Wyndham youth confront family violence

WAMY Youth Group Ambassadors, Nee Nee Christpaw, Htee Hset Tun, Mercy Paramena, Marie Pewhaingi, Shadow Toke
Refugees in outer south western Melbourne look at ways to deal with domestic abuse. Sylvia Kovacevic reports.

Young refugees in Wyndham are organising a White Ribbon Day event to help their community deal with family violence.

Htee Hset Tun, a 23-year-old ethnic Karen refugee from Burma, works at the New Hope Foundation in Werribee.

She helps ethnic minorities from Burma and other countries adapt to life in Australia.

Tun is no newcomer to the White Ribbon Day campaign to stop violence against women: “We [have] been doing it for three or four years and it’s been very successful.

“We do hear things that [family violence] has happened in the past so it’s really important that we get the message out there that it’s OK to speak up and OK to talk to someone about it. And there’s help out there.”

A survey of personal safety conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found 36 per cent of women in Australia have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of someone they know.

Of all these assaults, 62 per cent took place in the home, and more than half – 58 per cent – were not reported to police.

Marie Pewhaingi, the cultural youth development officer for Wyndham Youth Services, said family violence was just one of the challenges confronting young people in the municipality.

Pewhaingi said the trauma refugees suffered before arriving in Australia continued to impact them long afterwards.

“There are a lot of reasons why family violence happens. The adults, the parents, it’s quite traumatic for them and how do they express it?

“So through the youth we provide them with all the different services that are available.”

Tun runs an all-volunteer group, the Wyndham Ambassadors of Multicultural Youth (WAMY).

Comprising young refugees, WAMY meets monthly to organise events and cultural days for the local community with a focus on giving new migrants a sense of belonging.

Tun said cultural norms meant women were reluctant to come forward for help, and the language barrier only made the situation more difficult.

“The women just tend to keep it from people. It’s quite a private, sensitive topic,” Tun said.

“Sometimes women feel safer to not tell anyone. We can pass on the message to the young person and they can pass it on to their parents or their friends.

“I’ve been here a few years and you can see a change. One person comes forward and that’s a big change.”