Australia is turning a blind eye to violence against Indigenous women, but we will not stay silent — our lives matter





Posted

October 06, 2019 05:00:44

I have seen and heard a lot in my time about the abuse of Aboriginal women by the justice system, but the case of Jody Gore, who in 2016 was found guilty of murdering her former partner and sentenced to life behind bars, deeply shocked and upset me.

I first met Jody at the Bandyup women’s prison in Perth, where she told me her story and showed me the scars on her body left by her ex’s violence.

She seemed very down and traumatised and was probably wondering how I appeared in her life.

When I left Bandyup that day, I knew I would not forget Jody and the fate that had been delivered to her.

I soon learnt from court transcripts that for almost two decades Jody experienced severe domestic violence and abuse from her former partner, who suffered mental illness.

But during her trial, no expert witnesses were called to give evidence on her behalf and a jury took less than three hours to find her guilty, rejecting her claim she’d acted in self-defence.

Justice Lindy Jenkins sentenced Jody to 12 years with no parole, even though Jody’s poor health meant she would likely not survive the sentence and she would be separated from her children.

There was “far too much drunken violence in the Kimberley”, Jenkins said of her need to deter others.

‘We were able to put it behind us, but others are not so lucky’

Jody and I are very different people. She’s Miriwoong from up north and I’m Noongar from the south.

Jody was a foster carer and had been a child care worker. I studied human rights law hoping that justice might be advanced through the legal system.

As a law student, I worried about my sister, seeing her with black eyes and bruises which she denied were a result of family violence — we spoke even less about abuse back then.

She eventually left her partner and came home with the children, but one day he came after her in a state of rage and affected by mental illness.

Terrified, I hid the children while my mother and her partner, a former war veteran, managed to fight him off. I cleaned pools of blood from the floor, in shock but relieved no one had been killed.

The next day police surrounded our home. They handcuffed and arrested my mother, taking her away.

I tried to tell them what had happened, how violent my sister’s partner was, but they ignored me and acted as if they didn’t care.

Fortunately, a jury acquitted my mother of grievous bodily harm and we were able put it behind us. But others are not so lucky.

After meeting Jody, I ended up working with Annabel Hennessey from The West Australian newspaper to highlight her wrongful incarceration.

We uncovered significant evidence from an expert psychiatrist and a women’s refuge Jody had attended that we believed supported her claim of self-defence, but which was not provided to the court.

As a result of our efforts — together with lawyers George Giudice and Carol Bahemia, and the University of WA’s Stella Tarrant — Jody was last week freed from prison after the Western Australian Government applied “mercy laws”, reserved for rare cases where prisoners deserve compassionate treatment and release.

Jody’s story is not an isolated one

When I heard Attorney General John Quigley announce he would also introduce new laws to improve courts’ responses to victims of family violence who defend themselves against their abusers, I was overjoyed.

These reforms are important because Jody’s story is not an isolated one in Australian Indigenous communities.

A few years ago a state prosecutor told me she was seeing more Aboriginal women who’d killed violent partners come through the justice system.

I told her it was well known many Aboriginal women fight back in response to severe violence.

Research has found Aboriginal mothers in Western Australia are 17.5 times more likely to be killed than non-Aboriginal mothers, while Indigenous women generally are more than 21 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous women.

This over-representation of Aboriginal women — both as victims of abuse and as prisoners — is well documented.

In 2018 the Australian Law Reform Commission highlighted the over-incarceration of Aboriginal women, finding family violence and sexual assault were significant factors fuelling their imprisonment.

The inquiry recommended sweeping reforms aimed at reducing women’s victimisation and offending, but to date there has been no official response.

We will not stay silent

I had been an advisor to the inquiry and the lack of response is deeply disappointing and contributing to even more intergenerational trauma and suffering.

Evidence of this crisis appears frequently in media reports.

In the weeks before Jody’s release from prison, Jessica Bairnsfather-Scott’s body was found in Perth by her family, who broke into her house scared for her safety.

In Geraldton, police fatally shot Joyce Clarke, who had been suffering from mental illness and was only recently released from prison.

And even though John Quigley last month introduced a new law to stop the incarceration of Aboriginal women for unpaid fines, Keenan Dickie — who was seriously injured in a violent assault — was still arrested and locked up after going to police for help.

Keenan said she was terrified she would die like Ms Dhu, who died in custody from injuries sustained in a family violence incident.

Some Aboriginal women survive this horrific violence and some do not.

Jody’s victory and the issues her case has highlighted will improve Aboriginal women’s access to justice, but more action and attention is urgently needed.

A myriad of reports, including from the United Nations, have now recommended Australia needs a specific national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women, but they have all but been ignored.

We will not stay silent. Our lives matter. Black women’s lives matter. Stop this genocide of Indigenous women in our own lands and country.

Dr Hannah McGlade is the Senior Indigenous Research Fellow at Curtin University. She has also established legal services for Aboriginal victims and engaged in many United Nations expert mechanisms to promote Aboriginal women’s and children’s human rights.

Topics:

community-and-society,

indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander,

indigenous-other-peoples,

government-and-politics,

indigenous-policy,

domestic-violence,

australia,

wa,

perth-6000



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