This program has references to family violence, men’s violence and violence in general. Please take care and turn off the podcast if it is triggering for you.
People impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse can contact
1800RESPECT 1800 737 732, a 24-hour national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and support service.
This podcast is recorded as part of Safer pathways projects in prevention of violence against women funded through the Australian Government’s Department of Social Services.
The views presented in this podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the funder nor of MCWH.
About Anu Krishnan
Anu has a background in social anthropology, social work, applied psychology and social research. Anu has worked with a range of agencies and services in the family violence, education and mental health sector. Anu is the Director of Kulturbrille, an agency that she set up that specialises in enabling and empowering organisations to meet the needs of diverse cultural groups. With a strong focus on family violence, Anu who has worked with a number of organisations to develop and deliver primary prevention of family violence and resilience building curriculum.
About Vahideh Eisaei
Vahideh Eisaei coordinates Making the Links Project, helping migrants and refugee women living in regional areas that are experiencing, or at risk of, family and domestic violence or sexual assault, to access support services. Before joining MCWH in 2019, Vahideh has worked in Family Violence Intervention. Vahideh has completed her Bachelor of Music at Tehran University and migrated to Australia in 2008 where she completed her Mater of Music. Vahideh speaks Farsi and understand Dari. Vahideh is a Qanun player and has performed with many ensembles throughout Europe, the Middle East and Australia. After finishing her master’s degree, she enjoyed being part of a research project studying children music among new and emerging communities in Perth, Western Australia. Her love of children’s music led her to work with toddlers, preschool and school-age children.
About Making the Links
For migrant women living in regional Victoria, the pathways to family violence-related support can be unclear. Strengthening community knowledge and confidence to use support services in regional Victoria is a two way street.
Making the Links is an innovative and collaborative project to link migrant women living in regional Victoria to mainstream family and domestic violence and sexual assault services by building capacity on both sides.
Vahideh: This program has references to family violence, men’s violence and violence in general. Please take care and turn off the podcast if it is triggering for you. People impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse can contact 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732 – a 24 hour national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and support service. This podcast is recorded as part of several(?) Pathways Project in Prevention of Violence Against Women funded through the Australian Government’s Department of Social Services. The views presented in this podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the funder, nor of MCWH.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. I pay my respects to Aboriginal elders past, present and emerging, and I acknowledge that as migrants to this country, we benefit daily from the displacement of Aboriginal people and colonisation of their land.
Hello, I’m Vahideh from Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, and you’re listening to Making the Links – a prevention of violence against women project that aims to help migrant and refugee women living in regional areas that are experiencing or at risk of family violence and sexual assault to access support services.
Why do we say migrant and refugee at MCWH? There are lots of times that people use to talk about migrant and refugee communities. At MCWH we use the term migrant and refugee to describe anyone living in Australia who was born overseas or whose parents or grandparents were born overseas in a predominantly non-English speaking country. We say migrant and refugee to highlight the impacts of migration and settlement processes on women’s health and wellbeing. It reminds us that the barriers we face are mostly because of systems and policies, not because of cultures or countries we come from.
Today, I will be talking to Anu Krishnan. Anu has a background in social anthropology, social work, applied psychology and social research. Anu has worked with a range of agencies and services in the family violence, education and mental health sector. Anu is the Director of Kulturbrille, an agency that she set up that specialises in enabling and empowering organisations to meet the needs of diverse cultural groups. With a strong focus on family violence, Anu who has worked with a number of organisations to develop and deliver primary prevention of family violence and resilience building curriculum.
Anu it’s great having you here in this episode of Making the Links. We hear that sometimes migrant and refugee women do not reach out to family violence services because of a past experience, for example, a bad experience with intake assessment or the service in general. I think my question to you is, what are common mistakes or what are the mistakes that you have seen when mainstream family violence services work with migrant and refugee communities?
Anu: Thank you, Vahideh, and it’s really good to be talking about this very important topic here with you. I think you’re right, there is often a reluctance from women and children in migrant and refugee communities to seek support when they’re experiencing any form of family violence. And we routinely see that people from migrant and refugee backgrounds usually delay seeking support when they’re experiencing family violence until the violence becomes quite severe or comes to the notice of others.
I think in my practice and in my experience in the sector, some of the key challenges that women face is, one, the lack of understanding of what mainstream services do. So I think often there is an assumption from people within the services that a person from a migrant or refugee background already knows what services are available. So there’s a lot of assumptions made about the knowledge that people have. So some of the things they don’t even bother elaborating for the victim survivor who comes through for support, which means that sometimes the support that they get is not 100 percent effective.
