KASAMA Vol. 15 No. 1 / January-February-March 2001 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
Australia's Hidden Culture of Domestic Violence
7:30 Report - March 8, 2001
SYDNEY - March 8, 2001 - For its International Women's Day slot, the ABC's current affairs programme 7:30 Report ran a piece by Judy Tierney in which she interviewed three migrant women, including a Filipina, who had married Australians and became victims of their husbands' violence. The women spoke of the abusive treatment and humiliation they endured, the terror, and the threat of deportation.
Many migrant women are trapped in violent relationships because there appears to be no way out.
Annie's husband found it was easy to keep her from reporting his violence. She didn't know that he had no power to initiate her deportation. "We had only been married for a short period of time and the abuse started to happen."
Physical abuse is not the only means of control. Though he never physically punished her, Helga's husband was a sadistic perfectionist who once abandoned her in a forest. "I was really scared. In the dark forest and there was no house for two hours away"
Christina was constantly threatened by her husband: "He would say I only deserve a bullet in the head. I went to the shelter and I picked up some pamphlets and information and educated myself. I was able to see that what was happening was really abuse."
The message must get out that if abuse occurs, you can seek Government support under the domestic violence provision even though you may not yet have the rights of permanent residency in Australia. But, two years can go by before all the red tape has been dealt with, and during that time, the women can't apply for any financial, housing or medical support.
A women's crisis centre worker told 7:30 Report, "I know of women who can't get any government assistance so they may be living on $20 a week. That might be the basic income that a welfare agency has been able to give them. What we're seeing is that the response to this lack of financial support is re-traumatising women and, in fact, in some instances women go back to their partners because it's so difficult to go through the process of applying for residency whilst they have no money."
Australia's Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock says, while sympathetic to their plight, he can't see why they should get any special treatment. "The whole issue arises as to how many people you keep here, on benefits, testing the limits of entitlement when the best outcome, given that the relationship is no longer there, is for them to go home." [our emphasis Eds.]
When questioned about the need for more stringent regulations on disclosure of a sponsor's personal history like, for instance, previous marriages, children from other relationships, history of mental illness, criminal records, etc., Mr Ruddock sees this as "a very difficult issue. I think it's one in which most Australians would take the view that government should not be that intrusive."
Julie Stubbs, Professor of Law at the University of Sydney and Director of the Institute of Criminology, was also interviewed. She said, "Clearly government policy still falls far short of providing immigrant women with the protection they need."
Professor Stubbs co-authored Gender, 'Race' and International Relations: Violence Against Filipino Women in Australia, (1) a report funded by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. She explained: "We started with a study of homicides. We were looking at Filipina women who were trapped in violent relationships who, for very many reasons, could not find advice, support, or protection and in these cases, we ultimately found death for the woman involved. The data that we collected found that Filipina women were six times more likely to be killed than other Australian women."
Lesley McBride from the Hobart Women's Centre supports a recommendation from the Iredale Report (2) that was rejected by the then Labor Government: "I think there has to be some mechanism, some kind of bond or some way that a husband who is sponsoring a spouse to Australia has to put money in trust or put some money away so if the woman, if she is experiencing domestic violence has some income that she can actually use to escape that relationship."
(1) Chris Cunneen & Julie Stubbs, Gender, 'Race' and International Relations: Violence Against Filipino Women in Australia, a report for the Race Discrimination Commissioner, 2nd edition, Institute of Criminology, University of Sydney, Australia, 1998 (first published in 1996 as a monograph under the title, Violence Against Filipino Women.)
(2) Robyn Iredale, Jane Innes and Stephen Castles, Serial Sponsorship: Immigration Policy and Human Rights, Centre for Multicultural Studies, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, 1992.
You can view a full transcript of this broadcast at the ABC 7:30 Report web page.
Graphics on this page from: Against All Odds, published by Isis International and Kali for Women, 1994
At least 20 per cent of women
worldwide, regardless of race, religion, class, or age,
have been physically or sexually abused.
In most cases, their male partners have been the culprits.
From: World Bank statistics cited in "Broken Bones, Shattered Minds", Amnesty International, March 8, 2001.