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 Sami Fox
Sami works at Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council and she’s based in Swan Hill, Victoria. Sami is originally from Morocco and came to Australia in 2006, and she speaks Arabic, French and Italian. Sami is a client services officer and has been working with women from migrant and refugee backgrounds, mainly in Swan Hill and Mildura. Today, I will have a chat with Sami about her experience working with women from migrant and refugee backgrounds in regional Victoria.
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.
In this episode, I will be talking to Sami Fox. Sami works at Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council and she’s based in Swan Hill, Victoria. Sami is originally from Morocco and came to Australia in 2006, and she speaks Arabic, French and Italian. Sami is a client services officer and has been working with women from migrant and refugee backgrounds, mainly in Swan Hill and Mildura. Today, I will have a chat with Sami about her experience working with women from migrant and refugee backgrounds in regional Victoria.
Sami, we know from the data that migrant and refugee women access family violence and sexual assault services at a very late point or at a very critical point. And in your opinion, what are some of the factors that cause this and what are some of the specific factors maybe in regional areas?
Sami: Look, the women, I think they’re always, especially someone from a CALD background, they’re always thinking about the culture and the shame so they leave it sometimes too late, when the things get even worse. And sometimes the partner think that they can’t do anything. You know, they really manipulate them and they become, I guess…I had clients in the past that refer to domestic violence, they said that the partner said, you are a part of my property, so you do what you told. You have no right to actually say no. Whatever I said, you do. That’s it. You can’t do it. Or they threaten to tell them that I’ll be sending you back home. And I guess this is what actually they put up with, you know, that violence until completely they can’t cope with it. So most of the time when I pick up something that something going wrong, if I see that particular client down, not looking really happy, we just say are you okay? You know, and sometimes you can see they just really start crying. Plus, I have a really good relationship with them. So build that relationship for many years with the clients. So that’s really, it’s great to have that strong relationship. And you build that trust and so that, when they trust you, they start talking about it.
First thing they say, what will happen to my visa? If I say something, I’m going to be sent back home and I have no one. Whether they don’t have a family or, a parent passed away, or it’s a shame to go back and it’s a failure and all that. Well, then we start talking about it. And I always encourage them you’ve got to talk about it. You are in Australia, so it’s not like we went back home. So this is not on. So, violence, it’s not on. You’ve got to speak up for yourself.
And we talk about always about safety plan as well. Make sure to be very careful and all that. So we talk about safety plan, try to encourage in most of the time, like I said, look, I can go with you in the first interview to meet with domestic violence worker. You will be okay. You’ll have, you know, it’s not like back home. Just to assure that they’re not really, you know, they do make that decision and they get a better outcome at the end.
Vahideh: But in regional areas are there any other factors that will be increasing that as well?
Sami: I think the the financial stress and even when Covid hit, like things even did get worse, you know. The woman’s stuck with the men 24/7 and that start showing a lot of, you know, at least when they go to work and they just come in the afternoon, at least the women, they have a break. They were able to talk and get out and do stuff, do some activities, you know, but during Covid these women, they were just being with the men, with their partners 24/7 as I said, and that’s increased domestic violence a lot within families. And probably I’ll say about 90 percent of the clients that I work with, the men taking control of the finance, the women, they’re not in charge. So the men actually give them, even it’s their own money, whether they’re getting that from Centrelink. So they can’t have access. So the men controlling that. That’s financial controlling. So, they really control from any corner to be honest.
So that’s the things. And an increase in mental health as well. Depression. The women, you know, they’ve been really given up. They just can’t cope anymore with this stress. Like they said well, we’ve given them everything, we do everything, I do my duty, I do everything that my husband want. Why he’s treating me that way?
And another thing, the women, they don’t trust the system. And this is a big thing as well. I mean, I had a client that she actually was in a domestic violence relationship with her partner and she contacted the police. This particular client married an Aussie guy, and he rang the police as well, and the police came in and actually remove her from the property, even he’s the one, and she said he was dragging me from my hair, dragging me outside, and she was panicking about her kids. The kids have been pulled away from her. Her partner’s family, they came in when they heard that drama and they came in and took the kids away. So for her, she can’t actually take her kids with her. So they took the kids away from her so she was isolated by herself. The language barrier. The police that actually supported the husband. They didn’t support her. The police ask her to leave the property. Not the husband, and that.
They lost that faith in the system, and that has to change. It’s not, you know, the thing is when it’s too late, when someone, look how many women get murdered a year? Really? Because they don’t act quick enough. And she said to me that her partner was on drugs. I don’t know what type of drugs. And she said she was asking the police officer to go and have a look in the bedroom, like how much drugs he had. And she said the police officer would not listen to me, he would not even listen to me, he was just trying to get me out of that property. She feels like it’s discrimination. The police, they believe him because he’s an Aussie guy, and she is from a different background. She said, I only reacted that way because of my children. She tried to get her kids, which is everyone, I mean, every woman will do exactly the same. She said they were expecting me, that her husband’s family taking the kids, and she’s not going to react. She’s just going to sit. She said, if I was just sitting and looking, they’re going to think that, look, she’s a careless mother. She said, I’m trying to keep my children and they end up putting me as the perpetrator. And she said, how can I trust the police?
