KASAMA Vol. 10 No. 4 / October-November-December 1996 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Violence Against Filipino Women
Filipino Wives Almost Six Times as Likely to be Killed in Australia

ANTHONY BROWN interviewed EMERE DISTOR on 4ZZZ Radio's current affairs program Brisbane Line. The following excerpts are from the broadcast on November 30, 1996.

Graphic: Lisa Smith, 1990, Women's House, Brisbane

Anthony: In November this year the Institute of Criminology released a report called Violence Against Filipino Women. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission commissioned the report after a long campaign by the Centre for Philippine Concerns-Australia. For years now, the CPCA has been trying to get official recognition that many Filipino women living in Australia are prone to a high-rate of domestic violence, and even more alarming, often risk being murdered by their spouses.

At long last, that official recognition has come in the form of the Institute of Criminology's report which indicates what the CPCA has been saying. With us in the studio to talk about the report is Emere Distor from the Brisbane Office of the CPCA. Emere, to start off, can you go through the startling statistics that the Institute of Criminology found?

Emere: According to the report Violence Against Filipino Women written by Julie Stubbs and Chris Cunneen, the over-representation of Filipino women when it comes to domestic homicide is 5.6 times. This homicide victimisation rate of 5.6 times is occurring amongst Filipino women between the ages of 20-39 and this is in comparison with the average for Australian women in the same age group.

Anthony: Many women and children have died violently or disappeared since 1980 when records were first kept about this phenomenon.

Emere: In the report, between 1980 and 1995, there are noted 27 deaths and disappearances cases of Filipino women and their children in Australia. Twenty-one of these cases are adult women and 18 of the cases are homicides. In three cases the cause of death is unknown. Two cases were found by the Coroner to be suicides and two cases were determined as accidental.

Anthony: In nearly all the cases, the accused are usually their spouses?

Emere: Most of those suspected, charged or convicted are either the women's spouse or de facto partner.

Anthony: From what I read in the Report, these men are pretty much considered as "dysfunctional" individuals, often much older than the women themselves and often less educated. Why on earth do you think women who are better educated end up with men like these?

Emere: The poverty in the Philippines is a major factor why there is a mass "exodus" of Filipino women to overseas countries like Australia, because of the opportunities that the receiving country can offer. Even with a degree it would still be difficult to find well-paying jobs. There are all sorts of reasons, but I think one of the main reasons for them is to make themselves better off than what their parents or their grandparents had gone through. The Philippine government has also institutionalised the migration of Filipino women, and men, by establishing agencies specifically catering to Filipinos wanting to migrate overseas. Spousal migration is like an expansion of the Overseas Contract Workers-a trend since the 60s in the Philippines.

Anthony: Why do you think these men are attracted to Filipino women?

Emere: In the Institute's Report, they noted the intersectional factor of gender, race and class. The men generally like submissive and domesticated women. This is stereotyping, of course, by most western men seeking Filipino women as their would-be spouses.

Anthony: How are these women hoodwinked by men who go to the Philippines to charm them but lie about their wealth and stuff?

Emere: This is very common of many western men going to poor countries. Even if you are poor in Australia, in comparison with the economic situation in the Philippines, you would still be better off. Many men try to exaggerate their income, position or status in life in their own country. They give women the impression that, "if you would marry me, your life would improve."

Anthony: From your own research, many women marry these men and, from the cases I've read, they come to Australia. What is life like when they get here?

Emere: Some of the women weren't aware that when they come to Australia they will be living in very geographically isolated places. During the past few years, the Department of Immigration recognised this problem and produced a video to inform them of things like non-recognition in Australia of the women's overseas qualifications or their rights as migrants. The video showing is not enough though. There are still many things that can be done to inform and help the women.

Graphic: Lisa Smith, 1990, Women's House, Brisbane

Anthony: From what I read many of these men like their women to be isolated - not only geographically.

Emere: Because isolation is a form of control. Isolation is not only geographical in many of the cases that come to our attention. Isolation can also be manifested by not allowing women to speak their own language with their fellow Filipinos, by not allowing women to eat their native food, or sometimes women are not even allowed to mingle with other Filipinos.

Anthony: How difficult is it for these women to leave these men?

Emere: The difficulty lies with our very own culture. There is no divorce in the Philippines. Women have yet to acculturate themselves that, when they are in Australia, they have the right to leave a violent relationship. In many of the homicide cases, there is a pattern that is reflected in the Report - that most of the women stayed in a violent relationship for the sake of the children. There is also the fear of reprisal. And there is also the embarrassment attached to divorce or separation within the Filipino culture itself.

