multiple scenes depict domestic violence. One of the most striking is when Samson beats his brother with a stick, in order to stop his band from playing music. Moments later, his brother retaliates. In other scene, when Delilah’s grandmother passes away, the Aunties hit her also with sticks as they blame her for the death. According to the FAQS of the official website of the movie, an explanation to this particular violence is given. Indeed, it is said that in some Central Australian Aboriginal cultures, someone has to take responsibility for a death. In this case, Delilah is the closest to being the one responsible as she was taking care of her grandmother. It is through this apparently absurd tradition that she gets beaten up by her other relatives as part of their grieving ritual. Thornton decided to include this in his movie as a sign of protest. By portraying the injustice of the act, Thornton believes that it is one element of culture that should evolve and hopes people will react to it. All this violence in Samson and Delilah makes us ask ourselves: why is it so difficult for them to communicate to one and other? Why replace words with physical violence?

“A normal and ordinary part of life”

A relevant perspective on this question can be found in O’Donoghue’s article, “Indigenous violence: it’s everyone’s business” (2001, p.15). He illustrates the degree of the problem of family violence, and notes that many indigenous children are growing up in communities where violence has become “a normal and ordinary part of life”.  For example, looking back at Thornton’s movie, it is interesting to see that when Samson beats up his brother in front of the band, no one reacts nor pays an interest to it. In order to understand why violence occurs, it is important to understand how Indigenous people define and contextualize the violence they or their family members are experiencing. Cripps explores this matter through her article “Indigenous Family Violence: Pathways Forward (2008).  She points out that defining violence as it occurs within families has been very difficult. Indeed, for those experiencing the violence, they often lack the knowledge to interpret what they are going through and find difficulties in applying the academic and professional discourses to their own experiences (Cripps, 2008, p.146). Other authors found evidence to support this fact. Bagshaw et al. (1999) became aware that many of the participants of his study had not yet realized they were dealing with domestic violence until they read the behaviors and feelings described in posters distributed as part of the study.  The question Cripps asks herself in the following: “What are the words being used to name this problem in Indigenous communities by those experiencing it?” She notes phrases such as “um well we were arguing”, “my husband was acting up”, “he was being cheeky”, “it was just a little fight” and “we were drinking” being recurrent responses to violence in Indigenous communities. For those who have worked in Indigenous communities, these terms are in reality alarming as they truly mean that “she was beaten with a 2×4 [piece of wood]” or “she was raped” (Cripps, 2004, pp. 71–72, 154–56).

Colonization, dispossession and dislocation

“Members of The Stolen Generation”
Credit: Aborigine Pictures “How Stuff Works”

Family violence is a very serious issue in Australia, notably among the aboriginal communities. Indeed, the incidence of violence in indigenous communities is much higher than in non-indigenous communities. For example, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, an Aboriginal woman is 45 times more likely to experience domestic violence than non-Aboriginal women. We can list a certain number of factors in order to offer an explanation as to why such a huge gap exists between the Aboriginal and the non-Aboriginal people. But it is important to note that there isn’t only one factor that can be determined as the cause of family violence but an accumulation of these factors that can result in family violence. Cripps highlights in her survey two groups of factors (2004, p.230). The first group of factors is specifically experienced by Indigenous people among their communities: colonization, dispossession and cultural dislocation and dislocation of families through removal. In the second group of factors, it can occur in any population and can influence one’s experience of violence: marginalisation, unemployment, welfare dependency or past history of abuse. Many indigenous people were forced to live in communities, by the white administration which they were made to follow. Not always did they get along with neighboring groups and yet they had no choice but to do what they were told. Not being able to live where you want and being forced to follow policies that aren’t even yours can create a lot of tension between people. The policies and history which led to the stolen generations is also a large issue. To resume, many children of Australia Aboriginal descent were taken forcibly from their parents by the Australian Federal and State government from 1883 to 1969. According to a 1994 survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics “one in every 10 Aboriginal people aged over 25 has been removed from their families in childhood”. To illustrate this statement, Cripps (2004, p.148) found that of the 24% of people who reported being victims of violence in her survey, “the rate was highest among those who had been removed from their natural families (38% compared with 23% among those not removed)”.The way people were being dispossessed can make them more likely to perpetrate family violence.

