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When a wedding gift becomes abuse

Sometimes, cultural traditions can be turned against you — how can you tell when what’s happening has crossed the line into abuse? In this piece on dowry abuse, Maria* from InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence talks about the experiences of migrant and refugee women.

All people have a human right to be safe and live free from violence. Family violence is unacceptable in any culture or religion, in any and all of its forms – coercion, threats, physical, emotional, psychological and economic, as well as dowry abuse and forced marriage.

Dowry abuse has only begun to attract attention over the past few years in Australia but at inTouch, its presence has been clear since the commencement of our service in 1984. From our experience, simply and without equivocation, dowry abuse constitutes family violence.

—  Ms Michal Morris, CEO of inTouch

Prisha’s story

Prisha* was referred to inTouch by a local service after experiencing family violence, including dowry abuse. Here is her story.

Prisha’s family arranged a marriage with an Indian man who had previously migrated to Australia and become a citizen. After their wedding, Prisha moved from India to Melbourne on a partner visa. From the beginning of their married life, Prisha’s husband complained that her family had not paid enough dowry. Shortly after, the demands for additional dowry started and he said to Prisha that if her parents did not send more money, she would be deported. Her husband threatened to sexually assault her sister and kill her family. 

Prisha’s husband forbid her to leave the home and to speak to the neighbours. She was unable to apply for a Medicare card and was prevented from seeking medical treatment. Over time, the abuse became physical. Prisha gained the courage to let her sister know about the abuse and was helped to contact the police. Her husband then proceeded to threaten her family overseas and made a complaint against his wife during the Intervention Order hearing in court, saying that she had married him to gain permanent residency in Australia. Meanwhile, Prisha was not even able to articulate what her status in Australia was because she did not know under what visa category she had been sponsored.

Prisha was the second wife that her husband had sponsored to come to Australia and his second victim of family violence and dowry abuse. Prisha was eligible to apply for permanent residency in Australia through the Family Violence Provision but has not been able to recover her dowry.

*Name changed

What is dowry abuse?

According to the Department of Social Services, dowry abuse is considered any act of coercion, violence or harassment associated with the giving or receiving of dowry at any time before, during or after marriage. Dowry-related abuse commonly involves claims that dowry was not paid and coercive demands for further money or gifts from a woman and her family. This abuse may take the form of retaliation or shaming against the woman’s family in their home country. 

The practice of dowry risks perpetuating a culture of ownership or control of women and runs against the cause of equality.

The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs Report 2019

If you are on a visa, you can still get help

A partner, family members or other people in the community cannot threaten your right to live in Australia.

If you hold a temporary Partner visa (subclass 309 or 820) or a Prospective Marriage visa (subclass 300) and experience dowry-related family violence, there are family violence provisions in Australia’s migration laws to allow you to continue with your permanent Partner visa (subclass 100 or 801) application.

Where can I go for help? 

If this is happening to you, there are a variety of culturally sensitive services that you can access for support.

inTouch

inTouch provides person-centred, integrated, culturally responsive family violence services to migrant and refugee women across Victoria. Their staff are highly experienced in working with women from diverse cultural backgrounds.

inTouch has bilingual and bicultural staff and is able to offer services to clients in over 20 languages. Appropriate interpreting services are used for all other languages, be sure to mention you require an interpreter when you call.

inTouch also has an in-house legal centre that provides legal advice and assistance to clients who are receiving their family violence case management support.

If you would like to seek help from inTouch, call 1800 755 988 or visit InTouch’s web site.

1800RESPECT

This is Australia’s national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling service. It provides free, confidential telephone and online counselling and information. Counsellors will listen to you, answer questions and can refer you to other support services in your local area.

Call 1800 737 732 or go to the 1800RESPECT website at www.1800RESPECT.org.au.

Legal helplines

Further information on family violence and visas, forced marriage and human trafficking is on the Department of Home Affairs website at www.homeaffairs.gov.au and search for “forced marriage”.

Please note that these are not crisis services. If you feel unsafe or threatened or fearful for yourself, a child or family member, please call 000 or Safe Steps 1800 015 188.

About inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence

Recognised as a specialist family violence service with a focus on providing support and information to culturally diverse women, their children and perpetrators of family violence, inTouch is a critical piece in Victoria’s family violence response system. They offer services and programs across the family violence continuum, from prevention and crisis intervention, through to recovery.

Since 1984, inTouch has helped over 18,000 women experiencing family violence. Their inLanguage and inCulture case management, onsite legal centre and migration agent, is what makes inTouch unique and vital to helping address the specific needs of refugee and migrant communities experiencing family violence.

inTouch released a position paper on dowry abuse following the recent Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs’ Report into the practice of dowry and dowry abuse in Australia.

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