What happens when you find yourself in a new country with limited support, language, and community?
Some women who emigrate to be with the person they love, end up in unexpected and abusive situations. This is sadly the reality for women on temporary visas who experience domestic violence, and a new short documentary reveals the limitations for those women in accessing protection and support against their abusive partners.
The documentary, produced by BLab Coats — a video channel founded by Western Sydney University academic Hamid Sediqi, interviews a domestic violence survivor who was on a temporary visa, and a prominent academic based in Melbourne. The documentary was a collaboration with Domestic Violence New South Wales and Western Sydney University.
The 22-minute film delves into the experience faced by Yuliia, a woman from the Ukraine who moved to Australia after meeting a man online and pursuing a relationship with him.
“I came here with high hopes that everything will work out,” she said. However, soon after her arrival, Yuliia’s partner began to exhibit controlling and abusive behaviour.
“I got locked inside the house,” she said. “He was trying to break my internal strength. He ended up pushing my neck to the ground and squeezing it between his knees and slapping me so hard it left bruises all over my body.”
As the law stands in Australia, women on temporary visas who are not on a specific partner visa have little to no protection against domestic violence.
Those who are on a partner visa are less likely to access help in fear of being deported if they do so. Countless women with stories like Yuliia’s face significant barriers when they attempt to seek help. Often women remain in dangerous situations because their visa status forces them to.
Dr Marie Segrave was also interviewed in the documentary, remarking on the ways various visas’ status limit support for women.
“One of the biggest challenges is that there is no guarantee to the same level of support [as citizens] …if you’re not a citizen, there is just limited access to support,” she said.
“People on partner visas may choose to remain in a context that is dangerous to them because they see no other way …their migration status is directly connected to remaining in a situation that is unsafe.”
Dr Marie Segrave is Associate Professor of Criminology and a researcher with Monash Gender, Family Violence Prevention Centre and the Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre.
In May this year, she wrote in Women’s Agenda about the reality for women on temporary visas, saying service providers are “limited in what they are funded to support if they experience family violence and seek assistance.”
“Women without any guaranteed income (such as those who cannot work or access Centrelink) cannot be easily accommodated in temporary housing, women on temporary visas cannot access Centrelink to afford the costs associated with leaving an abusive partner,” she wrote.
“A significant issue is the women’s futures, such as whether or not they hold a visa that is connected to their abusive partner. Their partner holds incredible power. His threats of deportation are tangible. For some women, the threat of returning to their country of origin is the threat of returning home unmarried, with the long term social stigma that brings to themselves and their whole family.”
In 2017, Dr Segrave penned a study that looked at 300 cases of women who sought the support service of InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence between 2015 and 2016.
“Migration status often adds a layer of complexity and, most often, uncertainty for women,” she wrote. “This report points to other significant concerns that extend beyond the specificity of temporary migration – in particular, the overlap of family violence and forms of coercion and abuse that are akin to Commonwealth trafficking and slavery offences.”
The paper, titled ‘Temporary Migration and Family Violence: An analysis of victimisation, vulnerability and support’ was published through Monash University, and laid out a strategic method of ‘Risk Identification’ to help community workers target and respond.
“There is an urgent need to accept that currently the systems of support in relation to the intersection of migration status and family violence are very limited” the report concluded.
“There are significant gaps in service provision and support, that are due to migration status, and these could be easily rectified with relatively limited financial cost to state and Federal governments. This ought to be considered a priority.”
Yuliia does not want to see another woman suffer under these limited conditions.
“I would recommend the women who are trying to escape these situations to not let their anger or their desire for revenge to take over their feelings or dominate,” she said. “You need to concentrate on the now, and know that your life belongs to you.”