This chapter addresses two broad issues for policy reform—data
collection and raising awareness of dowry abuse—which have been raised by inquiry
participants. Advocates for reform told the committee that action in these
areas could lead to a significant reduction in the incidence of dowry abuse in
The committee was informed that although there is 'strong evidence on
the nature of dowry abuse and the impact on women'—and isolated data was
provided to the committee by some submitters which suggests serious and growing problems in certain communities as a result
of changes in migration patterns—in aggregate terms only limited data exists 'on
the prevalence of dowry and dowry abuse in Australia'. Further, no comprehensive study into dowry abuse in Australia has been
undertaken to date, and the available evidence on dowry abuse 'is largely
Ms Maria Dimopoulos of Harmony Alliance explained to the committee why it
was important to collect data on dowry abuse. This data collection, Ms
Dimopoulos argued, may lead to an understanding that many of the deaths 'taking
place within migrant and refugee communities could be prevented through a
culturally appropriate understanding of some of those forms of violence and the
response to them'.
In its submission, the Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health
(ACHRH) noted that '[c]urrently we have no idea of the numbers of women who are
or have experienced abuse and coercive control behaviour from a partner that is
in part linked to issues with their dowry'. It recommended:
Accurate reporting and collection of data at National and
State levels giving an official figure of Dowry related violence and deaths,
and domestic slavery and servitude should be done in a coordinated manner
between the Police, Justice, [family violence] delivery services and the [non-government
A number of other submitters and witnesses also observed the lack of
data on dowry abuse, and suggested the committee make recommendations aimed at
improving the availability of such data.
For example, Ms Jatinder Kaur discussed what she described as the
'critical gap in data and prevalence rates of understanding domestic/family
violence, dowry abuse within migrant and refugee communities in Australia'. Ms Kaur provided some insight as to why there is such a small amount of reporting
on dowry abuse in the Indian community:
Anecdotal and community advocates believe that prevalence of
family violence maybe [sic] higher rates amongst newly arrived Indian migrants
settling in Australia. The reports of dowry abuse would be far less as it is
commonly connected with overall domestic/family violence context.
Ms Kaur suggested to the committee that:
Without clear data from Police, Courts, hospitals, Domestic
violence services, Prison, Domestic violence refuge’s, it is very difficult to
gauge the prevalence rates of domestic and family violence issues amongst
Ms Kaur therefore recommended that the Australian government, through
the Council of Australian Governments, 'improve the data collection of domestic
violence victims and perpetrators and include separate [a] category for dowry
abuse-financial abuse to identify ethnic group, language spoken, visa status'.
Dr Indrani Ganguly made a similar observation about the lack of data on
domestic and family violence in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.
Dr Ganguly reflected that '[t]he invisibility of CALD populations in domestic
violence statistics is attributed to the small numbers of specific communities
which makes it difficult to conduct large-scale data collections'.
Soroptimist International Moreton North Inc observed that although the
data collection of domestic violence cases in Australia had improved, 'there is
still no specific data that indicates the proportions of perpetrators and
victims (survivors) from particular ethnic backgrounds'.
Indeed, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand and inTouch Multicultural
Centre against Family Violence (GSANZ and inTouch) submitted that the extent to
which dowry abuse is a causal factor in domestic and family violence is unknown
because of 'the lack of disaggregated data that is collected about domestic and
family violence in Australia' and 'the lack of specific markers relevant to
CALD communities being included in the broad analysis on domestic and family
violence'. GSANZ and inTouch also reflected that these markers are 'often missing from
risk assessment tools'.
In its submission, Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA) discussed a study by the
ACHRH which compared family violence in South Asian families to that
experienced in Middle-Eastern families. The study found that 50 per cent of the
South Asian cases 'demonstrated dowry-related violence and associated financial
extortion', compared with none of the Middle‑Eastern victims of family
violence in the study being subjected to dowry abuse.
Another study by a South East Melbourne organisation, Shakti, found that
40 per cent of family violence service providers participating in the
study had identified instances of forced marriage and dowry abuse. Shakti attributed this number to either of the following explanations:
- women affected by these two types of abuse were not
reaching out to agencies or services, or
- even if women were reaching out, these
culturally-specific forms of abuse were not being assessed or discovered by the
agencies or services.
ASA also referred to several media reports which 'highlight research
gaps, and the complexity and seriousness of dowry abuse in Australia and its
impact predominantly on women from CALD communities'.
