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People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

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Family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV) occurs across Australia, and impacts people from many different communities and cultures. While cultural and linguistic diversity is not an explicit indicator of disadvantage or risk, many people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds may experience increased exposure to risk factors or heightened barriers to seeking support. Contributing factors may include recent displacement, temporary and dependent visa status, language barriers, or lack of community support and networks (El-Murr 2018; HRSCSPLA 2021; Webster et al. 2022; Vaughan et al. 2016).

Australia is a nation diverse in cultures and ethnicities, with more than 1 in 4 (28%) of the population born overseas and more than 1 in 5 (23%) speaking a language other than English at home (ABS 2022). Understanding patterns of FDSV experienced by people from CALD backgrounds is important for identifying and responding to the specific needs of CALD populations. Box 1 describes how CALD is defined for this topic page.

What do we know?

It is important to recognise that people from CALD backgrounds in Australia are not a single homogenous group, however there are several factors that can increase the risk of FDSV for some CALD people and/or impact their perceptions and understanding of violence, and help-seeking behaviours.

Cultural attitudes towards women and understanding of violence

Cultures can differ in their attitudes towards gender roles, relationships, and family dynamics, which can impact the way domestic violence is perceived and tolerated (Webster et al. 2017; Le et al. 2020). For example, some cultures may expect women to submit to husbands and fathers, stay in a violent relationship, and avoid bringing shame to themselves and their family (Vaughan et al. 2016).

Why is it sometimes difficult to recognise FDSV?

'As a survivor from a migrant community, a broader recognition of family violence is crucial. My perpetrators were my father, my uncle, my aunt and my grandmother. I also witnessed the abuse against my mother by the same perpetrators (her husband and her in-laws). Due to the lack of conversation around non-IPV perpetration, our experiences were first, hard to recognise, and later, hard to seek appropriate help for.'


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For information on community attitudes and understanding of violence against women among people from CALD backgrounds, see Box 2.

Pre-migration experience

Immigrants may be particularly affected by recent arrival to an unfamiliar country (HRSCSPLA 2021). Some immigrants, particularly refugees, are also at increased risk of migration-related trauma. For example, some refugees may have experiences of war, torture and other traumatic pre-arrival experiences, including FDSV. These experiences of violence can affect a person’s mental health, including their ability to cope in a new environment and developing post-traumatic stress, and can worsen family functioning issues during re-settlement (El-Murr 2018; Vaughan et al. 2016).

Visa status

People from CALD backgrounds on temporary visas may face additional challenges in seeking help for FDSV. Victim-survivors on a temporary visa may be dependent on a violent partner for residency and may not disclose violence due to the fear they may be deported. Conditions of temporary visas can result in social isolation due to, for example, restrictions to accessing employment and housing. Isolation may be further heightened for those who do not speak English or drive (HRSCSPLA 2021; Vaughan et al. 2016). Moreover, temporary visa holders are often unable to access social support such as income support and healthcare (e.g. through Medicare), as eligibility is limited to people with permanent residency or citizenship status (Cullen et al. 2022; NAGWTVEW 2018).

Barriers to support

Aside from visa-related barriers, people from CALD backgrounds may face other difficulties accessing support for FDSV, such as:

  • lack of CALD-specific information (for example, related to gender equality and violence, service availability, or legal rights and entitlements)
  • language and communication barriers
  • fear and distrust of authorities due to pre-settlement experiences
  • community norms that discourage disclosure, acknowledgement and intervention of violence within relationships
  • community belief that family and domestic violence issues should be dealt with within the family unit (El-Murr 2018; Cullen et al. 2022; NAGWTVEW 2018).

What are some of the barriers to getting help in migrant communities?

'The full extent of the family violence was never acknowledged or discussed explicitly with anyone, not even with my mum or sister, who were also abused by my father. We had an implicit understanding that we couldn’t discuss this, as we were protecting ourselves from being overwhelmed with helplessness, as we weren’t sure what to do once it was acknowledged. This experience highlights the differences in the tolerance and acceptance levels within different family structures, even within my own community, highlighting that there are differences in the level of comfort survivors have when disclosing their abuse to people of different backgrounds and how a lack of discussion broadly impedes help-seeking.'


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Lack of culturally appropriate services

To effectively address FDSV, responses require culturally competent and safe services that take into account the unique experiences and needs of victim-survivors from different backgrounds. This can include providing language interpretation services, training service providers on cultural competency, and involving community leaders and organisations in safety planning for victim-survivors (Cullen et al. 2022; DSS 2022).

