One-third of migrant and refugee women are victims of domestic violence, major survey reveals

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A third of migrant and refugee women in a new survey said they had experienced some form of domestic and / or family violence.

And holders of temporary visas have consistently reported proportionately higher levels of domestic and family violence, including controlling behaviors. Temporary visa holders also reported much higher patterns of abuse and threats related to migration (such as threats of deportation or separation of their children).

These are the main findings of a survey of nearly 1,400 migrant and refugee women across Australia, the most comprehensive of its kind in the country.

It was the first national study to examine the residence and visa status of migrant and refugee women, and the first to ask specific questions on the control of behavior related to migratory abuse.

The survey was conducted last year by Alliance of Harmony, an advocacy organization for migrant and refugee women, and the Monash Migration and Inclusion Center.

While the survey is not a representative sample and cannot provide a full account of the experiences of all women in these backgrounds, it does provide a unique snapshot of the lives of those who have agreed to share their stories with us.

The findings help to understand the needs of women in Australia’s diverse migrant and refugee communities as we look to a post-COVID-19 future.

The study also offers key insights into the diverse experiences of these women, which is essential to inform policies and other measures to support them in the future.

Domestic and family violence

Among participants who have experienced domestic and / or family violence:

  • 91% have experienced controlling behaviors

  • 47% have experienced or witnessed violence against others and / or property

  • 42% have suffered physical or sexual violence.

The majority of women in our sample who experienced domestic and / or family violence suffered more than one form of harm on multiple occasions.

While the majority of perpetrators were male partners or former partners, family members and step-wives were also responsible for this violence.

Victimization and trust in the police

This survey is also among the few in the world to focus comprehensively on the experiences of victimization of migrant and refugee women, their perceptions of policing and their trust in communities and institutions.

Among women who were victims of crimes such as theft, burglary, threatening behavior or property damage, almost 40% said they believed it was motivated by prejudice and / or prejudice.



Read more: “If you call 000 … I will send you back to your country”: How COVID-19 trapped temporary visa holders


The majority of women interviewed perceived the police as fair and equitable. However, women who experienced domestic and / or family violence and were victims of other crimes viewed the police as less fair and procedurally fair than the rest of our participants.

Older people had higher levels of confidence in the police compared to younger participants. And those with higher levels of education reported lower levels of trust in the police compared to those with high school diplomas or Vocational / TAFE qualifications.

While women generally had great confidence in the institutions included in the study, religious institutions were consistently ranked at the bottom of the scale. The highest levels of trust have been placed in the Australian healthcare system and public education systems. Only 30% of the sample did “a lot” or “a lot” to their neighbors.

Employment and difficulties

Our survey was conducted at the end of 2020 to take into account the impact of COVID-19 when asking questions about employment and financial difficulties.

Among participants who were working in 2019, 10% lost their jobs due to the pandemic. During the crisis, government payments were increasingly used as the main source of income.

Temporary visa holders have experienced an increase in difficulties, more so than permanent visa holders and Australian citizens. Our understanding of the difficulties of temporary visa holders and precarious workers is, however, limited due to their somewhat limited representation in the study.

Age and generation differences

We also analyzed the main differences between women based on a series of factors. Age was one area where we saw major differences. Two key findings:

Younger participants reported lower levels of trust than older participants across all institutions. The difference was most marked when it came to religious community leadership, with almost a third of participants under 44 stating that they did not trust these people.

Younger participants also reported higher levels of difficulty after the onset of the pandemic, compared to older participants. Those who lived in very disadvantaged areas reported the highest level of hardship.

Why these results are important

As Australia moves towards a post-pandemic national recovery, our findings highlight the urgent needs of those most affected by the crisis, including young people and temporary visa holders.

Our report also shows that embracing and celebrating Australian diversity means paying greater attention to the needs of migrant and refugee women to ensure their safety and security in all aspects of their lives.



Read more: We need to jumpstart immigration quickly to spur economic growth. Here is one way to do it safely


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