ASA therefore suggested that 'broader research must be undertaken in
order to develop a deep and nuanced understanding of this complex form of
family violence and its prevalence in Australia'. ASA proffered that consultation through community groups or forums 'will
provide a firm evidence base from which to develop further protections,
education, awareness raising campaigns and training for frontline workers'.
Specifically ASA recommended that the Australian government:
...enters into a consultation process with government agencies
and community organisations on the practice of dowry and dowry abuse in order
- establish a clear evidence base on the availability of
existing legal protections, and
- make recommendations about any necessary amendments to
ensure that those who are at risk of, or experiencing, dowry abuse have access
In its submission, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of
Psychiatrists (RANZCP) advocated for '[a] central repository of data on dowry
abuse' which 'could be informed by data from support services', such as NGOs
and government services, and the law and justice system.
The RANZCP stated that '[t]his measure would require a whole‑of‑government
approach', which 'should align with the Australian Bureau of Statistics
Standards for Statistics for Cultural and Language Diversity' that 'identify,
define and classify particular attributes that relate to those from a [diverse]
cultural and linguistic background'.
The RANZCP also referred to the recently-established Victorian Family Violence Data Portal, which
was developed as a result of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family
Violence (Royal Commission). Recommendation 205 of the Royal Commission required:
The Crime Statistics Agency maintain and develop the
Victorian Family Violence Database and consider what additional data sets
should be incorporated in the database, how links between all relevant data
sets can be created, and how the database can otherwise be developed [within
The Family Violence Data Portal provides access to:
...an updated set of Family Violence Database dashboards
containing interactive visualisations of key measures of family violence,
detailed Excel data tables with these key measures available to download and
explanatory materials and definitions for the information in these pages.
ASA also discussed the establishment of a new framework for data
collection, and recommended that the Australian government:
...strengthen governance of data collection practices and
standards by implementing a system to capture and measure the extent and
incidence of all forms of family violence including dowry abuse in Australia.
For this system, we suggest that relevant statistics and data be collected from
legal, health, community, migration and justice systems on the following:
- reporting rates for instances of dowry abuse and the
nature of that abuse;
- demographics, including the migration status of victims
of dowry abuse and their dependents;
- details of the perpetrators of dowry abuse, including the
migration status of perpetrators and their relationship to the victims of dowry
- the number of affected women and dependents presenting to
health services as a result of violence arising from dowry abuse.
The committee acknowledges that there is a lack of understanding about
the prevalence of dowry abuse in Australia, which in turn has prevented
governments and NGOs from adequately responding to this issue so as to reduce
the incidence and protect victims of dowry abuse. The committee considers that
a continued failure to understand and address dowry abuse in Australia in
unacceptable, as this will result in further preventable deaths and incidents
of family violence in migrant communities.
The committee considers that, in addition to the proposed legislative
changes recommended in preceding chapters, it is important for organisations
that engage with victims of domestic and family violence from CALD
communities—especially those that are the first point of contact—to understand culturally‑specific
forms of domestic and family violence.
These organisations should also be able to protect these victims in a
culturally-sensitive way, or where they cannot do so, direct the victim to
organisations that can provide such services.
The committee therefore considers that the Australian government should,
together with state and territory governments, work with CALD communities in
order to determine ways in which to establish a firm evidence base on the incidence
of dowry abuse.
This will allow governments to develop further protection, education,
awareness raising campaigns and training for frontline workers and community
organisations with respect to the issue of dowry abuse. Further, it will assist
government in determining whether legislative amendments—additional to those
recommended in preceding chapters—are necessary to help prevent dowry abuse and
ensure victims are provided with appropriate legal protection.
The committee recommends that the Australian government, together with state
and territory governments, work with culturally and linguistically diverse
communities and service providers in order to determine ways in which to
establish a firm evidence base on the incidence of dowry abuse.
The committee also considers that the Australian government must
strengthen the governance of data collection practices and standards by
implementing a system to capture and measure the extent and incidence of all
forms of family violence in Australia, including dowry abuse as a form of
The committee agrees with ASA that relevant statistics and data must be
collected from legal, health, community, migration and justice systems on:
- reporting rates for instances of dowry abuse and the nature of
- demographics, including the migration status of victims of dowry
abuse and their dependents;
- details of the perpetrators of dowry abuse, including the
migration status of perpetrators and their relationship to the victims of dowry
- the number of affected women and dependents presenting to health
services as a result of violence arising from dowry abuse.
The committee recommends that the Australian government work with the
States and Territories to improve and strengthen the governance of data
collection practices and standards by implementing a system to capture and
measure the extent and incidence of all forms of family violence in Australia,
including dowry abuse as a form of economic abuse.
