Some migrant domestic violence victims don't realise they are suffering from domestic violence

By Laura Lavelle for ABC News 1 May 2023


Prisha said the abuse seemed "normal".(ABC News)

It was a small act of kindness, and concern, which changed Prisha's life. Her elderly neighbour had been hearing the commotion coming from her Brisbane home for months and decided to take action.

Key points:

  • Many migrants aren't aware of domestic violence laws in Australia
  • Financial control is a major concern among victims 
  • Some victims fear being deported or seperated from their children

"She had always wanted to talk with me," Prisha said.

"She would hear the way he shouted at me at home, and she was always scared to talk with me."

As Prisha walked through her front yard, her neighbour threw her a small piece of paper with a phone number scribbled on it.

"She gave me an 1800 number on a little tear-out piece of paper and she threw it towards me," Prisha said.

"She gave me this gesture to ring the number.

"When I called them, I realised everything."

Prisha was born overseas, and met and married her husband when she moved to Australia to study.

For years, she had been living in an abusive and violent relationship, but didn't understand what she was experiencing was wrong, let alone that it was domestic violence.

Family and domestic violence support services:

"While I was with my husband, I was experiencing each and every component of domestic violence," Prisha said.

"I was not allowed to talk with my family on the phone, I was not allowed to go out of the home.  "I was confined to four walls.

"For me it was normal because I have seen that in my culture and how I was born and brought up."

The experience inspired Prisha to leave her husband and work in DV prevention, helping other women who are living with abusive or controlling partners.

She said she's come to realise how prominent the issue is across the country, but especially within migrant communities.

A study from Monash University found one in three women from migrant backgrounds have experienced domestic or family violence.

The study also found 97 per cent of those who had experienced domestic violence had been a victim of controlling behaviours, while 42 per cent had experienced physical or sexual violence.

It also revealed that temporary visa holders reported higher levels of abuse.

Fear of being shamed and shut out

Prisha said a culture of shame is one of many reasons women are afraid to leave abusive relationships.

"In my culture, it's a shame to split up if you divorce and you have kids, it's a shame on a family," she said.

"When I told my parents, they were very supportive. But they still told me to be calm and to stay with him. They told me he'd change.

"But I knew, you can't change a person like that."

Sonia Kumari and Bushra Aman work at a multicultural health organisation in Brisbane.

Bushra Aman described the domestic violence pattern as "like an inbuilt culture". (ABC News: Laura Lavelle)

They said more than half of their clients have experienced, or are experiencing, domestic violence.

"There's a lot of coercive control happening," Ms Aman said. "It's just like an in-built culture. It's normal and they just don't consider its domestic violence."

Both said financial control is often a major concern for clients when trying to leave abusive relationships.

 Sonia Kumari said many clients are being controlled by their abusive partners.(ABC News: Laura Lavelle)

"There is a lot of fear," Ms Kumari said.

"Women who are on temporary visas will tell us that they've been threatened that, if they go out and talk to somebody else, they will be deported.

"Sometimes even women who have children are threatened that we'll keep the children here and we'll deport you."

Visa concerns become weapons for coercive control

CEO of Women's Legal Service Queensland, Nadia Bromley, said many of her clients from migrant backgrounds come to the team with concerns about visas and custody.

"We provide services to 8,000 women per year, most of those are from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds and we do see high instances of violence in those communities," Ms Bromley said.

"Regrettably, we are seeing a trend where there's an Australia citizen using violence and a non-Australian citizen who is on a temporary visa and they're in a completely powerless position where they feel like they can't leave and can't leave the country with a child who perhaps is Australian-born.

"I think some of the most vulnerable people are in those really perilous positions, where they're on temporary visas or visas, which are perhaps attached to a spouse who is using violence in a relationship."

Ms Bromley said domestic and family violence is a complex area of law, and even more so when it's coupled with migration law.

But she said her message to women who feel they are trapped or helpless, is that there are always options available.

 Nadia Bromley said there's a trend of Australian citizens using violence to control their migrant partners.(ABC News: Curtis Rodda)

"I think people make assumptions about what the law might be based on their home country or other jurisdictions, without seeking out information to understand that they do have rights and that help is available," she said.

"There are pathways for visas, there are temporary visas, there are things that we can do to help and assist people on safe pathways to allow for a safe exit from a relationship."

"People's rights do not stop at their front door."

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