The Aboriginal people are going through a social crisis, highlighted by the startling number of abuse and suicide cases among their children.
In 2012, an Aboriginal teenager was gang-raped by three men in his family’s own home. The boy reportedly told his parents of the incident, but they were too drunk to understand the gravity of what he was saying. In 2014, less than a year after finally speaking to authorities about the rape, the boy’s body was found in a town camp at the edge of Kununurra.
For legal reasons, the 15-year-old victim is referred to as Case 6. He was reportedly a likeable teenager, though he had a background of substance abuse.
In 2010, Case 6 was referred by police to the Child Protection Department. Then still 12 years old, the boy was could with a group of kids who were possibly sniffing petrol.
At the time of the rape, Case 6 was living with his mother, an alcoholic. Child Protection was aware of his mother’s substance abuse issues and was organizing for her to be sent to rehab. Case 6, who had previously been shuffled around between home to home and at some points had been homeless, was to live with his aunt during his mother’s treatment.
Horrifically, authorities only found out about the assault and rape after a non-family member reported these. Case 6 had refused to make a police complaint following the incident as he believed this might lead to repercussions for his family or him being targeted again. His single attempt at telling adults about his trauma tragically went unheard by his inebriated parents.
According to a police inquest, Case 6’s body was found in January 2014, just a day after he excitedly told his mother he was looking forward to starting at a new school on the south coast.
Sadly, Case 6 is not the only shocking story of the state of Aboriginal children. The inquiry which looked into Case 6’s death also included 12 other suicides of Aboriginal children and young people. All of these occurred between 2012 and 2016.
The research also found that the suicide rates in Kimberley, the northernmost region of Western Australia of which 40% of the population are of Aboriginal descent, was three times the national average between 2009 and 2013. Studies claim that the suicide rate of Aboriginal people in the region is one of the highest in the world.
Further, the number of Aboriginal children taken into social care has more than tripled over the last 15 years. In 2004, 1,453 Indigenous Australian children were in care. By 2018, this number shot up to 5,029.
Across Australia, of the total number of children in care, 55 per cent are Indigenous Australian. However, Indigenous Australians make up only 3.3% of the total Australian population.
The crisis facing the Aboriginal community, particularly their children, means that serious investments in developing social systems must be made. The high incidence of violence and substance abuse in their communities mirrors the crisis facing the Native American communities in the USA, showing the affects of displacement on social norms.
Health Minister Roger Cook said that the crisis must be addressed immediately, though not by shuffling children from home to home.
“We need to address the underlying causes,” he said.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar shared similar sentiments.
“The evidence is clearly showing us that we need to do more to support families in the vital prevention work, to keep our kids alive. This is about intergenerational trauma and healing,” Oscar said.
Federal Health Minister Gred Hunt recently promised that AUS$1.45 billion will be directed over the next three years to providing community mental health services. This is one of the largest ever investments from the federal government into the issue.