Anthony: The Institute of Criminology report also suggests that Filipino women are vulnerable to domestic violence because of cultural and gender power imbalances. Would you agree?

Emere: I agree with that. In the evaluation of the data from the Institute there is the intersection of gender, race and class: migrants being women, women being Filipino and Filipino being poor. These are the reasons why they are very susceptible to abuse and not a lot of Filipino women migrating to Australia are aware that domestic violence is a crime. They have become accustomed in the Philippines to violence as a common occurrence, however this should not be used as an excuse for these men to commit this despicable crime when they arrive in Australia.

Anthony: One of the cases I read about in the report is the story of JH who was drowned in her backyard pool in 1989 in NSW, can you tell us about that case?

Emere: The husband reported the incident but when the Coroner investigated the cause of death, they found the discrepancies given by the husband about the drowning. They discovered bruises on JH's body indicating that she struggled before being drowned. They also found out that JH had been dead for hours before the husband reported it to the police.

Anthony: I remember reading that the husband was a very "dysfunctional" man. He had been imprisoned for a while and there were charges of sexual assault against him.

Emere: JH met that man in the U.K. while she was working as a nurse in a hospital. Her would-be husband was then serving 4 years in prison. When they married they migrated to Australia where JH's sister lives. Later, JH's' husband was charged with the attempted rape of her niece. Another rape charge was laid against her husband by his own niece.

Anthony: What is also interesting in this case is the Korean student involved with her husband.

Emere: This is fairly typical - getting rid of the old Asian woman to get a younger Asian woman. There was premeditation as suggested by circumstances prior to the killing, especially when it was discovered that there was a third party - the Korean student. There was also economic motivation, because prior to the killing he took out four life insurance policies in JH's name amounting to $400,000.

Anthony: What part do you think the introduction agencies play in the abuse of Filipino women?

Emere: In many of the cases where the way couples met was established, the report indicates that a significant number of the women met these men through introduction agencies.

But there is also a noticeable number of men who visit the Philippines as sex tourists eventually marrying Filipino women. These are the trends and we should note that of the 48,000 Filipino women in Australia, as recorded by the Immigration Department, 70 per cent arrived Australia under the spouse/fiancee visa.

Anthony: I believe that Filipino women are also being marketed on the Internet these days.

Emere: It has become a new trend to surf on the Internet and find information on how to meet or marry Filipino women or Asian women in general. Not too long ago we heard reports that it is not only through the Internet where you can meet women. A mass wedding via satellite was also being done in the Philippines. This happened a couple of times and the Philippine government investigated and discovered that a notorious Korean religious sect is behind it. The reason why they are recruiting women to Korea is to use them as cheap labour because of the sect's connection with big industries - including prostitution dens.

Anthony: What struck me with the report is that most of the cases are premeditated, not 'heat of the moment' stuff. These guys really planned the murders.

Emere: Most of the homicide cases are premeditated. The murderer is in absolute control over the women. In many of the cases there were attempts by the women to get out of the relationship but unfortunately they suffered the consequences.

Anthony: What struck me as well is that the police investigations were often inadequate.

Emere: Filipinos have very unpleasant experiences with our police force in the Philippines. They always think of the police as corrupt - not that there is no police corruption in Australia - but, because of their experience in the Philippines, women became more suspicious towards the police force. Many of the police personnel are not so sensitive about the women's culture and a great many stations don't have interpreters for women from non-English speaking background. They thought that many of our women can speak English and that they can get by. But the thing is that when they talk of technicalities or legal matters, it would still be very difficult for these women to comprehend.

Anthony: The Institute suggests in a few cases that a serial killer may be involved. Can you tell us about these cases?

Emere: There are a couple of cases where the perpetrators have a history of apprehended domestic violence orders. And I assume these women never got to know about these records and may have also not been aware that their husbands had previously sponsored Filipino women that had also fallen victim to their violence.

Anthony: The Institute reports that vital evidence was often ignored by the courts and those perpetrators often got light sentences.

Emere: Yes. This is again the pattern of diminished responsibility. We have attended a couple of court hearings in Brisbane of Filipino women victims of domestic homicide and noticed that the court failed to establish the history of domestic violence prior to the killing. The court only takes recorded violence as evidence-other than that, they cannot. Again, this is a loophole in the judicial system.

