Information about CALD and refugee experiences of domestic and family violence

Migrant and refugee women who have come to Australia to start a new life may have experienced violence from their homeland or while in refugee or detention camps. The acts of violence may include rape, sexual assault, war, civil unrest and other types of conflict. They may suffer from a diagnosed or an undiagnosed physical, mental and sexual health issues as a result of these experiences¹.

Once in Australia, the risk of physical and sexual violence for CALD and refugee women can increase due to a lack of support networks, socioeconomic disadvantage, community pressure, language barriers, lack of knowledge about rights for victims, and discrimination².

Actual research on the prevalence of domestic/ family violence of women from migrant and refugee communities is unclear. It is difficult to draw conclusions on the nature and the extent of domestic/ family violence as migrant and refugee communities are exceptionally diverse and multifaceted, regardless of whether they come from the same country and ethnicity. It is vital that service providers do not group migrants and refugees into classifications of AsiansAfricans or Arabs, without considering individual needs and complexities. 

Women from refugee and CALD backgrounds face unique challenges when experiencing domestic and family violence. These include:

  • Language barriers and a perceived lack of confidentiality. The lack of appropriate translating and interpreting service is also an issue for many women.
  • Use of culture and/or religion by men – Some men from culturally and linguistically diverse communities may use their culture and/or religion to further control and abuse women. In some countries where refugee and CALD women migrate from, there are very few legal protections for women. When women come to Australia they may be unaware that domestic violence and sexual assault are criminal offences. Sometimes women are silent about domestic violence and sexual assaults because of the additional barriers faced by CALD women and they may not have had the opportunities or education to challenge those ideas in their home countries.
  • Many women from migrant and refugee communities also have a strong attachment and commitment to their religion. Many women have certain ‘rules’ around separation and divorce, which are imposed by her and/or her family’s religious beliefs. This belief around divorce and separation being in accordance with their religion and may be an additional barrier for women escaping domestic/ family violence.
  • Immigration status and access to income support – Women who are in Australia on temporary spousal visas may fear deportation if they report the abuse³. They may have limited rights on their visa such as no access to health care or income support and are not eligible to work while their application for residency is being considered. This makes leaving a violent relationship even more difficult.
  • Physical and emotional isolation – A combination of a lack of awareness of the law and victims rights in Australia, limited support networks, geographical isolation, lack of appropriate support services and appropriate use of translator and interpreter services can create physical and emotional isolation for CALD and refugee women.  


  1. Australian Institute of Family Studies
  2. Allimant, 2005; Taylor & Putt, 2007
  3. Office of Women’s Policy Victoria 2002
  4. Allimant & Anne, 2008
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