The sad thing is she is actually back to the partner after a few months. And I said to her, why did you do that? And she’s not happy like she’s every day not happy. Even now she’s not happy. And when I see you and I said, why are you back? And she said, Sami, I don’t trust the police. I don’t trust the system. And after being the one actually being treated that way and being thrown out in the street. She actually had someone, a friend of her, she keeps her in the house. The police, they told her to contact the service, obviously, and left her there. They had the phone call. What she said to me on that night of the incident, they gave her the contact number and said, you call that number. She said in the middle of the night, in wintertime, cold, dark, upset, imagine that person, what they’re going to think of, and she said, imagine if I was not really stable in the mind, I could have just jumped in the river, and I’m gone.
This is really this is a big issue. And it’s not only one client that said it, you know, a lot of clients said the same things. They don’t trust. And she said, I didn’t want to deal with the men, too, they send her when the incident happened. She said they sent two men. She said, I don’t want to see any men on that time. She said, why can’t they send for me a female? They need to be aware of the cultural sensitivity and all that stuff. She said where is the support? She said, Sami, it’s easy to say yes, there is a support in place, but she said, I’ve been through it, I need to have more support for women from a different cultural background. And I know a lot of women married Aussies that having the same things. Having issues. They work the system very well and they get these girls to really be, you know, treat them pretty much like slaves. Or they keep threatening them, we are going to send you back. So this is the things that in a regional area, that’s what I’m hearing all the time, which is really sad to hear it.
Vahideh: Yeah no, you’ve made really, really good points, and I didn’t want to interrupt you because it was just resonating with me and, you know, having consultations with services and just listening to them. So, that’s why I didn’t want to interrupt you at all, because you touched on a really good point that was a structural issue. Like the systems, the policies, where the power lies, and all of those things that I think will make it really hard for a woman from a migrant or refugee background to access services. And you said because they don’t trust the service. And in this specific example, you mentioned the police. Do you think that the police hasn’t been trained well in family violence in regional areas, or was it just maybe this specific example, or are you aware that there are training going on? Because definitely police need to be trained in family violence when they attend an incident of family violence.
Sami: Look, it’s very hard to comment on that. But from what I see, I see my clients. I see the person that present on the day in my office and say, well, this is what happened to me. As as I said, I encourage the person always to contact the service. Obviously, the service are fantastic, like really they always support their client and all that. But the thing is whether the police officer being trained enough, or being, this is very hard you know. But I assume, in this case scenario that I just mentioned. I don’t think the police officer was aware or even know that about this, to be honest. Because whether that person, because she’s got an accent or she looks from a different background, didn’t actually taking notice of her when she asked him to go and go inside and check the amount of drugs. And then she said to me later on, they send the kids back home. And when the family went to police and everything cleared up, they sent the family home. How can the police made a big mistake? A father that is on drugs and alcohol and having kids underage in the same house?
You know, and it falls to the mother, you get the child protection involved. oranger. It’s really very hard. And I think the police need probably, my opinion, they need to have a special force. They have to have one that being trained to be involved in this really. You probably going to ring 000, then they can put you through the local police station and you can get anyone. They probably just start yesterday, you know, no experience.
And based actually from one of the first things, when they do that initial interview, that actually can make it or break it in court. And the victim has that trauma, you know. And this is the thing. It probably it is good to have more trained officers specialised for this, straight away, a special direct contact with these guys, to contact these officers, to attend like these cases. Rather than in a general, you know, police station and put you with anyone that will attend and just, you know, no experience.
And this leaves people from a CALD background., they’re the one actually suffer and they’re the one that actually been the victim for this. And as I said, when it’s too late until they get murdered or, you know, or something happen and oh, another tragedy. Oh, we’re going to put more money on this to to focus on that. But things need to start now, and they need more support. More support for these women. And we need these woman to trust the system and talk and speak up to make that change, to make it happen. You know, if they don’t trust a system, like this, this woman, she will tell other person, another person, another person, another person. And they all will know about it. We don’t trust it. No we don’t. We believe you. We trust you, Sami but I’ve seen my friend and look what happened to her. This is what happens. We are in a small community. Very small. If one person buys a new car, the whole town will know it within two hours. Such and such bought a car. They give you the number plate and the colour or whatever. And this is the thing, you know, it’s a small community and it’s very hard. And that will need more support than other places, than a bigger place because here, people can’t hide anywhere.
Vahideh: I’m Vahideh and I’m speaking with Sami Fox, client services officer from Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council.
So you actually mentioned really the barriers that women face, discrimination and the system issues and the structural issues like finances and maybe you mentioned Centrelink. I’m interested to know about the financial side of things. Is that a barrier for women leaving the relationship that they are in and they are experiencing family violence? And if, yes, is the system contributing to that?
Sami: That’s the major issue. And that’s actually why the women, they’re not able to leave the relationship. Because the first thing they’re going to end up homeless. We know that we’ve got a short of housing and that’s all nationally, not just here. First thing’s that, they’re going to go in a safe house, whatever, for how long, and then they’ve got to look at their accommodation. Whatever they get, it’s not enough for them to support them as a single mum. Also, to have access to children. If the woman left the relationship and being in a safe house, she can’t have access to the kids because you don’t have a stable house with stable accommodation. Because of the finance.
