Australia’s challenging conditions for immigrants is making it difficult for refugee women to seek help with issues of domestic violence, says a spokesperson for a migrant family violence centre.
Vicki Kyritsis, media director of the Melbourne-based InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, said Australia needed more “user-friendly” support networks which took each victim’s personal and cultural circumstances into consideration.
“I think there are barriers because of isolation and a lack of language,” Ms Kyritsis said. “It’s not that they intentionally avoid (help), it’s just they don’t know how to use it.”
Ms Kyritsis said local support networks needed to be less “judgmental” about refugees and to understand that domestic violence is widespread, regardless of culture.
“It’s really important with refugees to understand that when we (InTouch) deal with family violence, we come from a cultural standpoint,” Ms Kyritsis said. “We understand their context.”
Ms Kyritsis also said that while domestic violence can happen to anyone, people need to remember that refugee and migrant women are particularly at risk.
“It’s not cultural, it’s a gender issue,” Ms Kyritsis said. “Family violence happens across the board, but you’re more vulnerable when you don’t know how to anchor yourself.”
An annual report conducted by InTouch for 2015, found that more than 1000 women of an ethnic background required services from InTouch.
A similar report conducted by the Domestic Violence Research Centre Victoria (DVRCV), also found that a total of 70,906 cases of domestic violence were reported in Victoria in 2014.
The report also revealed the barriers which still prevent refugee and migrant women seeking help for domestic violence, which include language differences and social isolation.
Mariam Issa, a former Somalian refugee and founder of the Resilient Aspiring Women organisation, said that refugee and migrant women are capable of speaking about their problems but lack access to support networks.
“I don’t believe that any of us really need help, we are inherently capable of taking care of ourselves,” Ms Issa said . “What we need is support, support from other places.”
Ms Issa also said that much of the cultural “frustration” experienced by refugee families when they move to Australia is leading to cases of domestic violence.
“The community system has really disintegrated in the west,” Ms Issa said. “Everything (refugees) knew about themselves is being disintegrated in this new culture.”
Former Eritrean refugee and founder of the African Think Tank organisation, Dr Berhan Ahmed, said that much of the violence experienced by refugee women was intensified by the stresses of life in Australia.
“One thing that exacerbates (violent behaviour) is this individualistic society,” said Dr Ahmed. “Therefore, the safeguard for most of these people is their community.”
According to Dr Ahmed, the shift in gender roles when people come to Australia can create more animosity in refugee and migrant households.
“The balance can shift from the man to the woman overnight, and this can create misunderstanding” Dr Ahmed said . “That’s the challenge that we face here: how do we get a balance?”
Dr Ahmed said education is essential in achieving this “balance”, as well as helping to prevent cases of domestic violence in refugee and migrant communities.
“There’s no excuse for family violence,” Dr Ahmed said. “We need to educate the people about law and order, because they can’t see the consequences.”
For support and information on dealing with family violence contact White Ribbon on 1800-RESPECT (1800 737 732), InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence on 9413 6500, or DVRCV on 9486 9866.