Many factors can influence community safety and wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Among the positive influences are: being connected to Country, land, family and spirit; having strong and positive social networks; and having strong leadership in both family and community. See Understanding Indigenous welfare and wellbeing for more information about these and other positive influences on community functioning.

This page focuses on community experiences of safety and violence, contact with child protection services, and contact with criminal justice systems.

Indigenous Australians experience violence (particularly family and domestic violence) at higher rates than non-Indigenous Australians. They are also over-represented in Australia’s child protection, youth and adult justice systems. Factors contributing to this include: past experience of violence and abuse (including in childhood); long-term social disadvantage; and the ongoing impact of past dispossession and forced removal policies that have caused psychological trauma and contributed to the breakdown of traditional parenting, culture and kinship practices (SCRGSP 2016). See glossary for definitions of terms used on this page.

Experiences of safety and violence

Safe communities, where people feel protected from harm within their home, workplace and community, are important for physical and mental wellbeing. Indigenous Australians are significantly more likely to experience high rates of hospitalisation and death as a result of violence than the wider community. See Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (HPF) report measure 2.10: Community safety.

Feeling safe

In 2014–15, among Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over who reported they walked alone in their local area after dark, 68% said they felt safe or very safe, and 20% felt unsafe or very unsafe. For those who reported feelings of safety while at home after dark, 87% felt safe or very safe, and 8% felt unsafe or very unsafe (AIHW 2017) (Figure 1). 

Experience of violence

In 2014–15, 22% of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over reported they were a victim of physical or threatened violence in the last 12 months. Rates were similar for Indigenous females (22%) and males (23%). Actual physical violence was experienced by 13% of Indigenous Australians (AIHW 2017).

Hospitalisations due to assault

Indigenous Australians experience high rates of hospitalisation as a result of violence. From July 2015 to June 2017, the:

  • hospitalisation rate for Indigenous Australians due to non-fatal assault was 8.6 per 1,000 (or 13,000 hospitalisations), with the rate higher for females than males—9.4 compared with 7.9 per 1,000 (or 7,000 compared with 5,900 hospitalisations)
  • rate was higher for people living in Remote and very remote areas (23.0 per 1,000, or 6,900 hospitalisations) compared with non-remote areas (4.8 per 1,000 or 5,700 hospitalisations)
  • Indigenous females living in Remote and very remote areas experienced a rate of hospitalisation due to non-fatal assault of 28.2 per 1,000 (4,200 hospitalisations). The rate for Indigenous males was 18.0 per 1,000 (2,700 hospitalisations) (AIHW forthcoming 2019a, AIHW 2019c) (Figure 2).

Deaths due to assault

Over the 5-year period 2013–2017, in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory combined:

  • 191 deaths occurred among Indigenous Australians due to assault (a decrease from 200 deaths in 2011–2015) 
  • the rate of deaths for Indigenous Australians due to assault was 5.9 per 100,000
  • Indigenous males were 1.5 times as likely as their female counterparts to die due to assault (rate of 7.1 per 100,000 compared with 4.8 per 100,000, or 114 deaths compared with 77 deaths) (AIHW forthcoming 2019a, National Mortality Database).

Family, domestic and sexual violence

Men, women and children from all walks of life can experience family, domestic and sexual violence, however Indigenous women are among those at highest risk. Also see Family, domestic and sexual violence.

  • In 2014–15, 1 in 7 (14% or 32,000) Indigenous females experienced physical violence in the previous year (ABS 2016). Of these, about 1 in 4 (28%) reported that their most recent incident was perpetrated by a cohabiting partner (AIHW 2018).
  • From July 2015 to June 2017, there were 6.3 hospitalisations per 1,000 Indigenous females (or 4,700) due to family violence-related assaults. By remoteness, Indigenous females in Very remote areas experienced the highest rate—19.3 per 1,000 (or 1,800 hospitalisations) (AIHW forthcoming 2019a, AIHW 2019c) (Figure 2).   
  • From 2012–13 to 2013–14, 41% of all Indigenous homicide victims (or 32 victims) were killed by a current or previous partner (Bryant & Bricknell 2017).

