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Migration Agents at the Coal Face of Domestic Violence

After a long period in the dark, light is finally being shone on Australia’s domestic violence endemic. You may have noticed the harrowing adverts on television and accompanying sweep of law reforms. You may also feel like you have no power to help - after all, domestic violence is in the domain of social workers and doctors right? Wrong. While not traditionally thought of as a ‘first port of call’ for domestic violence victims, migration agents may be the only professional that a victim confides in.

It is likely that you deal with more domestic violence victims than you think, with migrants forming an overrepresented constituent of victims. A recent article highlighted that at any particular point in time, up to half of the domestic violence victims staying in emergency accommodation are on a visa.[1]

Migrants are particularly vulnerable to getting stuck in a domestic violence situation for a myriad of reasons:

  • Intimidation and control – their abusive partner may leverage their sponsorship as a means to intimate and control.
  • Isolation – migrants may not have the support network available to them in their home country. Sometimes the only person they know in Australia is their abusive partner.
  • Language barriers – language difficulties form a barrier to accessing help and can increase reliance on an abusive partner.
  • Unfamiliar environment – migrants may not be aware that support services exist in Australia or how to access them.
  • Thinking that violence is normal – migrants may come from countries where domestic violence is normalised.

Great, so we’ve established that we can help … but how?

The good news is that you can incorporate domestic violence awareness and response into your every-day practice – particularly if you deal with partner-sponsored clients.

Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. 1.      Keep an eye out for general signs of domestic violence

Signs that a person may be experiencing violence or abuse include:[2]

  • Often mentioning their partner’s jealousy or bad temper.
  • Appearing afraid of or excessively trying to please their partner.
  • Their partner criticises or humiliates them in public.
  • Their partner appears to make all decisions for them, such as dictating which friends they can and cannot see and controlling their finances.
  1. 2.      Speak to your client alone

You may be contacted and paid by the sponsoring partner. However, make sure you speak with the migrating partner ALONE and:

  • Ensure that they are not being coerced.
  • Inform them of their rights should they suffer abuse in the future.
  • Clarify that the Department makes decisions about their visa, not their partner.
  1. 3.      Hand out a domestic violence fact sheet in the client’s language

Provide your client with a fact sheet about domestic violence and visas (available in various languages at https://www.dss.gov.au/family-safety-pack).

  1. 4.      If it doesn’t quite add up – ask!

If a client is asking for advice about switching from their partner sponsored visa to another visa for no clear reason, you can check in to see if they are being exposed to domestic violence. This can be asked subtly, for example, ‘Just to check, is there a reason the partner visa is no longer suitable for you? Are you having difficulties with your partner?’ Depending on their answer, you may wish to drill down further (and then Respond and Refer – see point 5).

  1. 5.      Respond and refer

If your client discloses their experience of violence or abuse to you, it is critical that you respond appropriately. A thoughtful response can make a huge difference while an insensitive response can leave them feeling even more isolated and reluctant to seek help in the future.

 

Do:[3]

  • Believe what they are telling you.
  • Listen actively, without judgment.
  • Be supportive, empathetic and encouraging.
  • Tell them that it is not their fault.
  • Ask if they would like help from a support service and discuss their options.
  • Help them to get support by calling 1800 RESPECT with them or visit www.1800respect.org.au (online counselling is available).
  • Do what you can to reduce other stressors – for example, suggesting that they apply for special consideration in their course if their grades have suffered due to abuse.

 

Don’t:[4]

  • Minimise behaviour that is controlling or abusive, but not violent – these behaviours are just as serious.
  • Don’t ask victim-blaming questions such as ‘why do you put up with it?’
  • Force them into reporting the matter if they do not feel comfortable.

It is not easy to have a conversation about domestic violence, but it is a lot harder to be left wondering if you let someone slip through the cracks. We all have a role to play in ending domestic violence and migration agents have the privilege of being at the coal face.

Any questions or ideas? Contact me at www.proxymigration.com.au 

Disclaimer: Please note this article is general in nature and does not constitute migration or legal advice.

© Proxy Migration 2017

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Guest Monday, 01 May 2017