A study by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) on the FDSV workforce has identified a lack of policy frameworks and specialised support services addressing cultural factors that mediate violence against women (Cullen et al. 2022). However, existing research suggests promising outcomes for culturally appropriate programming and effective violence prevention strategies when community-based involvement is promoted in FDSV responses and workforces (AIHW 2018; El-Murr 2018; HRSCSPLA 2021; Cullen et al. 2022). For more general information see FDSV workforce.

Both the national Inquiry into FDSV and the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022–2032 identified the need for distinct policy, specialist services and resources to support FDSV victim-survivors from CALD communities (HRSCSPLA 2021; DSS 2022). However, the diversity in backgrounds and experiences of violence can make it challenging to meet the needs of all CALD victim-survivors, especially in instances where victim-survivors also experience intersecting forms of inequality, such as racism, disability, homelessness or poverty.

Measuring violence experienced by people from CALD backgrounds

While some national data on FDSV experienced by people from CALD backgrounds exist, there is a limited level of disaggregated data available on specific sub-groups, such as refugees, specific migration visa holders or cultural groups. This is either because the range of relevant data items may not be collected, or the data are not of sufficient quality for reporting due to small sample sizes. To overcome this limitation, reporting of broader indicators, for example binary categories based on country of birth or language spoken at home, are used to provide high-level insights, but can conceal cultural and ethnic variation. In addition, there may be underrepresentation of people from CALD backgrounds in surveys due to language barriers, especially where alternatives to English are not available and self-reported information is required, and/or under-reporting by people from CALD backgrounds due to a reluctance to disclose sensitive information in official government surveys, or variations in how people acknowledge or define violence between different cultures (AIHW 2018).

Data sources for measuring FDSV experienced by people from CALD backgrounds

This page draws on the modest data available across national surveys. The key sources used are: the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey (PSS), and the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study. For more information about these data sources, please see Data sources and technical notes.

What do the data tell us about FDSV experienced by people from CALD backgrounds?

Personal Safety Survey

The PSS collects data on the experiences of violence in Australia and captures information on respondents’ country of birth and main language spoken at home. See Box 1 for information about the categories used for reporting. The PSS defines sexual violence as the occurrence, attempt or threat of sexual assault; physical violence as the occurrence, attempt or threat of physical assault; and a cohabiting partner as someone the person lives with, or lived with at some point, in a married or de facto relationship.

The 2021–22 PSS estimated that, in the 2 years prior to the survey, of women born overseas:

  • 2.1% of those born in N-MESC (non-main English-speaking countries) had experienced sexual violence compared with 2.0%* of those born in MESC and 3.4% of women born in Australia (ABS 2023b)
  • 1.0% experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a cohabiting partner (partner violence) compared with 2.1% of women born in Australia (ABS 2023a)
  • 4.6% of those born in N-MESC had experienced emotional abuse by a cohabiting partner (partner emotional abuse) compared with 5.4% of those born in MESC and 5.6% of women born in Australia (ABS 2023a).

The PSS also found that a similar proportion of women who mainly spoke a language other than English at home (LOTE), and women who spoke English at home, had experienced:

  • sexual violence (2.9%*and 2.9%, respectively) (ABS 2023b, see Box 1)
  • partner violence (1.7%* and 1.7%, respectively) (ABS 2023a)
  • partner emotional abuse (4.8% and 5.4%, respectively) (ABS 2023a).

Note that estimates marked with an asterisk (*) should be used with caution as they have a relative standard error between 25% and 50%. 

National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study

The National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study is a nationally representative survey that examined elder abuse among 7,000 people aged 65 and over living in the community (i.e. not in residential aged care settings). Around 1 in 6 (18%) were identified as CALD respondents, based on those who spoke a LOTE at home (AIFS 2021). The study found that the prevalence of elder abuse (financial, physical, sexual, psychological and/or neglect) in the 12 months prior to the survey was similar for CALD (14%) and non-CALD respondents (15%) (AIFS 2022). Among CALD respondents, 1 in 25 (4%) reported experiencing abuse relating to their language and cultural background in the 12 months prior to the survey – for example, not being respected when talked to because of their culture, race or ethnicity; restricting their contact with friends or others from the same cultural background; and restricting their access to culturally familiar activities (such as attending certain events or watching shows in their preferred language) (AIFS 2022).

What else do we know?

Some forms of violence are more likely to be influenced by a person’s visa status, and/or by religious, cultural or community contexts, for example:

  • visa abuse
  • dowry abuse
  • female genital mutilation/cutting
  • reproductive coercion and abuse (see Pregnant people)
  • modern slavery (such as forced marriage or human trafficking) (El-Murr 2018; HRSCSPLA 2021).

Further information on some of these forms of violence can be found below.

What is visa abuse?

