Family violence and culturally diverse women
For Family & Friends, Female Survivors, Male Survivors, Students, Teachers, Workers, Young People
All forms of family violence (also called domestic violence) are illegal and unacceptable in Australia. But for women from culturally diverse backgrounds, the situation is complex.
Their own cultural context, and a mix of cultural and social factors within Australia, make culturally diverse women particularly vulnerable to violence. These factors also make it more difficult for them to get help and support.
There’s been little research into the incidence of family violence among culturally diverse women, except to highlight that cultural values and immigration status make family violence cases more complicated for these women.
For any community, family violence is destructive. It can cause dreadful physical and psychological harm, particularly to women and children. Family violence is the leading contributor to preventable death, disability and illness among Victorian women aged 15 to 44 years. And it can pass from one generation to the next. There is also the fear that they will be isolated from their community.
Help and support are available for women from culturally diverse backgrounds experiencing family violence.
What is an illegal act of violence in Australia?
Some behaviours that are considered illegal acts of violence in Australia may be accepted in some cultural contexts – and may go unreported in Australia. This makes it difficult for culturally diverse women to receive the help and support they need. Some examples are:
Some women may not consider forced sex with their partner (also called marital rape) to be family violence. Since 2006, around 100 countries have changed their laws to make marital rape a crime, but in practice, in many countries, marital rape continues to go unrecognised and unpunished, despite the law.
A dowry is gifts, money, goods or property the bride’s family gives to the groom or in-laws before, during or at any time after a marriage. The groom or his family demands a dowry, sometimes violently, using battery, marital rape, acid attacks, wife burning, starvation, deprivation of clothing, evictions, and false imprisonment. The recent Royal Commission into Family Violence in Victoria recommended the Victorian Government act urgently to make dowry-related abuse a form of family violence under law.
Forced and servile marriage
Forced and servile marriage have severe psychological, emotional, medical, financial, and legal consequences. Victims may be isolated, have limited access to social services, have their education interrupted, and be left with no economic independence. Many of these marriages are unregistered, leaving the woman without legal protections. Because these arrangements are based on the man holding power over the woman or child, they are likely to become abusive.
In Australia a person under 18 cannot consent to be married unless aged 16 or 17 and they have both parental and court consent. The forced marriage of a child is an aggravated forced marriage offence Criminal code act 1995 (commonwealth). This practice also constitutes child abuse and is a violation of children’s rights under the United Nations convention on the rights of a child. Because the child has no legal rights in this relationship they are more likely to be subject to abuse.
Female genital mutilation
The World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. This practice is internationally regarded as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
The situation for culturally diverse women in Australia
Many culturally diverse women come to Australia with physical, mental and sexual health conditions as a result of their experiences of sexual assault, war and conflict, and their time in refugee or detention camps. In addition, men in their communities and the extended family often regard the changes that take place in their family in Australia as undermining their authority and the cohesion of their family and respond violently trying to reassert their authority.
Barriers to reporting family violence and accessing services
Once in Australia, culturally diverse women face a number of barriers to reporting physical and sexual assault which we suspect will occur at a higher rate than the general population. These include:
- lack of support networks and extended family support (isolation)
- lack of understanding about Australian law and their rights
- lack of knowledge about housing, income and support services, poverty and no access to health care or income support, and no option to work (if they were sponsored to come to Australia or hold a limited rights visa)
- religious beliefs about divorce
The above are reasons that women from culturally diverse communities do not report. Additionally a woman may be fearful about:
- risking future Australian residency or entitlements (especially common among women on temporary or spouse visas)
- deportation and the risk of worse persecution back in her own country
- use of interpreters from their community and concerns about confidentiality.
Other barriers to reporting include:
- guilt and shame over the sexual violence previously suffered
- language barriers, and limited availability of translators or interpreters
- reluctance to confide in others
- continued abuse from her immediate and extended family.
Where to get help
Call 000 at any time if you are worried about your safety or your children’s safety.
In Touch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence (Victoria)
Phone: 1800 755 988
safe steps Family Violence Response Centre
Phone: 1800 015 188
1800 RESPECT (National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line)
Phone: 1800 737 732
Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria
Kids Help Line
Phone: 1800 55 1800
Phone: 13 11 14
Phone: 1300 78 99 78
White Ribbon (list of national hotlines and state and territory helplines)
Australian Institute of Criminology. (2010). Emerging issues in domestic/family violence research (report). Retrieved from http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/rip/1-10/10.html
Australian Institute of Family Studies. (2011). Nature of the violence experienced by women from CALD backgrounds. Retrieved February 1, 2017, from https://aifs.gov.au/publications/supporting-women-cald-backgrounds-who-are-victimsurvivors-sexual-violen/nature-violence-experienced-women-cald-backgrounds
Choahan, N. (2016, April 8). Shattered dreams: the women tormented by dowry abuse. The Age. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/shattered-dreams-the-women-tormented-by-dowry-abuse-20160406-gnzrnx.html
Forced and Child Marriage. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2017, from http://www.stopvaw.org/forced_and_child_marriage
Lawstuff Australia. (n.d.). Forced Child Marriage. Retrieved February 1, 2017, from http://www.lawstuff.org.au/nsw_law/topics/article19
Marital and Intimate Partner Sexual Assault. (2013). Retrieved February 1, 2017, from http://www.stopvaw.org/marital_and_intimate_partner_sexual_assault
VicHealth. (2011). Violence against women in Australia: Research summary. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from http://www.rcfv.com.au/MediaLibraries/RCFamilyViolence/Reports/Final/RCFV-Summary.pdf
World Health Organisation. (2016). Female genital mutilation. Retrieved February 1, 2017, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/