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Many Australian women and men are affected by domestic violence. And it's often multicultural communities who face the biggest challenges in getting help. Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month in May aims to raise community awareness and provide information on how to access help and support.
By
Dorota Banasiak

11 May 2016 - 6:45 PM  UPDATED 12 Sep 2016 - 11:27 AM

Domestic violence is an ongoing issue in many Australian households. The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012 report found one in five women had experienced sexual violence and one in three experienced physical violence.
The 2016 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence found that people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities are more likely to face barriers to obtaining help for family violence.

Refugee women may be at a higher risk of experiencing domestic violence during their settlement period due to pre-migration experiences

The Commission also found that women with diverse backgrounds are among the groups with a greater risk of family violence. Social isolation, fear of deportation and language barriers are some of the key issues identified by frontline service providers like the Liverpool Migrant Resource Centre (LMRC) in Western Sydney as to why women do not seek help. LMRC's manager Olivia Nguy says although domestic violence doesn't discriminate, refugee women are at a higher risk of becoming victims of it.

"There is literature to suggest that refugee women may be at a higher risk of experiencing domestic violence during their settlement period due to pre-migration experiences, sexual violence, physical violence or trauma in their country of origin as well."

A lot of the time people can be concerned about disclosing or seeking support or leaving a relationship if they're on a visa because there might be fears of deportation

Olivia Nguy says one of the most important issues among migrant or refugee women is the need for understanding of the legal aspects associated with domestic violence, such as the court system and AVOs*.

"A lot of the time people can be concerned about disclosing or seeking support or leaving a relationship if they're on a visa because there might be fears of deportation, they might not be aware of their legal rights and the fact that there are provisions for domestic violence"

"I was not allowed to leave the house by myself."

A newly arrived Polish migrant Paulina (name has been changed to protect her identity) says she's suffered physical abuse from the father of her child for four years. During the relationship Paulina's partner isolated her from the outside world.
"I was isolated from all my friends, no one visited me, I had no access to the internet, he checked who I called and often took my mobile phone away, I spoke to my family in Poland via skype only with him present so that I could not complain."

"I was totally financially dependent on him. I never had any money."

Paulina was financially dependent on her partner. She could not work as she had to care for their daughter.
"I didn't work, he worked. I stayed at home. I cleaned and cooked, I cared for my daughter, I worked in the garden… day after day. I was not allowed to leave the house by myself. I only went out with him. I was totally financially dependent on him. I never had any money. If ever I needed to take my daughter to the doctor I could not even do that, I had no money to pay for a cab."

"He threatened to take my daughter away from me."

Without a permanent residency status, Paulina feared losing her three year old daughter.
"He threatened to take my daughter away from me and send me back to Poland because I was on a visa. He said it'll be simple - my child was born here and would stay here in Australia as she is an Australian citizen and so is he. He said that since I am not a resident I would be deported and I would never see my daughter again. Or he could take her away somewhere, and Australia is a large country."

There's a range of cultural aspects that may influence how the individual or a community may respond to domestic violence

Olivia Nguy from Liverpool Migrant Resource Center says visa holders can access domestic violence provisions which may mean they don't have to leave the country.
"If you are applying for a visa and you are experiencing domestic violence and you're relationship has ended that you are still able to continue with that application for the visa, and there is also issues sometimes with people who are on permanent visas are not realising that they would retain that visa if they left the violent relationship as well."

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence help is available

There's a range of cultural aspects that may influence how the individual or a community may respond to domestic violence. Olivia Nguy says there are issues around disclosure of domestic violence.

"They may have a sense that it brings shame to the family or they're worried about how the community might react and their support networks may ostracize them from that community, or they may be discouraged to leave their partners because of the value that the culture may place on family unity and on marriage, or they may not think to raise the violence as an issue with a service provider because they may view it as a private or a family issue."
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence help is available.

If you want advice on domestic violence, the Federal Government's 1800 RESPECT 24 hour service means you can call or chat online to a professional counsellor

In an emergency, when urgent help is needed or a fear that an emergency is about to happen - people should call 000 and ask for police. The operator will ask the caller for details of the situation, including the location, what is happening, where the offender may be, if there are any children present and if any alcohol or drugs have been consumed. The NSW police say family and domestic violence are the most dangerous of all incidents they attend.
If the violence is happening to someone you know, like a neighbor, a friend or relative - you can report it and stay anonymous.

When people don't have an AVO they're often excluded from seeking support from domestic violence type programs

Olivia Nguy says some people are hesitant about speaking to police which can affect services they can receive.
"An issue that comes up a lot at our end is that when people don't have an AVO they're often excluded from seeking support from domestic violence type programs, such as Housing NSW Start Safely program - people who have experienced violence if they don't have an AVO they may be excluded from it. Some people particularly from diverse communities might not be comfortable speaking with the police and therefore seeking an AVO. So not requiring an AVO to access domestic violence specific support would be really helpful."

If you want advice on domestic violence, the Federal Government's 1800 RESPECT 24 hour service means you can call or chat online to a professional counsellor. The NSW and Victorian Governments also support confidential helplines which provide advice and emergency accommodation to women in need. Olivia Nguy says it's important women can access accommodation that's culturally safe.

"There's often gender based refuges but if they're unavailable and other forms of emergency accommodation are required it can often feel unsafe particularly in a mixed gender type even building. So looking at other avenues to be sensitive to the particular cultural sensitivities that may come with being a women experiencing domestic violence."

To speak to a counsellor anytime, call 1800 737 732 (or 1800 R-E-S-P-E-C-T on your keypad) or visit 1800Respect            
Help is available from the Women's Domestic Violence Crisis Service of Victoria (WDVCSV) on 1800 015 188 or those in NSW can call 1800 65 64 63.

The Immigrant Women's Support Service offers information in several languages.

*Apprehended Violence Order

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Many Australians are affected by domestic violence. It’s often women from multicultural backgrounds who don’t report abuse due to cultural, religious and language factors, as well as fear of deportation.