Health professionals have an important role to play to address violence. Doctors are a universal service and it would make sense that they would be the first point of contact for women seeking assistance for a number of health-related issues, including domestic violence.
However, for immigrant and refugee women especially, the Australian health system is like entering a maze at the best of times. Disclosing to their GP about violence can sometimes open up more dilemmas and unanswered questions. If a woman already has difficulty navigating the health system- especially if cross-cultural communication is a barrier- how is she expected to act on information about violence support? It would be akin to entering yet another maze blindfolded and feeling your way through to the exits.
The problem isn’t that Immigrant and refugee women don’t know they’re experiencing violence. Our research shows women do and they know that it’s wrong. But what many women don’t know is how and where they can obtain the information they need to help resolve their situation. This need often arises before women are even ready to talk about their situation with anyone.
Women shouldn’t have to disclose experiences of violence before they receive information about the ways their problem can be dealt with. Women have every right to know all the information first before they can act – it’s part of making an informed decision and it’s impossible to make such a decision without all the necessary information. Women on temporary or bridging visas, for example, are doubly stymied because they also need to know what types of support their visa will allow.
The provision of bilingual support, whether through translated resources or trained bilingual workers, allows women to better weigh up their options. Women can then be equipped to make the best possible use of the allocated 15 minute consultation time with their GP, if and when they’re ready to seek their help and advice.
Crucially, accessing all available information provides women with some tactical advantage and a measure of control. While ignorance may in some cases be bliss, knowledge always translates into power, and in many cases, control. For immigrant and refugee women especially, this reinstatement of control is a necessity: the process of migration, visa entitlements and challenges of settlement can quickly erode women’s sense of autonomy.
Not knowing what all your possible options are when you’re experiencing or at risk of violence shouldn’t be another constraint placed on immigrant and refugee women: they have a right to access all the information they need and they have a right to access it in ways that are culturally appropriate, relevant and safe. Like any good safety plan, women need to have the exits clearly marked out for them. Bilingual prevention and support services and health professionals all have an equal and mutually supportive role to play in ensuring this happens.