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VWL project targets migrant women


Cite as: November 2013 87 (11) LIJ, p.18

Concern that migrant women are not reporting domestic violence because they don’t know their legal rights in Australia has prompted a Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) help information project.

Arabic-speaking women who are domestic violence victims are being targeted in the pilot project VWL hopes will continue, expanding to help women from other non-English-speaking backgrounds.

Three 45-second radio announcements airing on radio station 3CR’s Arabic language programs cover three areas of relevant law: family, domestic violence and immigration law.

The Women Migrants’ Legal Information Project was developed by the VWL’s justice committee. Funded by a Victoria Law Foundation grant, it is managed part-time by Satu Marjaana Aho, a Finnish migrant who recently graduated in law from La Trobe University.

“Arabic was chosen as the first language, in order to cover the widest possible geographical areas from which the migrants come to Australia,” Ms Aho said. “If this project continues in the future, the next announcements will be in other languages, similarly covering the widest possible migrant groups. The aim is to prepare these announcements also in English.”

The announcements direct women to project partner InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, which has translated them and provides free, confidential advice. Its case workers are on the frontline, working with clients facing domestic violence.

In its 2010 report on barriers to the justice system faced by women from culturally and linguistically diverse communities experiencing family violence, InTouch found they were less likely to report it. They were often quickly discouraged from progressing with their complaints and commonly waited until crisis point to seek help.

The latest Victoria Police crime statistics showed more than a third of all crimes against the person in the 2012-13 financial year in Victoria related to family violence – up 21.6 per cent on the previous year.

Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said the increase in the past 10 years was almost 400 per cent. “We don’t think we’ve seen the extent that this horrible crime is having on our community,” he said. “It’s insidious.”

Ms Aho said the project arose from a 2010 VWL research paper “Addressing the Unmet Legal Needs of Migrant Women in Victoria”, identifying major challenges for these women in accessing justice.

It identified three key reasons for their high rates of unreported domestic violence: lack of knowledge of their legal rights in Australia, language and cultural barriers.

“They (VWL) wanted to do something about it,” Ms Aho said. “The original idea was to make pamphlets and brochures and distribute them in places migrant women could see them. But if literacy was an issue, we then turned to the idea of radio which would reach women in their homes.

“Also, often an abusive partner will act as a gatekeeper to information, especially if they are more proficient in English.”

The announcements are also being published as podcasts on 3CR’s website and Facebook page. “They have been very, very helpful and gone beyond what we asked.”

The organisers hope to measure the project’s success through the level of contact with InTouch.

Ms Aho came to Australia as an exchange student, then as an international student and was volunteer international student officer at La Trobe. She has first-hand experience of the problems migrant women face accessing legal information. “I saw as an international student the lack of knowledge of legal rights by other international students. Despite receiving university education, as migrants they are also a really vulnerable group.”


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