Three-quarters of temporary migrants seeking support for domestic and family violence during the coronavirus pandemic have said they feared for their lives, service provider case files reveal, as advocates warn of an influx of calls for help.
A new report from Monash University, released on Thursday, is the first of its kind in Australia to analyse case files of temporary migrants who reached out to domestic and family violence services during Victoria’s first coronavirus lock-down earlier this year.
It comes amid during this time due to an inability to access the government’s JobKeeper and JobSeeker financial support programs.
They may also be less likely to report violence or leave their partner because they fear being kicked out of Australia without visa sponsorship.
More than 60 of one hundred women who accessed InTouch, a Victorian multicultural family violence service, between 16 March and 31 May said they feared deportation due to threats from their perpetrator, who were overwhelmingly Australian citizens and permanent residents.
“We undertook a big study of 300 women in 2017 and the one thing that has remained consistent is the utilisation of migration status as a means of control,” Marie Segraves, an Associate Professor of criminology and co-author of the study, told SBS News.
“But what this report also shows is the really significant impact in regards to financial support and welfare support, and those things have been very much compounded by the broader content of COVID.”
Of the temporary visa holders who had jobs when they accessed InTouch, 95 per cent had a change of employment and 70 per cent lost it entirely during COVID-19.
“And they had nothing to fall back on,” Associate Professor Segraves said. “[There is] no ongoing financial support. At best there are some piecemeal funds available … but that is really being pushed back on service providers.”
In one case, a woman on a bridging visa who lost her job due to coronavirus was forced to pay her perpetrator $1,500 a month so he would agree to sponsor her. He also threatened to “send her back to her country” if she called Triple 0.
InTouch chief executive Michal Morris said the organisation had experienced a 20 per cent rise in demand during the pandemic, with more than 50 per cent from temporary migrants, but added that the data only told part of the story.
“During COVID, [temporary migrants] automatically fell into the underclass. There was no source of income for them, which meant any sense of safety or security disappeared because they had no money to buy food, no money to pay for their rent or bills,” she told SBS News.
“We could identify occasions where COVID had been weaponised, that men used it as a threat, that the lack of income was also an impact on whether she had to go back to the perpetrator or couldn’t be independent any more.”
Family violence services in other states have also reported spikes in calls for help. Earlier this week, Women’s Legal Service Queensland told a Senate committee into the federal government’s COVID-19 response that they had received a 50 per cent increase in calls following the lifting of restrictions in May.
Similarly, in New South Wales, a survey of frontline services by peak body DVNSW found 369 people on temporary visas had sought assistance across the state in May. Of the service providers surveyed, and 64 per cent noted a decrease in access to income, food and other essentials.
In Victoria, the only state to experience a second lockdown, the impact could be even worse but will only be seen when lockdowns are lifted and survivors are able to seek help.
“It is something that the whole sector is breaking for,” Ms Morris said. “We do anticipate as we slowly get out of Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne, and Victoria, that more women will be approaching us.”
Earlier this year, the federal government announced a $150 million domestic violence emergency response package aimed at supporting front line services to meet increased demand during the pandemic.
“We are committed to making sure that services have the capacity to deal with the changing nature of presentations which we understand has become more complex during the pandemic,” Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said in July.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit . In an emergency, call 000.
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