Investigations

Calls for cultural support after cluster of suicides among South Asian women in Melbourne

The suicides all occurred in the City of Whittlesea area of Melbourne. Source: Google Maps

More accessible, culturally appropriate support services are needed for South Asian women in the City of Whittlesea, the coroner overseeing an investigation into the suicides of four women in the community has found.

The coroner overseeing an investigation into the deaths of four South Asian women in one area of Melbourne has called for more to be done to help vulnerable women in the community.

Releasing her findings on Tuesday from the Coroners Court of Victoria, Coroner Audrey Jamieson acknowledged there was an "elevated frequency of suicides" among South Asian women in 2018 in the local government area of the City of Whittlesea, compared with one such death for the period 2009-2015. 

The investigation, which is being held privately with consultation from various associated parties, was prompted by serious community concerns in relation to the spike in suicide rates. It follows an investigation by SBS News into seven suspected suicides among Indian women in the community, with evidence some of the women had experienced family violence prior to their deaths. 

Ms Jamieson recommended that the Victorian Department of Health reviews current support services for the health and wellbeing of South Asian women in the City of Whittlesea, including engaging with "service providers and other stakeholders, to identify opportunities to improve South Asian women's access to and engagement with such services". 

She also recommended Victoria Police allocates Family Violence Investigation Units to investigate suspected intentional deaths of women in the local government area who are from culturally and linguistically diverse communities in circumstances where there is an indication that prior family violence or social isolation may be contributing factors. 

In all four cases, Ms Jamieson ruled the evidence did not provide "a comfortable level of satisfaction to find that family violence was a precipitating factor" in the deaths. She did though acknowledge in two of the cases the serious allegations in the coronial brief but said in one case, the allegations could not be reconciled with the statements of the deceased's husband and his relatives and that there had not been any formal corroborating evidence presented by Victoria Police. 

In another case, Ms Jamieson said, the allegation of family violence could not be reconciled with statements from the deceased's husband, son, niece and other family members and that there had not been any formal corroborating evidence presented by Victoria Police.

The inquiry concerns a group of women, all but one of whom were mothers and were from similar ethnic backgrounds, who died by suicide. 

In June, SBS News first reported about a cluster of seven suspected suicides with disturbing similarities which had left lawyers and police concerned about the circumstances surrounding those in the Indian community of Melbourne's City of Whittlesea. 

Blackwood Park
The community was concerned about elevated suicide rates in the area.
Google Maps

Principal solicitor from the Whittlesea Community Connections Community Legal Service, Chris Howse, who had formally requested the Coroners Court to intervene and investigate these cases, welcomed the findings on Tuesday. 

"Our service will not accept a single further suicide, of a single further mother, without the immediate offer of help," he told SBS News. 

The legal service has written to the Secretary of the Department of Health, Kim Peake, seeking an urgent meeting to discuss possible solutions and initiatives.  

"At stake is the chance that our work to get them out of the house, to get them together, to speak about rights, will fail without the help of the secretary, which the Coroner recommends she provide, in every one of the findings, into each of these four deaths," Mr Howse said. 

SBS News understands another coronial inquiry will be taking place separately in relation to two 2019 suicides which shared similar characteristics to the four deaths in this investigation. 

The Whittlesea municipality, which includes the suburbs of Epping and Mill Park, had the second-highest reported number of family violence incidents in Melbourne in 2018 behind only Hume, with more than 3,100 reports, according to Victoria Police data.

It is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas in Victoria with almost half of all local residents speaking a language other than English at home.

Do you know more about this story? Contact linevlin@protonmail.com (secure email).

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. 

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25). More information is available at BeyondBlue.org.au and lifeline.org.au.

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