Child protection

The child protection system supports vulnerable children aged 0–17 who have been, or are at risk of being abused, neglected or otherwise harmed, or whose parents are unable to provide them with adequate care or protection. In 2017–18, more than 48,300 (164 per 1,000) Indigenous children received child protection services (Figure 3). Also see Child protection.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle is a policy for Indigenous children in out-of-home care to be placed with relatives or extended family members in accordance with the hierarchy of placement options. As at 30 June 2018, 65% of Indigenous children in out-of-home care were placed with relatives or kin, other Indigenous caregivers or in Indigenous residential care.

Protecting Indigenous children requires a multifaceted approach that takes into account the factors affecting Indigenous Australians, and strengthens and empowers Indigenous families and communities (SNAICC 2015).  

In 2017–18:

  • the rate for Indigenous children who were the subject of a substantiated child protection notification was 42 per 1,000 (or 8,400 children).

As at 30 June 2018:

  • 20,500 (69 per 1,000) Indigenous children were on care and protection orders
  • 17,800 (59 per 1,000) Indigenous children were in out-of-home care.

Between 2013–14 and 2017–18, the rate of Indigenous children receiving child protection services increased from 140 to 164 per 1,000 (AIHW 2019b).

Contact with police and the criminal justice system

Indigenous Australians have a long history of over-representation in the youth and adult justice systems in Australia. In 2014–15, around 1 in 7 (15% or 64,400) Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over reported they had been arrested in the previous 5 years. More than 1 in 3 (35% or 154,500) had been formally charged by police at least once (ABS 2016). See HPF measure 2.11: Contact with the criminal justice system.

The National Indigenous Law and Justice Framework: Good Practice Appendix provides the evidence base for court diversionary programs that have been evaluated and found to be successful. Examples include the Elders Visiting Program, Restorative Justice, Circle Sentencing, and Koori Courts in the Victorian Magistrates, County and Children’s Courts (SCLJ 2012).

Youth justice

Supervision of young people on legal orders is a major aspect of Australia’s youth justice system and can include supervision in the community or in secure detention facilities. Also see Youth justice.

On an average day in 2017–18, for Indigenous Australians aged 10–17:

  • 2,400 (187 per 10,000) were under supervision
  • 37 per 10,000 (or 472) were supervised in youth detention
  • 150 per 10,000 (or 1,900) were under community-based supervision
  • most (80%) under supervision were male.

Between 2013–14 and 2017–18, the rate of Indigenous Australians aged 10–17 under supervision on an average day fell from 199 to 187 per 10,000 (AIHW 2019e, Figure 4).

The rates for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians under supervison fell over the last 5 years.

Adult imprisonment

Indigenous prisoners are generally younger than non-Indigenous prisoners. They are more likely to have been imprisoned before and more likely to have had parents or carers in prison during their childhood (AIHW 2019d). Also see Adult prisoners.

As at 30 June 2018:

  • 11,800 Indigenous adult prisoners were held in custody
  • the imprisonment rate for Indigenous adults was 2,481 per 100,000
  • 21% of Indigenous adult prisoners were aged 24 or under
  • most (90%) Indigenous prisoners were men
  • three-quarters (75%) of Indigenous prisoners had been imprisoned before
  • 28% of the total Australian prison population identified as Indigenous (ABS 2018).

Rates of imprisonment have risen over time for Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults. Between 30 June 2008 and 30 June 2018, the imprisonment rate for Indigenous Australians increased from 1,888 per 100,000 to 2,481 per 100,000 (ABS 2018) (Figure 5).

Comparisons with non-Indigenous Australians

Disparities exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians across a range of community safety measures.

