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Empowering new Iranian migrants Australia to break free from domestic violence

By Nikki Brown. Nikki has Master of International Law from Azade university in Tehran-Iran.

She has a keen interest in women’s rights, family law domestic violence. Nikki was a candidate for PhD of law in Tehran before moving to Australia and has continued her studies at the University of South Australia.

Domestic violence is not a new phenomenon and has remained a constant issue for all cultures and civilisations to tackle in one way or another. In Australia we spend an estimated $10B each year addressing domestic violence, yet the issue continues to plague the community, costing lives, childhoods, and the mental health of victims.

Every culture around the world has adopted its own unique way to combat domestic violence, some with more success than others. For example, women in Iran do not have access to the legal protections against discrimination enjoyed by women in Australia and lack access to equal economic and political participation. Despite local and international advocacy in this area, Iranian women remain disenfranchised and disempowered in many aspect of public and private life.

So, what happens when a person from a society which has not developed any adequate definition of domestic violence and potentially encourages men to be in control and commit violence against their wife or daughter moves to another country? How do the women cope?

Are immigrant women more likely to be victims of domestic violence? Past law reform inquires suggest that domestic violence is, in fact, worsened by perpetrators being in a position where they can threaten to remove the victim from the country while retaining children. However, officially, women who were born overseas whose primary language is not English were significantly less likely to be victims of domestic violence. The reason for this appears to largely be because immigrant women are less likely to report incidents of domestic violence due to fears for their safety and security in their new country.

Significant research suggests that migrant women in Australia may face a range of barriers when it comes to reporting domestic and family violence. This demands careful consideration by the broader Australian community, including consideration of how our immigration laws could potentially be used to protect the rights and safety of women seeking to immigrate to Australia from countries where domestic and family violence is particularly prevalent.

Recent research suggests that completion of a domestic violence rehabilitative program is effective in modifying patterns of violent behaviour and 74% of high-risk domestic violence offenders who completed the program did not reoffend. We suggest that as part of the application process applicants should be required to undergo some form of domestic violence education and counselling which is designed by immigrant survivors of domestic violence along with appropriately qualified persons.

Further, all visa applicants should undergo psychological testing to determine whether a person is predisposed to violence and understands the concept of domestic violence as understood in Australia. This type of education, assessment and testing could be like the health and English language testing that most migrants must complete during the application process. If an applicant fails to satisfactorily complete the education and testing, then their visa should be refused.

Protecting migrant women does not stop at the border. Some partner, skilled and business visas allow a victim of domestic violence to leave their partner without it affecting their visa status. However, this does not apply to all visa holders, and particularly does not apply to secondary visa holders who find themselves in violent relationships with the primary visa holder. However, even if she does manage to leave without adversely affecting her visa status, many temporary visa holders are not eligible to work or for Centrelink payments, effectively trapping them in their violent relationship.

Accordingly, a new category of visa should be established which allows victims of domestic violence to remain in Australia temporarily while they leave their violent partner. To properly support the victim, the visa would need to provide the holder with the ability to access Medicare, Centrelink benefits and to work so that they can adequately support themselves and completely cut ties with their abuser. It is proposed that such a visa be for one year duration, allowing the victim to support themselves and make plans for their future, whether those plans include applying for a further visa or leaving the country.

Domestic violence and immigration advocates have been proposing similar changes for many years. To date, the Department of Home Affairs has resisted any change arguing that it would create an industry of false claims designed to milk benefits from Australia. However, harsh consequences, including the deportation of the alleged perpetrator would likely discourage false claims.

Ultimately, more must be done to protect the most vulnerable members of our society and to prevent children growing up understanding that domestic violence is normal. While the proposed changes seem harsh and draconian, the end goal of eliminating domestic violence justifies a hard stance.

Image: UNFPA Jordan/Sima Diab


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