There is a “serious and urgent” need for more investment in domestic violence services tailored to victims from culturally diverse backgrounds, a Senate inquiry has heard.
Multicultural groups have sounded the alarm over the lack of support during the coronavirus crisis in a series of submissions to a domestic violence review.
Rajya Arabi is a frontline worker at the Muslim Women’s Association’s Linking Hearts Service, where she works with women from culturally diverse backgrounds dealing with family violence.
In its submission, the association said the heightened risk of domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic has made the need to invest in tailored services more urgent than ever.
“The number of domestic violence incidents – they are increasing not decreasing, so we have been trying to help as much as we can,” she said.
“[Victims] feel more secure and they prefer someone who can understand their culture – they feel like someone can understand them.”
The domestic violence inquiry’s findings will be used to inform the creation of the federal government’s next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia has stressed this plan must become more inclusive of people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.
“There is a serious and urgent need for the government to invest in family domestic violence services that are tailored specifically for CALD women,” FECCA wrote in its submission.
“Currently, there are very limited multicultural services providers that cater to CALD women and their children.”
Peak bodies have made several recommendations, which they say are urgently required to improve access to services for victims.
This includes the need to up-skill current domestic violence services to ensure they are culturally competent to help CALD women.
“According to services, there is a significant demand for well-trained interpreters and cultural competency training to benefit their CALD clients,” FECCA wrote.
Another recommendation is the need for governments to support more community-led prevention and early intervention programs for men from CALD backgrounds.
There are also calls for more monitoring to address a shortfall in data capturing the experiences of women from diverse backgrounds as well as stronger protections for visa holders.
Other recommendations include a push for more crisis and housing accommodation with warnings these have been left strained during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Muslim Women’s Association has warned the impacts of COVID-19 are likely to persist beyond the six-to-nine month period covered by initial federal and state responses.
“We anticipate this will act as a catalyst for a second wave of vulnerability amongst CALD women and their children,” the association wrote.
In March, the federal government announced a $150 million domestic violence emergency response to boost frontline and national support services during the pandemic, including services targeted at culturally diverse communities.
Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston said each year more than $5 million is directed to community organisations providing support to family violence victims from diverse backgrounds.
“We understand culturally and linguistically diverse communities face unique challenges when accessing government services, which we are committed to overcoming,” she said in a statement to SBS News.
“Sadly, evidence indicates culturally and linguistically diverse women and children experience disproportionately high rates of violence.”
Senator Ruston said five Commonwealth-funded family violence service providers across the country also deliver men’s behaviour change programs in languages other than English.
Victims can lose visas
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre wants the inquiry to bring attention to the vulnerability of visa holders who become victims of family violence.
In a submission, it says refugees and temporary visa holders face concerning barriers to accessing legal and economic protection.
The group recommends stronger legal protection and visa security for victims, saying it’s “imperative” the impacts of migration policy are carefully examined.
This includes pushing for the creation of a new temporary visa to protect victims of domestic violence from having their visa cancelled as a result of the actions of their perpetrator.
“This creates a perverse situation where victims of family violence are in effect punished for seeking help to address the violence committed against them,” the centre wrote.
“It also creates an impossible conflict of interest, as the prospect of losing their visa and that of their children deters victims of family violence from seeking the essential protection from violence that they need.”
Other recommendations include calls for free legal assistance for domestic violence victims on protection visas and more funding for safe houses for women and children seeking asylum.
The domestic violence inquiry was announced in June following fierce criticism against another parliamentary review for failing to sufficiently investigate these concerns.
For female migrant victims of family violence, their visa holder can often be their abuser