Anthony: The Institute's report suggests that the court and the police were often lenient and these men often get off with manslaughter charges. The police and the court often ignored vital evidence, and the report suggests that maybe it is because of the way Filipinas are stereotyped in Australian society. Tell us, what are the stereotypes and how do they end up victimising these women?

Emere: There are many stereotyped images of Filipino women in Australia. The Filipina mail-order-bride is one of those stereotypes. There is also the stereotype of Filipinas being domesticated, submissive and faithful - the character influenced by the Catholic Church in Philippine culture that commands women to stick with their men.

To the extreme of the stereotyping is the image of Filipino women as manipulative. The media have for quite a while been insensitive about the issues of Filipinas in Australia. Not too long ago, there was a book published instructing men how to meet Filipino women and even telling men that the cost of getting the women is the same "as a lousy second hand car". The book and its author have been banned in the Philippines. The man who wrote this book, incidentally, was a former police officer in Western Australia.

A film that maliciously portrayed Filipinas is the highly acclaimed Priscilla, Queen of the Desert where they portray Cynthia as a foul-mouthed, gold-digging, ping-pong ball-popping Filipina. This image was commonly portrayed in the media for quite a while but I should say that more and more media people are becoming aware that these stereotypes are not only untrue but also unfair to Filipino women.

Anthony: These are very dangerous stereotypes that often lead to violence against women because the men have this expectation and the women don't meet the expectation and the men take it out on the women. Would you agree with that?

Emere: Because of the current racial debate it is becoming more and more difficult for the Asian community generally for fear of retribution from right-wing extremists. Because of stereotyping it is a lot easier for these people to absorb the negative image rather than question if the image actually rings true.

Anthony: The report also found that Filipino women's access to legal protection and social services are limited in Australia. Why do you think that is?

Emere: Generally, for many NESB groups, there are still inadequate numbers of interpreters. And, if there are interpreters, they are not trained in the area of domestic violence. They can interpret the spoken and written words into their respective languages but not the feelings of women in a domestic violence situation. I think one of the best recommendations put forward in the report is to train and educate interpreters and for the government to put more funding to realise the training on domestic violence.

Graphic: Confronting Sexual Exploitation, CPCA, Brisbane 1996

Anthony: What do you think needs to be done to stop what's happening?

Emere: The report actually confirms what we already believed as an organisation and as a community. In the report there are 22 recommendations in all but I will just mention six major ones that we really think are of utmost importance.

One, is the database keeping by the Philippine and Australian governments. This database would hopefully include the history of the sponsor, especially any apprehended domestic violence protection order, and the number of women sponsored by the men. We hope that this database will also be accessible to women wanting to marry Australian nationals and live in Australia, so that they can make an informed decision. Also important in the data-keeping is the prosecution of those men who give false and misleading information to women and the Department of Immigration.

The other recommendation is the inclusion of the domestic violence provision in the Migration Act and domestic violence legislation for pre-migration counselling in the Philippines and post-migration counselling in Australia.

Also, that a women migrant who becomes a victim of violence before she becomes a permanent residence should be entitled to avail herself of social security benefit and Medicare. We now have a two-year waiting period for migrants to avail themselves of benefits, and we think it is very necessary for women in a domestic violence situation to be assisted by the government.

To prove that these women are in a violent relationship requires a statutory declaration, as stated in the DV provision in the Migration Act. With regard to the statutory declaration, we believe that the categories of "competent persons" should be extended to other suitable third parties like religious leaders, community workers, community activists, and family members. At the moment only the doctor's certificate, police report and welfare officer's declaration are recognised. It is very well known in the community that most women would rather go to their religious leaders or family members to report domestic violence.

Another recommendation that is important is the training and education of magistrates, lawyers, police and other justice system personnel, on domestic violence and awareness and sensitivity in cross-cultural and gender issues.

Also there is the need for culturally and linguistically appropriate programs for migrant women on the domestic violence situation. There should also be more funding for interpreters and more training of those interpreters to be aware about domestic violence issue.

Anthony: What's been the reaction of the federal government to the report?

Emere: We haven't heard any reaction from the government regarding the report. But, I assume that with the current racial debate, the deaths and disappearances of Filipino women and children are at the moment considered as "minor issues". Of course we disagree with this, but, perhaps given more time and more campaigning, we'll be able to make it more important and probably more prominent.

In the Brisbane area you can tune into 4ZZZ Radio on 102.1FM.