Shocking Indigenous homicide rate stuns researchers

Aboriginal mothers are seventeen times more likely to be murdered than white women.

That was just one of the grim findings of a new study released today by researchers at a WA medical research institute.

A team at the Telethon Kids Institute found that overall, in the years from 1983 to 2010, Aboriginal mothers were six times more likely to die in an accident or homicide or through suicide than other mothers in WA.

Of that, the risk of homicide was the greatest at 17.5 times more likely.

The Aboriginal mothers, who had a median age at death of 33 years, usually left behind more and younger children than other mothers — a median age for the youngest child of 4.8 years, and almost four children each.

Telethon Kids Institute researcher Dr Carrington Shepherd said the results were “staggering”.

He said although the study was carried out in WA he expected it would be indicative of what was happening in other States and Territories.

“It’s likely to be a similar story in other States as well,” he said.

Dr Shepherd said more needed to be done to protect Indigenous mothers from premature death.

“I’m hoping the data can be used to help Aboriginal people to advocate for change and to drive change,” he said.

“I think the sorts of things Aboriginal people tell you that need to happen to prevent these types of death include promoting healthy mental well-being and managing substance abuse and domestic violence.

“A message I’d like to come out of this as well is one of the real root causes of this is the stresses Aboriginal people face in society that are associated with marginalisation.

“These things are very real to many Aboriginal people. Many people are faced with racism, marginalisation and discrimination.

“If we can reduce that as a society then I think we can protect mothers and reduce some of these preventable events.”

Dr Shepherd said losing a mother could have devastating effects on children including prolonged periods of grief, depression, stress, anxiety, problems with identity development and difficulties associated with the transition to out-of-home care.

Later in life they faced elevated risks of substance abuse and suicide.

Professor Rhonda Marriott, director of the Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre at WA’s Murdoch University, said the findings were “heart wrenching”.

“All the figures I think surprised not only me but all the researchers who undertook the work,” she said.

“I think the most sad thing about it is that this has been hidden statistics, that people haven’t been aware of the magnitude of the problem up to this point.

“I think it’s largely gone under reported. It may not have been an area that has been looked at in the past. “

Professor Marriott said there was no one answer.

“I think it’s really important that we do recognise the devastation of this and we look, as a society, to providing the services and the support in order to strengthen families, to strengthen women and to provide safe havens for them when they are in unsafe situations,” she said.

“I think it’s not so much a ‘Where do we start’ but an issue that requires multiple solutions at once — ensuring that we have a culturally safe society, ensuring that children are valued and grow up in a society where they have strong self esteem and a strong cultural identity, that young Aboriginal women as they are progressing to adult hood are supported in their aspirations and are valued.

“And then for those who are in very unsafe circumstances, either personally unsafe with depression or looking at taking their own lives or in unsafe situations because of domestic violence or family violence, then ensuring we have safe places for them to go to.

“When we look at the magnitude of this problem, when you think about the services that are currently available, there’s a mismatch. It’s insufficient. It requires governments and non government agencies to think about how they provide services perhaps.”

The researchers analysed data from the West Australian midwife notification system, death registry, hospital morbidity data system and mental health information system in preparing the study, which was published in the BMC Public Health journal.

The study findings came as Australia’s first Indigenous-staffed and managed counselling service this week received the title to its $1.15 million headquarters in East Perth.

The Yorgum Aboriginal Corporation was set up in 1991 by a group of Indigenous women. Today it employs more than 40 staff, with programs including support for Stolen Generation clients, those affected by family violence or sexual abuse and people participating in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Indigenous Land Corporation bought the East Perth site for Yorgum in May 2014 and the building was fitted out jointly by the ILC and Yorgum. The transfer of the title went ahead this week.

ILC chairman Eddie Fry said Yorgum is providing a very important service to the Indigenous community.

“Yorgum has grown to become the largest service provider of its kind and the sole Indigenous provider of Indigenous family counselling support in WA.

“The grant of the building by the ILC is the foundation for the next stage of Yorgum’s growth and this will lead to increased counselling and support services for Indigenous people throughout Western Australia.”

Yorgum chairman Colin Phillips said the granting of the title was a significant milestone for the organisation.



  • Aboriginal mothers were 6½ times more likely to die from external causes (accidents, suicides and homicides) than other mothers in Western Australia from 1983-2010
  • The elevated risks are highest for homicide (17½ times more likely)
  • Only about half of these excess risks are explained by poorer socioeconomic circumstances and residential location
  • Aboriginal children who suffer a maternal loss do so at an earlier age, and often in the formative years of development (first 5 years of life)
  • Accidents were the most common external cause of death in Aboriginal mothers and the most common type was transport accidents. Homicide was the next most common external cause with more Aboriginal mothers experiencing death by homicide than non-Aboriginal mothers.


Wendy Caccetta


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