There is also a lot of assumptions made based on the knowledge of the migrant cultural background that mainstream services have. So they might find themselves inadvertently making decisions for the client or making decisions based on what they think the client needs. And these may not match what the migrant person requires or in fact even wants from the service. If the person reaching out for service feels that they’re being pushed into a particular pathway, whether it is in response to a family violence complaint or whether it’s in response to what happens after an intervention has been done, it sours their experience and they are reluctant to come back again. Also, often they find that workers in mainstream services, very well intentioned, no doubt, might make assumptions about a person’s culture. And this can come across as typecasting or profiling to a person seeking support. And that then makes them reluctant to raise the question of violence again if it happens again, particularly if they haven’t utilised the services before.
I think the other common mistake that mainstream family violence services often do is that they rely on interpreters from within community, which isn’t an issue for large communities or communities that have a large population here so there might not be the intercommunity knowledge or familiarity with victim survivors and the interpreters. But for communities that are really small or emerging communities, there is very limited social and cultural connection. So the likelihood of a victim survivor knowing the interpreter that a service uses are quite high. This in itself, can be a barrier because they don’t want their stories to be shared within the community because communities often have very set attitudes. This can be mitigated by using interpreters from outside the region or from other spaces so the familiarity risk is reduced. The other common mistake that you often find in mainstream family violence services is that they might not be able to customise the response according to the cultural needs of a particular community. And typically this can be because the service doesn’t have enough flexibility due to funding, etc. And also the interaction or the connection with the victim survivor cannot be as long as the person might need because they don’t have the deep connections within Melbourne or within Victoria, which can hamper their forced intervention, support and service experience. So I think these are probably some of the key challenges that we see in mainstream services.
Vahideh: Anu you mentioned cultural assumptions. Knowing about a culture or being cultural competence in every single culture is quite impossible. I think you agree. And by that I mean workers can, of course, read about cultures and meet people and ask them about their cultures, be open to knowing more about different people from different backgrounds. And culture itself is fluid and is changing, and people in one culture are experiencing their life in different ways, depending on where they are and many other factors which we sometimes refer to as intersectionality.
I think my question from you is that I know that you have been facilitating many trainings for services regarding migrant and refugee communities. What is the role of training in this instance? How do you approach if someone at the training asks you, we don’t know this culture, how can we know more about this culture? Do we have a checklist or a tool that we can give people?
Anu: Thank you for the question Vahideh, because, yes, you’re right, it often comes up in training because people, particularly people within the family violence sector, the workers, I mean, genuinely do want to do the right thing. They want to make sure that the service they’re offering is culturally appropriate, is respectful and mindful of people’s individual cultural needs. I think one of the assumptions, like you very rightly said, is that many of us assume that a culture is quite static and that we feel that if we know key facts about a particular culture or community, whether it is through reading or whether it’s through media interactions, we feel that we know them well enough. But each individual person’s experience of their own culture is quite unique, and we do need to, as service providers, make sure that we are responding to that person’s cultural needs, not just what we assume to be the broad cultural needs of a particular community.
Of course, a worker cannot know everything about either one culture or know little things about many cultures that they might be working with. But what we do need to do is be client-led and making sure that we are constantly checking in with the client before we are offering them interventions about what it is that they would need from us, to ensure that our intersectional approach, taking their culture, language, background and other indicators into account, whether our response is going to fit in with what they need and what they would like from us. I think being client-led is very important and being respectful and being able to listen to and hear what they’re saying is more important than just knowing something about their culture, which we have either gathered from previous training or from books.
So a lot of cultural competency training that we do, we actually, rather than telling people about individual cultures, we actually coach them in how they can ask the right questions to ensure that they’re communicating safety, acceptance, empathy and being non-judgemental to their clients, as opposed to trying to tell them that Somalian culture is like this and Indian culture is like that or Iranian culture is like that, because within each one of those cultures, there are hundreds and hundreds of variations because these are large cultural bodies. So it would really be good to make sure that organisations have good interculturally informed policies in how they train their staff to do intake and assessment in a respectful manner, rather than training their staff to be experts in a particular culture. And sometimes the best way of doing that is through your hiring practises. Making sure that your workforce reflects the communities that you serve. So when someone from a particular culture comes in, they feel welcome because they can see that it is not a monocultural environment in the service that they are going to. The easiest way to demonstrate inclusion and welcome is have it reflected in your workforce.
Vahideh: Anu I’m going to read you some statements, and I’m not saying that these statements are wrong or right. I’ve heard these statements in the field working in family violence, and I’m sure you’ve heard them, too. Please tell me what comes to your mind, give me examples, say if you disagree and why and elaborate as much as you like.
