June 24, 2024

As rates of family and domestic violence skyrocket in Western Australia’s far north, court proceedings have revealed there are no psychologists available to treat offenders. 

In the first three months of the year, the Kimberley recorded the highest rates of family and domestic violence offences in WA with 1,702 reported incidents.

The sentencing of a “declared serial family violence offender” last week in Broome laid bare the lack of departmental psychologists for offenders in the region.

The Broome Magistrates Court heard a 38-year-old man was facing charges of unlawful assault and wounding after he threw an empty wine bottle at a woman, chased her, and hit her from behind.

Police prosecutor Mícheál Gregg told the court the woman was “lunged” into the side of a ute hard enough to leave a dent in the vehicle.

During sentencing, Magistrate Deen Potter said there were no Department of Justice psychologists in the Kimberley for offenders to access as an intervention for their behaviour.

“Intensive and regular targeted interventions are required for [the offender] … it’s something required for so many individuals,” he said.

Defence lawyer Paul Tobin said his client was exposed to significant trauma and had battled alcoholism since he was 15 years old.

Broome Courthouse gardens outside of courtroom 2

Kimberley Magistrate Deen Potter says intensive and regular targeted intervention is needed to address offending behaviour.(ABC Kimberley: Tom Forrest)

The man was sentenced to 10 months’ jail backdated to August 2023, with a six-month restraining order in place.

Mr Tobin said there was a “concerning” lack of treatment “across the board” in the Kimberley to address the root causes of people’s offending behaviour despite the high need and demand.

“One solution may be a university working with locals and designing an accredited, trauma-informed counselling course for Kimberley people to undertake to fill the service gap that exists in counselling and social work,” he said.

 “[It needs to be] culturally appropriate and incorporate Kimberley language.”

Kimberley needs ‘Aboriginal-led’ solutions and co-design

Professor Victoria Hovane is a Ngarluma, Jaru and Gooniyandi woman from Broome and a registered psychologist.

A portrait photo of a woman looking at the camera

Psychologist Victoria Hovane says the issues involved are deeply complex.(Supplied)

Dr Hovane said psychologists could provide support to offenders and create opportunities for local-led solutions.

She said while psychology could enhance Indigenous-led solutions, it needed to be assessed to determine if it was relevant to “an Aboriginal context and worldview” and not used as the only response to family violence. 

“We’re talking about a complex issue here — it’s multi-layered, it requires us understanding the complexity of the issue we’re dealing with in order to implement effective responses,” Dr Hovane said.

“We need to be designing these responses with Aboriginal communities, with Aboriginal people leading those responses, its development, implementation and delivery.”

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