Time to act on ‘Domestic Violence’

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White Ribbon Day is held annually on November 25 by White Ribbon Australia to observe the International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women.

It also signals the start of the 16 Days of Activism to Stop Violence against Women, which ends on Human Rights Day (December 10).

Globally, White Ribbon is the world’s largest male-led movement to end men’s violence against women. It is also Australia’s only national, male led Campaign to end men’s violence against women. It is particularly important to see male ambassadors condemning violence against women, as many male perpetrators of domestic violence do not even realise what they are doing is wrong.

According to a report prepared by the Australian Institute of Criminology, one woman is killed every week in Australia by a current or former partner. Within this, there are a significant amount of women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. Exact figures, however, on the number of CALD women affected by domestic violence remains uncertain. There are a number of reasons for this including; consistency with a broader trend concerning the lack of quantitative evidence available to illustrate the prevalence of issues impacting on culturally and linguistically diverse Australians (this is particularly pertinent for Australians from new and emerging community backgrounds, who by their nature, typically do not feature prominently in statistical research). In addition, as a Lawyer and Counsellor, I have heard the multi-faceted experience of victims of domestic violence from CALD communities who were reluctant or unable to talk about or report domestic violence due to stigma and shame they may face from their own communities and/or lack of access to or awareness of support systems.

The effect of domestic violence is severe on victims and for society. It can adversely affect the emotional and psychological well being of the victim; their ability to participate in a household and take care of any children; and their ability to participate in a workplace and society.

In a study by KPMG the cost of domestic violence against women last year was estimated to be about $14.7b. There is also information on the cost of violence against women and their children which highlights the specific impact on those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. In 2009, the ABS Personal Safety Survey revealed that without intervention, the cost of violence perpetrated against immigrant and refugee women was estimated to equate to $4 billion in 2021-22, which is the time period corresponding with the targets set out in The National Council’s Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. This figure represents 26 per cent of the total cost of violence in 2021-22. The cost is likely to have further risen in the succeeding years, given that the core issues underpinning the prevalence of domestic violence in culturally and linguistically diverse and new and emerging communities have gone largely unaddressed.

The need to apply Family Violence provisions to Subclass 457 visas

In light of the prevalence and severe impact of domestic violence on victims and society, it is even more important that anyone who migrates here is not made more vulnerable. As the Chair of the FECCA Women’s Advisory Committee, and Deputy Chairperson of Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association (IWSA), and to represent the membership, I have been strongly advocating for applying family violence provisions to the Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (Subclass 457 visa). This visa allows skilled workers to come to Australia and work for an approved business for up to four years. After two years of continuous work and employer sponsorship, subclass 457 primary visa holders may request for their employer to sponsor their application for permanent residency.

Primary visa holders can bring their family (secondary holders of the subclass 457 visa). Currently secondary holders of subclass 457 visas who have experienced family and domestic violence are unable to access Family Violence Provisions (FVP), and thereby obtain permanent residence. This is in contrast to an applicant who holds a temporary Partner visa. Such an applicant can obtain permanent residence less than two years after the temporary Partner visa application was made, if family violence has occurred.

I have previously worked with the IWSA and the former Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Honourable Chris Bowen, on reforms to family violence provisions in migration policy for Partner visas so that they are easier to access by victims of family violence. These suggested changes were implemented by his office. The FVP were amended to broaden the evidentiary requirements for applicants who made non-judicially determined claims of family violence. Non-judicially determined claims are claims of family violence made by visa applicants who have not had their claims tested in a court of law. In those cases the Department of Border Protection will accept other evidence to assess whether family violence has occurred.

The lack of access to FVP, and an independent pathway to permanent residence for applicants who are on subclass 457 visas and have been subjected to family violence by their partners, is a serious concern. FECCA has raised this issue in a submission to a review of the temporary work (skilled) visa (subclass 457) programme.

Problems faced by secondary subclass 457 visa holders who have experienced family violence

Anecdotal evidence, as well as my own experience as an Immigration Lawyer suggests that there are numerous cases of CALD women who are secondary holders of subclass 457 visas, but are reluctant to speak up about family violence, or have felt trapped in a violent relationship for reasons including: they are often dependent on their spouses or the primary holder of the subclass 457 visa, their lack of independence of a secondary subclass 457 visa holder is exacerbated because if they attempt to escape domestic or family violence, they find they are ineligible for assistance, they are only able to remain in Australia if their relationship remains intact – irrespective of any work or study they are doing, their lack of knowledge of the immigration system and their lack of access to information programs and services – particularly for women with low English proficiency and they feel reluctant to return to their country of origin because they may be subject to alienation and shame for ending their marriage.

Primary holders of Subclass 457 visas who are perpetrators of domestic or family violence often use the victims’ status as secondary subclass 457 visa holders and their reluctance to speak out for the reasons described above, to control and manipulate them. This particularly applies to situations where primary subclass 457 visa holders threaten to withdraw sponsorship if the secondary subclass 457 visa holder reports the violence or goes to the authorities. This abuse of power compounds the reluctance of a secondary subclass 457 visa holder to leave the violent relationship and go to the police.

Recommendations

To address the above concerns, FECCA & IWSA has advocated for vital action including: the Australian Federal Government developing independent pathways to permanent residence for secondary subclass 457 visa holders who have been subjected to domestic or family violence by their partners, raising awareness amongst primary and secondary holders of 457 visas about domestic or family violence (this is particularly important as some primary and secondary visa holders may come from countries where domestic or family violence is not a term that they are familiar with), the provision of information to primary and secondary applicants of subclass 457 visa about their legal rights and responsibilities in Australia in terms of domestic or family violence including lists of services that they can access or for which they are eligible, allowing access to crisis payment and other assistance to help primary and secondary subclass 457 holders who are victims of domestic or family violence, the provision of parenting and family support services to be provided to subclass 457 visa holders and the provision of support and assistance for secondary subclass 457 visa holders who are victims of domestic and family violence.

The effect of domestic or family violence on a woman and her ability to participate in a household or society is significant. For secondary subclass 457 holders who are the victims of family or domestic violence, the effect is worsened by their reluctance or inability to leave such relationships for the reasons described above. It is imperative that the Federal Government addresses such concerns, and crucial action is taken.

Pallavi says ,“I have assisted both male and female victims of domestic or family violence. However, statistics show that a disproportionate amount of women experience domestic or family violence. The reforms I have advocated for in the past and  I am presently advocating for are gender neutral i.e. they can be accessed by a male or female. The time to help is now”

Pallavi Sinha is a Principal of Lawyers with Solutions and an Academic. She is the Women’s Advisory Committee Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council Australia & Deputy Chairperson Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association NSW. Her twitter id is mspallavisinha

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