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Aboriginal family homicide matters

Image credit: Amy Dianna

By Virginia Millen

I was listening to a podcast of The ABC’s The Law Report last week when a legal academic interviewed said Aboriginal family homicide was the most prevalent homicide in Australia today.

The Law Report was analysing the recent High Court decision to give “background factors” including Aboriginality and social disadvantage “full weight in the determination of the appropriate sentence in every case”.

The statistic, read out by Hannah McGlade, a Perth-based, Indigenous academic, was shocking, particularly because down here in Melbourne, we are almost completely oblivious to the fact that this is happening at all.

The Law Report drew attention to a similar issue last year on White Ribbon Day. It ran a report on the doubling in the number of family homicides in WA in 2012, highlighting that more than 50 per cent of victims were Aboriginal women. The case study used was that of Andrea Pickett, who was murdered by her husband. Ultimately the system – many aspects of the system, in fact – failed her.

Besides stories on The Law Report, and the odd opinion piece – often written by McGlade, who argues that to lessen sentences for perpetrators of domestic violence based on Aboriginality is to reduce the severity of the crime committed against their victims – published in The Australian, where is the media coverage of this pervasive issue?

Reporting on domestic violence is not easy. It’s not popular. But it is necessary. Reporting on Indigenous domestic violence is far more complicated, but if this issue is left to fester unnoticed, it will inevitably continue.

Melbourne has shown a great deal of solidarity around the issue of women feeling safe on our streets, following the murder of Jill Meagher by Adrian Bailey.

Meagher’s death drew attention to the failure of Victoria’s parole board, thrust women’s rights under the spotlight again and probably made a generation of Melbourne women think twice about walking home alone after a night out.

The media played a significant part in this. The coverage was at times crucial, and at others gratuitous, but in most cases it did what good journalism should – draw attention to an issue, inform and help us understand the circumstances which led to a tragedy like this.

Meagher was white, middle-class and killed in the prime of her life. On some level, we could relate to those circumstances.

But statistics prove that more Indigenous women are being killed than white women – often at the hands of their partners. The system that failed Meagher and her loved ones is now under review. The system that failed Pickett, and many women like her, needs to be further scrutinised.

We need to care more about this. And so does the media.

Posted under: Media ethics
Dated: Oct 18 2013

157 Comments

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