Raising awareness of dowry abuse
Many submitters and witnesses advocated for further education and training
with respect to dowry abuse. The push for awareness of dowry abuse covered
three broad areas: education on Australian law; education on dowry abuse; and
training for frontline workers.
Education on Australian law
In its submission, the Department of Social Services (DSS) informed the
committee that humanitarian entrants are 'provided with information on
Australian Law in relation to marriage in orientation training both before and
after their arrival in Australia'.
Refugee and Special Humanitarian Program entrants over the age of five
years old are provided with the Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) Program
prior to departure for Australia:
AUSCO gives practical advice about Australian Law, including
- forcing anybody to get married is
a serious crime in Australia;
- a person must agree to the
marriage without being forced or tricked;
- an arranged marriage, where both
people freely consent to get married, is different to a forced marriage.
Arranged marriages are legal in Australia;
it is illegal to take or send
someone to another country for forced marriage or get someone else to organise
giving dowries is not a customary
practice in Australia; and
there are culturally sensitive
services in Australia that can help.
Where relevant, AUSCO trainers also create group discussions
on dowries and discuss the topic through a session on 'Unacceptable vs
acceptable practices in Australia'.
Further orientation on Australian law is provided upon arrival to
Australia, including that:
- participants are aware all people
are equal under the law in Australia;
- participants are aware of the
basic freedoms that underpin Australian law;
- participants know what constitutes
domestic violence and child abuse under Australian Law;
- participants know the rights of
women and children in Australia;
- participants know the role of
police and legal services; and
- participants can contact police
and legal services if needed.
People coming to Australia may also access a Family Safety Pack, which
'includes information about Australia's laws regarding domestic and family
violence, sexual assault and forced marriage, including messaging that women
have the same rights as men'. This pack, containing 'factsheets about domestic and family violence, sexual
assault, forced and early marriage', has been translated into 46 languages, and
is also available on the DSS website. The pack 'is a key initiative of the Second Action Plan of the National Plan to
Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022'.
DSS also informed the committee that other resources are available in a
number of languages which 'include information about Australia's laws, way of
life and values'.
In its submission, White Ribbon Australia suggested that more attention
could be paid to primary prevention of dowry abuse by '[e]nsuring that the
Pre-departure Safety Packs are given to all women and men applying for [a] visa
and these...include information on dowry abuse being against the law'.
Mrs Sunila Kotwal of White Ribbon Australia elaborated on this in her
evidence to the committee, suggesting that the packs could 'include information
on dowry abuse being against the law and information about the support
available for visa categories'. Mrs Kotwal considered that this information could be provided to 'new migrants,
including international students'.
The ACHRH informed the committee that their findings have indicated that
'ethnic women do not know their rights, ways and means of accessing legal
help', and therefore recommended community-based education and
awareness-raising post‑arrival and on an ongoing basis, which would be
'[i]mplemented by local community organizations [sic], supported and funded by
This, and similar recommendations were reflected in a number of other
For example, the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia
recommended that the Australian government:
...allocate resources and funding towards free, culturally
appropriate community education regarding the protections available under the
Australian family law system and the Australian migration system for women on
temporary and permanent visas.
As the following exchange from the committee's hearing in Sydney on 30
November 2018 illustrates, one suggestion from Ms Kaur was for women to be
provided information on Australian law at their health check prior to
travelling to Australia:
Senator IAN MACDONALD: With your organisation or other
people we're going to see, do you have in your mind that there's a booklet, a
pamphlet or several pamphlets that you could give to everyone? The woman's
would-be husband wouldn't be annoyed at her getting this if it was just done as
a matter of course and as a very ordinary thing where, when you are coming to
Australia, you get a booklet that tells you.
Ms Kaur: Ideally, one of the recommendations was that, when
the spouse visa holders are undertaking their medical and all of their
paperwork with the Australian Embassy, information that has already been
translated by the federal government is actually given to the woman. That
information is not withheld or given to the husband. The husband always has all
of the immigration information from the department around the spouse visa
status. There's a lot of that control that happens at the beginning where the
women don't know.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: How do you make sure that it goes to
Ms Kaur: She has to do the medical. She has to do that.
That's what I'm thinking. That's an opportunity just to give information.
Education on dowry abuse
As discussed in chapters 3–5, 'dowry abuse' is not referred to as a form
of domestic or family violence in Commonwealth criminal, family and migration
laws. As set out in those chapters, the committee received evidence that a reference
to dowry abuse as an example of economic abuse, itself a form of family
violence, would help create an understanding in the community that dowry abuse
is a form of family violence and is therefore prohibited.
