Safe communities, where people feel protected from harm within their home, workplace and community, are important for physical and mental wellbeing. The feeling of being safe enables a better quality of life and the capacity to be involved in the community in a positive way, both of which are protective factors for social and emotional wellbeing (AIHW & NIAA 2020; Commonwealth of Australia 2017).
While the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel safe in their communities and do not experience negative outcomes, they tend to experience greater rates of hospitalisation and death as a result of violence than the wider community. Indigenous Australians are also over-represented in Australia’s child protection, youth justice and adult justice systems (AIHW & NIAA 2020).
Many factors influence community safety for Indigenous Australians. Stronger connections to culture and country, amongst other positive cultural determinants, improve outcomes for community safety (Commonwealth of Australia 2017). Factors that lead to unsafe situations include long-term social disadvantage and the ongoing impact of past dispossession and forced child-removal policies, which result in intergenerational trauma and breakdowns of traditional parenting, culture and kinship practices (Commonwealth of Australia 2018; Healing Foundation 2018).
This page focuses on community experiences of safety and violence, contact with child protection services, and contact with criminal justice systems.
Related Closing the Gap outcomes
The National Agreement on Closing the Gap has 16 national socio-economic targets across areas that have an impact on life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Safety within Indigenous Communities directly involves four of these targets;
Target 10: By 2031, reduce the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults held in incarceration by at least 15 per cent.
(compared to a 2019 baseline level of 2,088 per 100,000 (age-standardised)).
Target 11: By 2031, reduce the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (10-17 years) in detention by 30 per cent.
(compared to a 2018–19 baseline level of 34 per 10,000).
Target 12: By 2031, reduce the rate of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45 per cent.
(compared to a 2019 baseline level of 54 per 1,000).
Target 13: A significant and sustained reduction in violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children towards zero.
(compared to a 2018–19 baseline level of 8.4%).
Note: The baseline values for these targets were derived from ABS prisoners in Australia 2019 (Target 10), AIHW Youth Justice National Minimum Data Set (Target 11), AIHW Child Protection Collections (Target 12), and the 2018–19 ABS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (Target 13).
For more information, see Closing the Gap targets.
Community experiences of safety and violence
This section covers information on feelings of safety and experiences of violence using a range of data sources, including the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey 2014–15 (NATSISS), the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey 2018–19 (NATSIHS), the National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Causes of Death Collection (CoD), the AIHW National Mortality Database (NMD) and the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) National Homicide Monitoring Program.
Feeling of safety
Feeling safe is an indicator of how an individual perceives their community; those who feel safe are able to live a better quality and healthier life and are more likely to engage in the community, and the community as a whole faces a lower incidence of and costs from, injuries and violence (AIHW & NIAA 2020). The most recent data on feeling of safety comes from the NATSISS.
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, 12% felt neither safe nor unsafe, and 20% felt unsafe or very unsafe. For those who spent time home alone after dark, 87% felt safe or very safe, 5% felt neither safe nor unsafe, and 8% felt unsafe or very unsafe. Shepherd et al. (2018) showed that Indigenous Australians with stronger cultural identities were less likely to be negatively impacted by a reduced level of safety within the broader community, and in general effected lower levels of distress.
Experiences of physical or threatened violence
In an Indigenous community context, where family and kinship networks can be broad and complex, the term ‘family violence’ can be considered as covering relevant issues and behaviours within a broader set of relationships. Interventions to address family violence have therefore moved away from the approach of treating incidents as one-off events, and instead follow holistic, culturally appropriate approaches that are integrated into communities. For more information on these programs, see Family violence prevention programs in Indigenous communities. Also see Family, domestic and sexual violence.
Data regarding self-reported experiences of violence comes from the NATSIHS. In 2018–19, 8.4% (an estimated 21,700) of Indigenous Australian women aged 15 and over reported experiencing domestic physical or threatened physical harm in the previous 12 months.
Results from the NATSIHS indicate that in 2018–19, 16% (an estimated 76,900) of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over had experienced physical and/or threatened physical harm in the preceding 12 months, while 6.3% (an estimated 30,900) experienced physical harm. Of those experiencing physical harm, 74% believed that the offender was under the influence of alcohol or other substances during the most recent incident.
In the two-year period from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2019, there were 14,061 assault hospitalisations for Indigenous Australians, accounting for 30% of all assault hospitalisations. The rate was highest for Indigenous females aged 35-44, and increased with increasing remoteness (Figure 1).
Indigenous Australians were 14 times as likely to be hospitalised for assault as non-Indigenous Australians (age-standardised rates of 951 compared with 68 per 100,000, respectively). The ratio was higher for females, with Indigenous females 27 times as likely as non-Indigenous females to be hospitalised for assault.
Between 2006–07 and 2018–19 there was an 11% increase in the rate of assault hospitalisations, based on age-standardised rates (or 5,214 to 6,702 hospitalisations) (Figure 2).