  • Over 2 in 5 women

    on temporary visas who sought support for family violence in 2015–16 were threatened that sponsorship for their visa application would be withdrawn

    Source: Temporary migration and family violence: an analysis of victimisation, support and vulnerability

Refugees and migrants living in Australia on temporary visas may face unique experiences of FDV. Visa abuse can happen when the victim-survivor’s temporary migrant status is used by a perpetrator to control or coerce them or their family member (Safe Steps 2023). For example, a person in Australia on a temporary partner visa may face deportation if they leave the relationship, or a perpetrator with citizenship may threaten to take custody of any children (see also Coercive control).

Currently there are no national data on visa abuse. However, some state data from the Victorian family violence service, InTouch, are available to provide insights on responses to incidents of family violence in migrant and refugee communities. A Monash University study on InTouch’s case files of 300 women on temporary visas who sought support for family violence in 2015–16 found that:

  • over 2 in 5 (44%) were threatened by a partner or family member that sponsorship for their visa application would be withdrawn
  • almost 2 in 5 (39%) had been threatened with deportation from a partner or family member (Segrave 2017).

What is dowry abuse?

Dowry and other similar practices are observed in many cultures globally and generally involve the giving of money, property or other goods by one family to another during or any time after marriage (AIJA and AGD 2022). Dowry-related violence or dowry abuse occurs when a victim-survivor and/or their family are coerced into making further or larger gifts by another individual/s, typically in-laws, current or former spouses and fiancés and can be exacerbated by visa status (Parliament of Australia 2019). This coercion can involve:

  • psychological, emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse and harassment
  • cultural and social isolation
  • economic deprivation (see Economic and financial impacts)
  • threats of cancelling visa sponsorship, marriage annulment or deportation (AIJA and AGD 2022).

There are limited data related to the prevalence of, and responses to, dowry abuse in Australia. However, case studies and stories from victim-survivors that have been shared as a part of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence 2015–16 and the 2019 Senate inquiry into the practice of dowry and incidence of dowry abuse in Australia (the 2019 Senate Inquiry) indicate that it is a major concern for some communities in Australia (O’Connor and Lee 2022).

Women in Australia who experience dowry abuse-related violence may face a number of barriers to recognising the abuse and seeking help such as:

  • feelings of shame and failure
  • fear of retribution, cultural and social isolation
  • language barriers or a lack of awareness of their rights in Australian society and where to get help (Parliament of Australia 2019).

The 2019 Senate Inquiry recommended that economic abuse should be recognised as a form of family violence, with dowry abuse included as an example of economic abuse. It was also recommended that more data should be collected on both dowry abuse and economic abuse in general. For data related to economic abuse, see Economic and financial impacts.

In response to the 2019 Inquiry, the Victorian Government recently legislated for dowry abuse to be an example of family violence in the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 and dowry abuse is mentioned under the definition of family violence in the Western Australian Restraining Orders Act 1997 (AIJA and AGD 2022).

What is female genital mutilation/cutting?

The term ‘female genital mutilation/cutting’ (FGM/C) refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs, for non-medical reasons. FGM/C is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and adolescence, and occasionally on adult women, and can result in lifelong medical and psychological complications (WHO 2022).

While FGM/C is internationally recognised as a violation of the human rights and abandonment of the practice by 2030 is a United Nations’ sustainable development priority, FGM/C is still a common cultural practice in communities in some African, Asian and Middle Eastern regions (United Nations 2022; Matanda and Lwanga-Walgwe 2022). Through migration, there are also many females affected throughout the world, including in Australia (AIHW 2019; WHO 2022).

FGM/C, including sending a person overseas to have a procedure done, or facilitating, supporting or encouraging someone to have it done, is illegal in all Australian states and territories (DSS 2019). Mandatory reporting laws require that selected professional groups (for example, medical practitioners and teachers) report instances where they suspect FGM/C has been conducted, in Australia or overseas, on children normally living in Australia (AIFS 2020). People seeking support for FGM/C in Australia can visit the National Education Toolkit for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting Awareness website (NETFA 2022).

Available international data suggests there has been an overall decline in the prevalence of the practice over the last three decades. However, this progress has varied between countries, and it is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women alive today across 31 countries have undergone FGM/C (UNICEF 2022).

There is limited evidence on the extent of FGM/C in Australia. The AIHW estimated that over 50,000 girls and women born elsewhere but living in Australia in 2017 had undergone FGM/C (AIHW 2019). This figure is based on modelled calculations only and should be interpreted with caution. While rudimentary, this estimate provides insight into the potential extent of FGM/C in Australia. For further information on the study’s methodology refer to the report, Towards estimating the prevalence of female genital mutilation/cutting in Australia.

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