According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and almost one in five have experienced sexual violence.
Men can also be victims of domestic violence and sexual assault – although statistically this is more typically as a result of violence from strangers, and in public. Further, the incidence of attacks against males is not as great as it is against women.
Domestic and family violence and sexual assault occurs across the whole Australian community and effects not only those who are the victims of assault, but family members as well who are exposed to it including children, extended families, friends and even work colleagues.
Domestic violence can take many forms and includes physical and emotional abuse and controlling behaviours such as control of finances, isolation from family and friends, continual humiliation, threats against children or being threatened with injury or death.
According to Marie Seagrave, a Monash University Associate Professor in Criminology, women who are in Australia as temporary migrants are seriously overlooked in terms of how to deal with family violence against them. According to her, calls for action to reform our migration system which ‘compounds and sustains family violence’ have so far fallen on deaf ears.
One of the main concerns is that there is a common perception amongst temporary migrants that their visa status gives them no proper legal status. In addition, there is a fear in many cases that by alerting authorities to acts of violence, they may at the same time be initiating a process which will result in their visas being cancelled, leaving no option but to return to their home country. The most common example of this is in relation to Partner visas. If an individual has been sponsored to Australia on the basis of being a partner of an Australian citizen or permanent resident, and violence subsequently occurs within the relationship, the sponsored person is susceptible to the fear of exploitation and manipulation by the sponsor until such time as a permanent visa is approved – usually a minimum of two years after the initial Partner application is lodged with the Department of Home Affairs.
The potential fears a temporary visa holder may be subject to are numerous and potentially significant. These include; fear of deportation, possible loss of custody or access to children and limited eligibility for Commonwealth benefits.
In August this year the Council of Australian Governments endorsed the National Action Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022. This plan sets out a number of principles ‘to guide the way all industries, sectors and areas of government work together to address domestic, family and sexual violence’. Associate Professor Seagrave believes that particularly in relation to migrant women, the plan falls short as it fails to recognise the complexity of women’s experiences.
In an attempt to address the issues affecting women on temporary visas, a national advocacy group led by the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance has released a Blueprint for Reform: Removing Barriers to Safety for Victims Survivors of Domestic and Family Violence who are on Temporary Visas .
The report highlights a number of important issues affecting women on temporary visas including:
- there is a real risk of visa cancellation or refusal if an act of violence is reported,
- women on temporary visas are subject to significant stress due to the lengthy delays in visa processing,
- there are real problems where a child is born in Australia in situations where one parent is a temporary resident who is required to leave the country when the relationship breaks down and the other Australian citizen or resident parent wants the child to remain in Australia.
It should be noted that there are provisions within the Migration Regulations which attempt to deal with family violence, and the first thing that anyone who is a victim of family violence should do is seek legal advice to see whether those provisions will be of any assistance in that situation. However, as the Blueprint for Reform concludes, the current provisions apply to a very narrow group of situations, and may often exclude women with temporary migration status. It is hoped that the Government will take note of this report and take action to provide more depth and strength to the Regulations.