Friday, April 9, 2010

Alcohol and Indigenous Violence Linked

Sidney Morning Herald

Indigenous Australians are up to 20 times more likely to commit offences of violence, due overwhelmingly to alcohol abuse, says a new study.

Backing the findings of earlier research, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) paper found the rate of violent offending by indigenous persons was consistently higher than non-indigenous persons, with indigenous males strongly over-represented.

Levels of recidivism were also disproportionately high while time taken to commit further offences was disproportionately low.

The study's author, criminologist Joy Wundersitz, said it was widely recognised there was no single cause of violence in indigenous communities.

But there were a number of theories, including that initial European colonisation and dispossession played a crucial role.

However, repeated studies, by among others indigenous leader Noel Pearson, have pointed to the role of alcohol.

"Alcohol addiction and misuse is now widely regarded as one of, if not, the main risk factor for indigenous violence," she said.

Institute director Adam Tomison said available data indicated that indigenous people were 15-20 times more likely than non-indigenous people to commit violent offences.

Risk factors included 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 socio-economic disadvantage or exposure to alcoholics anonymous," Mr Tomison said.

Ms Wundersitz said the need to break the link between access to welfare money and alcohol abuse was a fundamental driver of the Northern Territory intervention, launched by the previous Howard government.

Most indigenous people were not violent even though many lived in communities where violence was endemic and were subjected to violence and systemic social disadvantage without becoming offenders themselves.

Despite the large number of studies, there were gaps in the data and that was limiting development of policies designed to curtail violence.

For example, there is little information to explain why many indigenous people do not commit offences and the only truly national data on indigenous offending is the institute's homicide monitoring program.

"Without a more detailed understanding of what proportion of the indigenous population actually commits acts of violence, the nature and frequency of that violence, and the circumstances within which it occurs, successful intervention strategies and drug rehab programs will be difficult to develop," Ms Wundersitz said.

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