If they have that support financially, they would not put up with that. I’m sure that all will leave. So what, I can buy my own, I can pay for my rent, I can look after my kids, I can look after myself. I can do this. I can do that. Financially. Because they are dependent on the men, this is what happened. They’re just stuck there. They’d rather to stuck in a toxic relationship, than leave it and end up in the street. Everything, the bills, you know, the struggling. They will be really struggling. And obviously a single mum can’t work full time, especially if she’s got younger kids. I mean, how can she manage between work, looking after kids, doing all that? It’s a lot. It’s not you know, it’s a lot. They need the support. Definitely they need it. They need to be the priority one. They need to be the one on the top of the list to have access, you know, to Office of Housing or whatever, to keep them safe and they can move on and stop this violence. It needs to end. It just seems to be increasing.
And the men are not really afraid, you know, and especially if they you know, they just manipulate these women and just they can’t do anything. They know they have no power. They’re powerless in front of them.
Vahideh: When we do consultation with migrant and refugee women and we talk to them and we hear that, you know, services need to be more proactive in offering support to migrant and refugee women, as you were mentioning as well. And by that, I mean having a holistic strength-based and trauma-informed approach, and trying to be more familiar with women’s specific needs as an individual in their own environment. So look at her as an individual in her own situation.
And we were talking about culturally appropriate services as well. You just mentioned that some services don’t know how to actually provide that service. But we know we can’t know about all cultures. And we understand that. No one can be culturally competent. But sometimes services look at the checklist. I mean, they ask us for a checklist to be able to support community members. And we can’t provide that because all cultures are different and people are different, individuals are different. And it really depend on where they are at in their life. So, what do you think services can do to provide a culturally appropriate service or to better support migrant and refugee women?
Sami: Yeah, training, it’s great. And I know a lot of services, they do provide training. And especially during Covid there was a lot of training through zoom or whatever. I think services, they need to work very collaboratively with other ones as well. They need to work together. They need to work together to assist that particular client, you know, for their needs. It’s training. You do have to train. But need more practical things. You need really to work with the service closely. And and I think that would help. And the funding as well. Like if the service don’t have enough funding to see that particular clients so the client will be sad, and you’re probably the only client you have there for six months. And probably in a regional area need to be ongoing training, to be honest, just to have that cultural awareness for the professional, for the service provider. They need to have that. Like a lot of times, I deal with the clients and you contact the service provider who says, how’s that in their culture? That’s fine. You can answer that. But I guess the people need more training and need to put more people on to have a good experience to assist these client, because it’s the sensitivity of the case. It’s high.
And then that will work much, much better. When someone, they are still on you know, they haven’t got their permanent visas, they can be very limited. Very limited access to services. I mean, that’s really a major thing. And this is making the perpetrators getting really a lot of power and doing what they want. I mean, if the partner, if the woman ,doesn’t have a permanent visa is still under that two years, it’s really hard. They can’t speak up because they keep threatening them oh, I’ll send you back on the first flight. You don’t belong to here. And I’ll ring the immigration. And when you send them to the service sector, if they don’t have a permanent residency, they can’t access that and they have to get lawyers and legal matters, they can’t access it. So because they are not permanent and well, that means they’ve got to put up with the partner.
Vahideh: I think you gave a really good example, because sometimes we hear that migrants and refugee women are called vulnerable. And we always say that, well, migrant and refugee women are not inherently vulnerable. It’s the structural issues. For example, the visa example that you just mentioned. A woman from migrant refugee background, if their visa don’t allow them to access family violence services, then, well, obviously they will be vulnerable because their risk increase and they are at a very high risk of being harmed or being killed.
Sami: You just can’t. I mean, and you can knock on every door and hear because of this, because of her visa status, because of her visa status. But she is a victim of violence, you know, for goodness sake, she needs support. You know, there should be a service, in particular, just helping these girls, helping these guys. Even if you don’t have a permanent visa, she can get support. You should get to have access to, you know, to the service.
Vahideh: Thank you, Sami. Thank you so much. Finally, is there anything that you would like to add?
Sami: Yeah, as I said, education, more funding for these projects, stuff like this. People in the metro, like if they are doing projects and stuff like that, come to the regional area, you know, work here for a few months and see. Have interview with the service provider, provide training, you know, because, the guys that have these experience, it’s great. The trainers, they need to train people, you know, on this field to handle these cases. This is the only way that people will learn. That’s how you learn. And it should be really like maybe quarterly things, not just, you know, every three years oh there is a bucket of funding that we’re going to assist in increase more police force. We need real things, need the practical things. You need someone come in and do training for the service provider, you know, and go to schools, go everywhere, you know, to educate men and women. You know, this is how we going to solve this problem. This is the best things.
Vahideh: Yes Sami, thank you. Thank you again. I really, really enjoyed our talk and I would really like to have you in future programs as well because of your knowledge and experience.
Sami: My pleasure.
Vahideh: 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.