Abstract: Homecoming: The Importance of Place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women Healing from Interpersonal Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Homecoming: The Importance of Place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women Healing from Interpersonal Violence

Saturday, January 19, 2019: 8:30 AM
Union Square 18 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Celina Doria, MSW, Project Coordinator, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Background and Purpose: Previous research indicates that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) women are significantly more likely to experience interpersonal violence than their White Australian counterparts. The purpose of this research project, grounded within a rural community in south-eastern Australia, was to explore ATSI women’s perceptions and experiences of interpersonal violence (IPV) through qualitative and narrative-driven research methods.

Methods: Collaborative methodologies, including emergent design and community-based participatory research, grounded within intersectional feminist theory, provided the framework for this research. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six ATSI women over four months between May and August of 2017. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and analysed; themes were identified through inductive analysis. Transcriptions and analyses were shared with the women who participated in the research for feedback.

Findings: Interviews with ATSI women revealed themes including intergenerational trauma, connection to culture and ancestral country, and resiliency. In the rural city, ATSI women face intersectional challenges related to racism, limited access to social services, and a lack of community and social support, which create multivalent barriers to healing. Many women reported that culture, including a maintained connection to country and community, acts as a protective factor to support healing and resiliency after experiences of violence. The majority identified returning to their ancestral land as the best way to promote healing. One woman shares: “I’ve been thinking more and more about going home. I want to be with my people. I’ve missed out on a lot of cultural stuff, like the initiation ceremonies. My older son never had one, so now he’s pushing me [to go back home].” Finally, data analysis revealed a strong relationship between resiliency and cultural connection. Many women identified the need for a gathering place for ATSI women to promote resiliency among women in the community. One woman explains: “I want a space or women to come together for a cuppa and share their stories, their concerns. There’s no space for that here.”

Conclusion and Implications: The goal of this study is to illuminate the perceptions of violence against ATSI women – from their own words and lived experiences. Through its dissemination, this research may better inform systems of care, including social services agencies and women’s shelters, to support ATSI women survivors of interpersonal violence. Place-based interventions (which may facilitate a return to country) and an incorporation of Indigenous cultural knowledge and traditional healing practices within Western health frameworks may help to facilitate healing among Indigenous women impacted by IPV. This research also attends more broadly to cross-cultural dialogues related to violence against women, promoting Indigenous ways of knowing, healing, and social justice through the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.