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Women suffer physical and emotional aggression (AAP-Dominic Lipinski-PA Wire)

Victims can find themselves stuck in abusive relationships as they depend on their aggressors to stay in Australia.

By
Liz Lacerda
Published on
Friday, July 21, 2017 - 16:20
File size
3.8 MB
Duration
8 min 15 sec

Ingrid* arrived in Australia in 2002. Two years later, she believed she had found the love of her life here.

In 2006, the Brazilian married her Australian boyfriend, but the dream became a nightmare when she started suffering domestic violence.

"My husband controlled me a lot. He always called me names, like stupid, dumb, idiot, you're not capable of anything, you are not worth it," she sadly recalls.

At first she was not able to identify them, but the signs of domestic violence were constant in their relationship.

"There were many serious signs of domestic violence, like controlling my finances and my social life, monitoring my emails and phone calls, beside humiliating me and threatening my life and whoever else was with me," Ingrid tells SBS Portuguese.

"He wanted to punch me on the face when I told him I was going to divorce him."

"He told me many times he was going to revoke my visa, he was going to kick me out of this country and keep our daughter here."

Luciane Sperling, also a Brazilian, has also been a victim of domestic violence in Australia.

"He used silent treatment, put me down with words and called me names, or used to tell me that I was making a big deal of something small, ignored me, made me feel guilty for whatever I did not do, called me a liar, made me live in permanent fear, beside jealousy and intimidation," says Luciane. "I had to walk on eggshells all the time to avoid a negative reaction."

In addition to the emotional violence, Luciane also suffered physical aggression. "He grabbed by the neck and pushed me against the wall, in a moment he was completely out of his mind," she says.

"I also had to go to the hospital because he pressed a chair on my foot. He also grabbed my arm strongly or pushed me literally away quite often."

Domestic violence is considered a major crime in Australia, but the situation is a little more complicated when the victim holds a Partner Visa, because their life in this country directly depends on the aggressor.

"He told me many times he was going to revoke my visa, he was going to kick me out of this country and keep our daughter here," says Luciane.

Ingrid said that the fact she was born in a Third World country was also continuously mentioned by her husband during arguments. "He always said: 'Get out of here, I am tired of you. Go back, poor!" says Ingrid.

"With these words - 'poor.'"

Ingrid holds a post-degree and comes from a prosperous family in Brazil. As she explains it, her husband had a different background -  financially, culturally and in terms of family values.

"People from different backgrounds do not think like you and do not have the same values," says Ingrid. "He did not treat his family well, so he thought he could treat me the same way."

"It's also a different language, so literal [mis]translations can cause misunderstandings and that is bad for the relationship."

"It's also a different language, so literal [mis]translations can cause misunderstandings and that is bad for the relationship."

Threats and blackmails using the visa status is a common behaviour for abusers who are also their partners sponsors to stay in Australia.

Katie Green, solicitor at Marrickville Legal Centre, says that it is difficult for victims to look for help.

"People that come on a Partner Visa, they are thinking about what ties them to that visa and what their migration responsibility is and, if they are in breach of that visa, they are afraid that they are going to be sent back," explains Green.

"So, the issue in family violence is that women in that situation are much less likely to speak up when they feel vulnerable or when they are exposed to abuse."

Sometimes, it is difficult for women to even identify as victims of domestic violence. "I did not know how to name that," says Luciane.

"I knew we had problems, but I did not know these things existed. It was out of my reality."

It can be even more painful when there are children involved.

"He said I did not have any rights, that I would not be able to pay for my bills and I would go back to Brazil," says Ingrid.

"He also said he would never let my daughter go with me and I would end up on the streets."

Ingrid is still fighting for her parental rights. 

The first time Luciane Sperling separated, she wrote the Immigration Department a letter and was granted a visa extension to attend Court procedures regarding her daughters custody. After that, Luciane was told she would have to leave the country, unless she got an authorization to stay at the ministers discretion.

Luciane went back to her husband. "I gave him a second chance," she says.

"I am a Christian and, on the Bible, I thought I had to give him another chance, for the love, for the family, for the hope, for faith."

It did not work out, and Luciane left with no money.

She lived twice in refuges for women victims of domestic violence, with her daughter. Her experience and the stories she heard there inspired her to write a book, titled "Touched by Love: Turning Crisis into a Blessing."

"I wanted to be a source of hope to all the women suffering from domestic violence or recovering from it, to tell them where to look for help, what their rights are, what they do with the kids, what they have to do to protect themselves and the children."

These women survived and today, they are Australian citizens.

But what about those who are still in these relationships?

Maria,* who is still living with her aggressor, does not have Permanent Residency yet. Her partner does not know about this interview, but he noticed she had been crying.

That night, Maria had to sleep in a shelter. Below, she tells her own painful story of aggression. The audio might be distressing.

So what support systems are in place?

"Domestic and family violence is unacceptable in any circumstances," the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) tells SBS Portuguese in a statement. "And victims are encouraged to seek professional assistance."

"Family violence provisions, such as permanent residency entitlements, are in place to allow eligible Partner visa applicants to leave a violent relationship without the risk of losing their right of residence in Australia."

As to what steps need to be taken to access these provisions, the Department says, "To satisfy the provisions the visa applicant needs to demonstrate they, or a member of their family, or their partners family, has suffered family violence perpetrated by the sponsor."

"If there is insufficient evidence that family violence has occurred, the case is referred to an independent expert for further assessment. The experts opinion is binding."

"Family violence provisions, such as permanent residency entitlements, are in place to allow eligible Partner visa applicants to leave a violent relationship without the risk of losing their right of residence in Australia."

The trouble with this process for many migrants, solicitor Katie Green says, is knowing what services are available in the first place.

"Where they come from they might not have a good relationship with the police or might not think that they’re eligible for police and court assistance because of the very fact that they’re on a migrant visa," she says.

"So a lot of people are afraid to even seek support and assistance because of that fear of authority and also because they’re in an abusive situation, control is a huge part of that."

"So the abuser is also probably compounding that fear and lack of information and preventing people from seeking help."

"If English is your second language or you don’t speak much English it’s extremely hard to access services."

In addition to the feat is one of the most basic: the language barrier. 

"Of course, a very obvious problem but a very real one for a lot of migrants, is that we are largely a monolingual community," says Green. "So if English is your second language or you don’t speak much English it’s extremely hard to access services."

"Even calling a helpline, often you are confronted with a voicemail message that you don’t know how to get past."

So what are the next steps for victims seeking assistance? Solicitor Katie Green has helped us lay out step-by-step a guide here: 

More information here:
What to do if your partner is abusive, but you rely on them to stay in Australia
Seeking help to leave an abusive relationship is never easy - but what happens when you depend on your aggressor to stay in the country?