First statement: family violence workers may be confused and uncertain about how to respond to migrant and refugee women’s experience of family violence.
Anu: I think when that statement you read out, what comes to mind is that I don’t know whether the family violence workers might be confused or uncertain, but I definitely think that they are sometimes at a loss on how they should respond or react to a migrant or refugee woman’s experience of family violence. And I say this from personal experience, because many of the women we serve, which maybe provide a service to, have endured tremendous levels of violence for long periods of time before they’ve actually decided to reach out for service. And sometimes it’s not because they have made the first move to seek support. Sometimes it’s because a neighbour has called the police or someone else has highlighted that violence is present in the relationship and they’ve come to the attention of services.
So I think it truly does put some service providers at a loss, because from their experience of providing a family violence service to mainly mainstream communities, they see people access support much earlier in the piece. And I think we spoke about this a little bit earlier, where many migrant women might have endured years of abuse of different types like financial abuse with highly controlling, if particularly if they come from highly controlling patriarchal communities, they might have endured extensive emotional and psychological abuse from their partners as well as the partner’s families. And they wouldn’t have even realised that these are forms of violence. Many of them have very little control over their bodies, their ability to take control of reproductive rights. Many of them would have not even been asked before tracking devices were put on their phone through electronic tracking and others. They might not have access to their own bank accounts, email accounts and other forms of communication. But the only time that they’ve actually realised they’re experiencing violence is when physical or sexual violence has happened. And this can truly make the person that they’re disclosing these abuses to at a loss on how they can even begin to support this woman who’s gone through a long period of abuse. So, I think the confusion comes from how they should react or respond, because those are very, very confronting instances for a worker.
Vahideh: Financial difficulties and not having access to social or financial assistance makes refugee and migrant women stay in a violent relationship.
Anu: I think I would agree completely, and I don’t think it’s only refugee and migrant women, I think many women remain in violent relationships because of these two things. It is exacerbated in the instance of migrant and refugee women, because many of them spend the initial years of their arrival and settlement here in Australia, trying to set themselves up with just setting up their families. And they may not even be aware that they have financial rights. And that can definitely make it difficult. And being in an environment that they’re not familiar with, even after years of being here – language difficult, being stuck in low paying, unstable, vulnerable employment and not having access to social connections, which are so important when a victim survivor is recovering from after having left a violent relationship. All of these are very real barriers to a woman seeking support to leave.
And sometimes it’s classically a case of being with the devil you know, rather than trying to risk something unknown. And that can be a huge barrier for women reluctant to leave a violent relationship. And there is a huge community pressure, which often we forget that a migrant or refugee person’s entire life here in a new country revolves around their own community and in communities where leaving a partner or leaving a family is highly stigmatised, the lack of social support is a major barrier.
Vahideh: Refugee and migrant people’s family violence issues are more complicated because of their culture.
Anu: I I would disagree that anybody’s experience of family violence or any issues of family violence are more complicated because of the culture that they belong to. I think violence is not condoned or encouraged in any culture and we know that universally. While people from certain cultures might have different views of gender equality, violence is violence and violence is always wrong in any way, shape or form, and a violation of human rights.
I think what does get more complicated is for services to respond in a manner that is culturally sensitive and culturally informed, to ensure that women from multicultural backgrounds are given support, that they’re able to sustain outside of those relationships that are violent. And we give them and empower them with mechanisms to build and rebuild their lives here in a foreign country, in a country that’s foreign to them, after they leave violent relationships. I don’t think it’s the culture that complicates, it’s the lack and barriers to providing culturally effective support that complicates the refugee and migrant woman’s experience of family violence remediation.
Vahideh: You’re listening to Making the Links – a prevention of violence against women project.
We are back and I’m speaking with Anu Krishnan on family violence services, working with migrant and refugee women.
Anu we know from research that refugee and migrant women access services at a very late point and I think you mentioned it as well in your conversation that we had. We also know women engage with the family violence service after years of abuse and family violence and this is the case, as you mentioned, again, for migrant and refugee women as well as other women. So I think it’s important for practitioners to know that they may only have one chance in engaging a woman when that woman enters their service. Do you have any recommendation for working with migrant and refugee women, seeking help from family violence service? And by that, I mean, do you have any should and shouldn’ts, do’s and don’ts? And you could give us examples as well.
