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Indigenous perpetrators of violence: Prevalence and risk factors for offending

Research and public policy series no. 105

Joy Wundersitz
ISBN 978 1 921532 49 8 ISSN 1836-2079
Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, April 2010

Abstract

Available data indicate that Indigenous people are 15 to 20 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to commit violent offences. This report presents results of research into victimisation of, and offending by, Indigenous people. The findings are designed to inform and complement the work of the National Indigenous Violence and Child Abuse Intelligence Task Force. This report draws attention to the need to investigate the specifics of different forms of violent offending, the relationship between victims and offenders and the location and nature of different community settings.

Foreword | The Australian Institute of Criminology was funded by the Australian Crime Commission to undertake research that could inform and complement the work of the National Indigenous Violence and Child Abuse Intelligence Task Force. It was important, given the plethora of government inquiries and initiatives in recent times, to initially review and assess the evidence of victimisation of, and offending by, Indigenous people. The first summary of this evidence on risk factors associated with Indigenous victimisation was released last year. It drew on a range of sources, primarily survey and administrative data, as well as specific studies, to distil the most significant individual and social risk factors.

This report is the end result of a similar exercise. It highlights the gaps and limitations in publicly available administrative and survey data and shows that only a small number of empirical studies have been undertaken in this area. This is not to suggest that in-depth, qualitative research and wide-ranging consultations are not important—these document the viewpoints of Indigenous people; their everyday experience of being an Indigenous person and the kinds of violence they experience, witness and are fearful of. Their perceptions of what will prevent and reduce such violence are crucial to all policies and community-based initiatives aimed at tackling violence. Notwithstanding this, it is regrettable given the enduring and significant overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system, as victims and offenders and the kinds of violence found in some Indigenous communities, that there has been little investment and commitment to better data and a strategic, ongoing research agenda.

In this report, the available data indicate that Indigenous people are 15 to 20 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to commit violent offences. The main risk factors linked to violent offending by Indigenous people include alcohol misuse, illicit drug use, sex, age, childhood experience of violence and abuse, exposure to pornography, education, income, employment, housing, physical and mental health, geographic location and access to services. However alcohol, based on existing evidence, stands out as a problem over and above structural factors such as socioeconomic disadvantage. The report concludes by drawing attention to the need to investigate the specifics of different forms of violent offending—the relationship between victims and offenders and the location and nature of different community settings. It is not, in itself, enough to continue to document the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system. This can only be properly understood if more research involves the examination of what stops and inhibits offending. There are many Indigenous people who experience a constellation of risk factors who do not offend or refrain from offending and the report ends with a recommendation for further research into resilience and what are commonly called 'protective' factors, as part of a 'developmental prevention' approach.

Adam Tomison
Director

Acknowledgements

This research has been funded and supported by the Australian Crime Commission through its National Indigenous Violence and Child Abuse Intelligence Task Force.

Matthew Willis and Dr Judy Putt are thanked for their guidance and comments on earlier drafts.