Shocking extent of migrant domestic abuse in Australia

"I have seen many girls like me suffering after coming here, in a new country with no family and no friends. We get isolated here."

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A photograph of one of the women interviewed for the 2016 research. Credit: University of Melbourne

The often-hidden plight of newly arrived migrant women in Australia who have experienced domestic abuse has been highlighted by the Monash University report, which focuses on 300 cases.

The report’s author Professor Marie Segrave said the abuse was systematic and abusive husbands often took advantage of their partner’s visa uncertainty.

“We see that perpetrators often use migration status as leverage to threaten women. They say they will be deported, it isn’t true but women do believe that is the case because they are not clear about their rights,” Associate Prof Segrave was quoted in a report at Sbs.com.

Shubha Ramalingaia, 31, moved to Australia after marrying her new husband in India with hopes for a bright future. She told SBS World News her family had paid her husband a dowry of $300,000, but she claimed that she soon found out he already had a partner.

“When I came here in March I found out he already had a partner and he still got married to me,” she alleged. “I have seen many girls like me suffering after coming here, in a new country with no family and no friends. We get isolated here.”

“Temporary migration and family violence: An analysis of victimisation, vulnerability and support” is the first major study in Australia to examine the link between migration status and family violence.

“Based on the estimate that one in four women experience family violence, and the annual average approval of 36,4503 temporary partner visa applications from female applicants, it could be assumed that at least 9112 women across Australia who are on temporary partner visas are experiencing family violence,” according to the document as reported by MedicalXpress.com.

It added: “In 2015–16, there were 529 family violence provision applications made by women on such visas, of which 403 were successful. This suggests that there is much to be done in relation to understanding women’s experiences and situations, as well as the extent to which victim-survivors who are temporary migrants are aware of their rights and the support agencies that are able to assist them to access these rights.”

Dr Segrave said women on temporary migrant visa needed to be “empowered via increasing their confidence and knowledge regarding rights pertaining to migration status and family violence law and support provisions.”

“Migration status often adds a layer of complexity and, most often, uncertainty, for women,” she writes.

Many women on temporary partner visas have the potential to be protected by the family violence provisions in the Migration Act that enable access to permanent residency if a relationship breaks down due to family violence. But the report details the limited number of applications to utilise the family violence provision.

In the SBS.com report, it noted that the Australian government has been called upon to offer better protection for vulnerable and exploited women, in response to the report findings.

The ‘Temporary Migration and Family Violence’ report, released on Thursday, calls on Australia’s state and federal governments to offer better protection for migrant women, including the examination of whether anti-slavery and human trafficking laws should be enforced in some case of domestic abuse, SBS.com reports.

The report found one Australian agency, the InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family violence, submitted more than 40 per cent of the total family violence provision applications across Australia.

It calls for funding of specialised agencies across Australia that include migration agents within family violence services.

The SBS.com report quoted psychiatrist Dr Manjula O’Connor said Indian women often fall victim to dowry abuse, with husbands taking a sum of money and gifts provided by the brides’ family and then abandoning their partners.

“Australia will become the first country in the world outside India to have this law and this will have a significant impact on the cultural expectations around dowry back in India as well as in Australia,” she said.

EARLIER REPORT

In an earlier report last year, a two-year study with 46 family violence survivors from more than 20 countries found common threads in how their abusers use cultural and physical isolation to prevent them from seeking help, reports MedicalXpress.com.

The University of Melbourne’s Dr Cathy Vaughan, from the Centre for Health Equity, led the ASPIRE project, which is Australia’s largest ever study into family violence against immigrant and refugee women.

Dr Vaughan said because of visa restrictions, many of the women could not work, or access social security or health services. In many cases their partners would socially and culturally isolate them by not allowing them to learn English or to drive, or physically isolate them by taking advantage of remote housing.

“We spoke to one woman who wasn’t allowed to leave her home for three years. She didn’t even know where she lived, let alone who to contact for help,” Dr Vaughan said.

“Another woman, only two days after arriving in Australia, was taken away to a house in the outer suburbs. She didn’t know where she lived. Within just two days she was already experiencing severe violence, including being choked, and the only people she knew were her partner and his family.

“Some women spoke of violence perpetrated by members of the extended family and threats made against family living overseas. They also reported extensive financial abuse.

“Visa restrictions on women’s ability to work, study and no access to Centrelink or Medicare make them completely dependent on their partner and make it very difficult for many women to leave.

“Few were aware of family violence prevention programs or response services, but we discovered groups of immigrant women providing grassroots, voluntary family violence support to women.”

 

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