Appropriate solutions within a cultural context

Credit : cartoonist Bill Leak

In 53% of criminal cases, the offender was known by the victim. In 69% of these cases, the offender was the spouse according to Women’s Services Network (Aboriginal Justice Council, 1999, cited in Blagg 2000). Nonetheless, some policies are being developed in Australia but aren’t truly effective as they respond primarily to domestic violence from a western perspective. Some of the intervention consists in separating the victim from the offender and therefore, breaking family ties. According to Cripps, sthis can be an appropriate solution in the short term as they’ll be protected from any immediate danger of assault, but “Indigenous families do not see it as a long-term option given that they have almost universally been subjected to forced removals and separation since colonization” (2008, p.150). These interventions are more likely to tear apart families and communities. Therefore, it is important to take into account the cultural context in which the violence has occurred in order to find appropriate solutions and preserve the existence of Aboriginal communities.

Works cited

Scientific articles

–         Bagshaw, D., Chung, M., Lilburn, S., & Wadham, B., “Reshaping responses to domestic violence: Executive summary”. Adelaide: University of South Australia (1999).

–         Cheers B, Binell M, Coleman H, Gentle I, Miller G, Taylor J, Weetra C, “Family violence: an Australian Indigenous community tells its story”. Australian Journal of Social Work. (2004)

–         Cripps, K., “Enough family fighting: Indigenous community responses to addressing family violence in Australia & the United States”, Unpublished PhD thesis. Monash University, Melbourne. (2004)

–         Cripps K. & McGlade H., ‘Indigenous Family Violence and Sexual Abuse: considering Pathways Forward’, Journal of Family Studies, (2008) 14 (2–3), p 240–253.

–         Herd Bruce, Homel Ross & Lincoln Robyn “Risk and Resilience: Crime and Violence Prevention in Aboriginal Communities” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology 1999 32: 182

–         Finnane M and Richards Jonathan, “Aboriginal Violence and State Response: Histories, Policies and Legacies in Queensland 1860-1940” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, (2010).

–         O’Donoghue, L. “Indigenous violence: It’s everyone’s business”, The Age, 22 October, (2001). p. 15.

Web sites

–         “Domestic and family violence”, Creative Spirits, http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/people/domestic-and-family-violence (accessed 05.11.13)

–         Ross Homel, Robyn Lincoln and Bruce Herd, “Risk and Resilience: Crime and Violence Prevention in Aboriginal Communities”, ePublications@bond, 4th of May 1999. http://epublications.bond.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1087&context=hss_pubs (accessed 07.11.13).

–         Mark Russel, “Violence in indigenous communities must stop, says judge”, The Age Victoria, April 26 2013. http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/violence-in-indigenous-communities-must-stop-says-judge-20130426-2iiud.html (accessed 07.11.13).

–        “Legal definitions of Aboriginality”, Australian Law Reform Commission, http://www.alrc.gov.au/publications/36-kinship-and-identity/legal-definitions-aboriginality (accessed 08.11.13).

–         Monique Keel, “Family violence and sexual assault in Indigenous communities”, Australian Institute of Family Studies, http://www.aifs.gov.au/acssa/pubs/briefing/b4.html (accessed 15.11.13).

–        “National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey”, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2000. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4714.0Main+Features12002 (accessed 27.12.13).

–  “Domestic Violence in Regional Australia: a litterature review”, Women’s Services Network (WESNET), 2000. http://wesnet.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/WESNET-Domestic-Violence-in-Regional-Australia-A-Literature-Review.pdf (accessed 27.12.13).

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