 

Compared with non-Indigenous Australians, Indigenous Australians were:

  • 14 x as likely to be hospitalised due to assault (July 2015 to June 2017)
  • 7 x as likely to die due to assault (2013–2017)
  • 33 x as likely to be hospitalised due to family violence assaults, females (July 2015 to June 2017)
  • 1.9 x as likely to be killed by current or previous partner (2012–13 to 2013–14)
  • 8 x as likely to be receiving child protection services (2017–18)
  • 11 x as likely to be in out-of-home care (as at 30 June 2018)
  • 23 x as likely to be supervised in youth detention on an average day, ages 10–17 (2017–18)
  • 17 x as likely to be under community-based supervision on an average day, ages 10–17 (2017–18)
  • 13 x as likely to be imprisoned as an adult (30 June 2018).

 

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on Indigenous community safety, see:

For more information on Indigenous justice and safety, see:

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2016. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey 2014–15, Cat. no. 4714.0, ABS: Canberra.

ABS 2018. Prisoners in Australia, 2018. Cat. no. 4517.0. ABS: Canberra.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health performance framework 2017: supplementary online tables. Cat. no. WEB 170. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2018. Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia 2018. Cat. no. FDV 2. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW forthcoming 2019a. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health performance framework 2019: supplementary online tables. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019b. Child protection Australia 2017–18. Child welfare series no. 70. Cat. no. CWS 65. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019c. National Hospital Morbidity Database. Canberra: AIHW. Findings based on AIHW analysis of unit record data.

AIHW 2019d. The health of Australia’s prisoners 2018. Cat. no. PHE 246. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019e. Youth justice in Australia 2017–18. Cat. no. JUV 129. Canberra: AIHW.

Bryant & Bricknell 2017. Homicide in Australia 2012–13 to 2013–14: National homicide monitoring program report. Canberra: AIC.

SCLJ (Standing Council on Law and Justice Working Group on Indigenous Justice) 2012. National Indigenous law and justice framework: good practice appendix. Canberra: Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department. Viewed 11 July 2019.  

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2016. Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: key indicators 2016. Canberra: Productivity Commission.

SNAICC (Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care) 2015. Pathways to safety and wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Melbourne: SNAICC.

Alternative text for figures

Figure 1: Feelings of safety for Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over, by sex, Australia, 2014–15

Figure 1 is a bar chart showing the feelings of safety for Indigenous males and females when walking alone in a local area after dark. 83% of Indigenous males reported they felt very safe/safe compared with 51% of Indigenous females. 8% of Indigenous males felt very unsafe/unsafe compared with 35% of Indigenous females.

Figure 2: Non-fatal hospitalisations due to family violence related assault and non-fatal hospitalisations due to assault, Indigenous Australians, by sex and remoteness, Australia, July 2015 to June 2017

Figure 2 shows the rate of non-fatal hospitalisations due to family violence related assault for Indigenous males and females, by remoteness areas. The bar chart shows that, for Indigenous males and females, the rate is lowest in Inner regional areas, and highest in Remote areas. Rates are higher for females than males in all areas, with differences greater in Remote and Very remote areas. Rates peaked in Remote and Very remote areas for both females (19.7 and 19.3 per 1,000 respectively) and males (6.9 and 6.2 per 1,000 respectively).

Figure 3: Number of Indigenous children per 1,000 receiving child protection services, by component of child protection system, 2014 to 2018

Figure 3 is a stacked bar chart showing the rate for Indigenous children receiving child protection services, by component of the child protection system, for each year from 2014 to 2018. The chart shows an increase for all components over the time period, with the rate for substantiations increasing from 34 to 42 per 1,000; care and protection orders from 54 to 69 per 1,000; and out-of-home care from 53 to 59 per 1,000.

Figure 4: Rate of young people aged 10–17 under supervision on an average day, by supervision type and Indigenous status, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Figure 4 is a line chart showing the trend for the rate of young people aged 10–17 under supervision on an average day, from 2013–14 to 2017–18. For Indigenous people the rate decreased from 199 per 10,000 in to 187 per 10,000 and for non-Indigenous people the rate decreased from 13 per 10,000 to 11 per 10,000 over the period.

Figure 5: Indigenous imprisonment rates, by year, sex, and age, 2008 to 2018

Figure 5 shows the imprisonment rate for Indigenous Australians, from 2008 to 2018. The rate increased over the period from 1,888 per 100,000 in 2008 to 2,481 per 100,000 in 2018.