Preventing family violence in migrant communities

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One in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Family violence can affect anybody, but migrant women face additional barriers when they need to get help.

For a long time, family or domestic violence was considered to be a personal issue, not a society issue. But the statistics are clear; a lot of women are victims of violence at the hands of a family member. Nada Ibrahim, a domestic violence expert at the Centre for Islamic Thought and Education, says that family violence can take many forms.

"The issue of family violence, it's actually an umbrella term that is used for any kind of violence that happens in a domestic setting or a family setting. So family violence can incorporate things like violence between partners, so intimate partner violence. It incorporates child abuse, it incorporates elderly abuse, it incorporates sibling abuse, parental abuse, so any form of violence that happens in a domestic setting."

We do know that the victims tend to overwhelmingly be women. And when we talk about violence, it's not only physical violence; it can take many other forms like psychological abuse, financial abuse or harassment.

Melbourne social worker Anu Krishnan explains that migrants face a lot of stress when arriving in Australia, which can sometimes be a catalyst for violence.

"With the migrant community, they have the added stress of coping with life in a new culture, issues with finding relevant jobs and career opportunities and very often they have to challenge the gender balances that are different than in their home country and the exposure to a completely new and from freer culture."

Nada Ibrahim says not all family violence agencies are equipped to deal with cultural nuances so it makes sense to have organisations like inTouch that specialise in issues of family violence in migrant and refugee communities,

"Sometimes, a particular culture might not identify domestic violence outside of physical violence. They may identify physical violence, which is not tolerated or accepted in communities because of its visibility, but they might find it really, really hard to identify some of the challenges of domestic and family violence. Particularly identifying things like verbal abuse, psychological abuse or financial abuse or social abuse, where they're isolated from communities."

"There has to be a lot of support so the women feel brave enough, feel confident enough to come out and ask for help. There also need to be programs to raise awareness from inside the community so other community members can rally and help a woman who is experiencing domestic violence." - Anu Krishnan, social worker

Some other specific issues can come up in cultural communities like the proper use of interpreters, the influence of religion or the pressure of the extended family. Anu Krishnan was part of Australia’s first ever course for leaders from culturally and linguistically diverse communities in the Prevention of Violence Against Women. It was given by AMES Australia in Melbourne earlier this year. To her, it's clear that preventing family violence can only work if the whole community is involved.

"There has to be a lot of support so the women feel brave enough, feel confident enough, to come out and ask for help. There also need to be programs to raise awareness from inside the community so other community members can rally and help a woman who is experiencing domestic violence so she doesn't feel like she's being abandoned by the community. Very often, because of the shame of reporting intimate partner violence, women don't. We need to remove that shame and tell them it's ok to talk about it, they're not to be blamed."

This course in the prevention of violence against women was facilitated by AMES Australia's Wendy Lobwein. She says that men need to do their part when it comes to prevention.

"Men can really play such an important role, which is advocating for respectful relationships between men and women and respectful attitudes towards women and challenge each other when they show these attitudes that trivialise women's experience or violence against women."

Migrant women also face barriers when they try to get help. Anu Krishnan says they're often isolated and don't know where to go.

"They are scared to report, and even if they do report, where will they go? They're not used to taking help for people or going into women's shelters. They often have preconceived ideas about what these shelters look like. Many women have issues with visa so they might be depending on their partner for living expenses. Sometimes they don't have the ability to take their children and move."

There are more and more services becoming available for migrants women who are victims of family violence. Several organisations and helplines work with interpreters to provide support in all languages.

Your GP is also somebody who you can report family violence to. But if you're in immediate danger, Wendy Lobwein says to call triple 0.

"I know a lot of women have confided being frightened of the police being involved. They think it will be the beginning of the destructional breakdown of their family, but police are increasingly being trained in response which is around making sure that people are safe, not around ending marriages or relationships. That can come whichever way it unfolds. The police can be relied upon to keep people safe so please call zero, zero, zero."

If you're a victim of family violence or know someone who does, call 1800 RESPECT to get help. If you need an interpreter, call 13 14 50.


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