Anu: I think definitely. I think there are some basic things that we, as service providers, can do to ensure that that first point of contact that a woman, a victim survivor from a refugee or migrant background has when she enters a service. To ensure that she is not pushed away or needs to make an approach again. I think some of the things are obviously self-evident – respect, consideration, empathy and being completely non-judgemental, which is, I guess, the cornerstone or the core of our practise as family violence practitioners within services. But in relation particularly to migrant and refugee women, I think one of the first do’s that I would probably put in is ensuring that we are making our services both in policy as well as in practise welcome to women from different backgrounds.
And like I said before, it’s very difficult for a person who has a migrant and refugee background to approach a mainstream service if they don’t see themselves reflected in some way, shape or form within the service. Whether this is in the form of staff, whether it’s in the form of literature that’s available, the spaces that we create, ensuring that these are welcoming, that we do demonstrate that we are welcoming of people from every single background. And it could be as simple as asking up front, would you like us to organise the interpreter for you? Many times we find that women from migrant and refugee backgrounds will say that they have enough understanding of English. But understanding, conversational and basic English is very different to engaging with a complex intake. So just offering that support, rather than just taking the box and saying that yep the client has said that they don’t need it, and then moving on from there. Constantly checking in with them to make sure that I know that this form is quite long, quite complex, would you like some support from a community member to complete it? Things like that make the person feel welcome.
The other thing which I think organisations also need to do is to check the client’s experience and understanding of the system that they’re working with. Often we have a model, we follow the system. We assume that the person is following us in what we are telling them, ensuring that we are explaining the background as to why we are suggesting certain parts of action, simple things like demystifying terms, like a police report, an IVO, safety notice. We assume that everybody knows exactly what these mean because we are dealing with these terms all the time. But many times women don’t. I’ve met women that don’t know the difference between Centrelink, dole and Newstart payment, or a support payment or a family tax benefit.
So trying to unpack and demystify some of those things, rather than assuming that just because a person has been here for a period of time, they would be across all of these things. Often, even if a person from a migrant background has been here for a very long time, years and decades even, their interaction with the service system is very limited because often in these communities, it’s usually one person who takes charge and they may never have even made a phone call to a bank or a government department or may not be aware of their personal financial situation. So, again, not assuming that they know just because they’ve been here for a long time. That’s probably a couple of the key things I would say that organisations must do – not assume.
I think what organisations should not do is, again, make assumptions on behalf of a client just because they present themselves in a particular cultural way. This most often happens when a client is visibly from a different culture and often workers, case workers and case managers will make assumptions based on, say, the dress that a client is wearing. So a person wearing a modest religious outfit like would be assumed to be someone who is not able to manage by themselves. And often the worker is actually hesitant to ask such a person, oh, can we put you in a safe house? Are you okay in this place or the other? I think we shouldn’t make assumptions based on just how a person looks. Also, I think we must always figure out whether we are advocating for the service or we are advocating for the client. Often case workers and case managers are in the shackles of service provision, so they’re ensuring that they’re trying to match the client to a service that they can provide. I think we need to shift our focus and focus on how we can advocate for the client to the services, to ensure that the service matches what the client needs, not matching a client to a particular service.
Vahideh: Anu is there anything else that you would like to add in general, to our conversation?
Anu: That we need to leave all our assumptions outside the door and we shouldn’t let what we see in the media either locally about a particular community or a culture here. Or nowadays, we are on social media so we are getting news from right across the world. We shouldn’t base our assumptions of a particular community or a culture based on what we are seeing or hearing, but making sure that every single client who walks through our doors is treated as an individual who has a particular intersectional cultural background and checking in with them the kind and the extent of service and support that they need from us.
The other message that I’d like to give people, particularly from mainstream services, is that just because a client does not speak the language that we speak, whether it’s English or any other language as well as we do or even just speak it at all, we shouldn’t assume that they don’t have the capacity or the power to take charge of their own lives and make decisions on their own behalf. So we must always make sure that we are not leading the client down a particular path, but we are empowering the client to make the decisions that they feel are best for them. And once they have made the decision, I think it’s our job as workers to ensure that we are supporting them completely without judgement in taking that decision forward.
Vahideh: Thank you Anu. Such a pleasure talking to you knowing the knowledge you have both in prevention and intervention in family violence space.
This was presented through Making the Links – a prevention of violence against women project coordinated by MCWH and funded by the Australian government’s Department of Social Services.
People impacted by sexual assault, domestic and family violence and abuse can contact 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732 – a 24 hour national sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling and support service.
For help in your language, contact inTouch at 1800 755 988 or visit intouch.org.au. They provide legal support no matter what your visa status is. For the men’s referral service call 1300 766 491.
Lifeline telephone 13 11 14. Service is available 24 hours a day for suicide prevention and crisis support.
You can also get free translation support through TIS on 131 450 and ask them to call any of these numbers for you.