In her submission, Ms Naomi Selvaratnam 'strongly' recommended community
education on dowry abuse, as, '[w]ithout open acknowledgement of the issue, it
will continue to spread throughout migrant communities in Australia'. Ms Selvaratnam proffered that 'a central part of this is dealing directly
with leaders and the broader community to ensure that they aren’t simply
sweeping this issue under the rug'.
A number of other submitters and witnesses also recommended that the
community is educated on the issue of dowry abuse, in order to prevent its occurrence
Indeed, as Ms Michal Morris of inTouch Multicultural Centre Against
Family Violence stated, '[t]he most powerful way to stop really bad forms of
violence is to get in as early as possible and to educate', noting that:
...prevention, education and explanation of the connection with
economic abuse as a form of family violence are the levers we can use that can
empower and engage these women who are experiencing this to recognise the
behaviour, as is providing an opportunity for lots of the services on the
ground—from formal service providers like Good Shepherd Australia and us, who
can help these women, to local community organisations—to provide education,
prevention and support.
Training of frontline workers
A number of submitters and witnesses also recommended training frontline
officials on the occurrence of dowry abuse as a form of family violence.
In their submission, DSS noted that '[m]any frontline workers may not
recognise dowry abuse as the reason for presentation at a service' in
circumstances where the person seeking assistance fails to 'articulate this
directly or where the focus is on immediate needs such as safety and
Ms Selvaratnam described the experience of women who raised the issue of
dowry abuse with police in her submission:
Most of the women I spoke to while researching this issue
noted that when they experienced abuse and approached the police, many officers
didn’t know what a dowry was, and it led to further confusion. In some cases,
the police would dismiss the woman's complaints as a 'property dispute' and
failed to recognise that it was symptomatic of abuse.
The safe steps Family Violence Response Centre advocated for mandatory
training for 'family violence services, universal services and institutions
(including police)' which should:
...promote a nuanced understanding of the different types of
dowry practice among different cultures, alert services to the barriers for
women in reporting dowry abuse (language, shame and honour, uncertain/temporary
visa status) and be informed and ideally delivered by people from relevant
In its submission, the Indian (Sub-Continent) Crisis & Support
Agency (ICSA) informed the committee that, since 2015, it has run 'training and awareness sessions with local
Police, frontline services and workers'. ICSA noted that the training arose as a result of evidence from case management
that there 'was a lack of knowledge and awareness of the subject in [domestic
and family violence] matters and what impact it had on decisions made by
perpetrators and victims'. ICSA informed the committee that, aside from the references and materials it
produces, it is 'unaware of any formal training' of these frontline services on
In addition to suggesting cultural competence training for police
officers, who are often the first point of contact for victims of dowry abuse,
the Legal Services Commission of South Australia also recommended that judicial
officers 'be provided cultural competency training to appreciate the various
cultures and their practices and to have a better understanding of the dynamics
of this form of family violence'.
As noted in chapter 4, the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench
Book 'is available to all judicial officers across Australia', and all Family
Court and Family Circuit Court judges have 'been trained in the contents of
that bench book through judicial training', sponsored by the Attorney-General's
Some submitters also discussed educating frontline services on the
intersection between dowry abuse, slavery and slavery-like offences, discussed
in chapter 3. For example, ASA recommended that the Australian government:
...include dowry abuse as a possible indicator of exploitation
for the purposes of divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth)
and ensure that this is included in any training programs.
In its submission, the ACHRH also referred to the requirement for
education of 'relevant authorities' in order to 'enhance identification and
referral of trafficking and slavery offences when they occur within a domestic
setting/familial relationship'. The ACHRH suggested such education 'include recognition that situations akin to
human trafficking, forced labour, domestic servitude and other offences under
the Commonwealth legislation occur within the context of partner migration'.
In its submission, the RANZCP identified the need for further training
of health professionals, recommending the availability of further training and
support in order to build the knowledge of these frontline workers in the
- Understanding and assessing family
violence, acknowledging that rarely does one form of family violence occur in
isolation of others, including dowry abuse, and that dowry abuse may be a marker
of a complex negative family dynamic, or possibly intergenerational/cultural
- Providing trauma-informed and
culturally competent care when working with CALD women who may have experienced
- The importance of referrals and
adequate safety and support mechanisms in relation to assessing abuse or family
Indeed, Dr Kym Jenkins of the RANZCP informed the committee that '[t]he
first point of contact [of abuse victims] may be with primary health
professionals', and for this reason it is important to educate and work with general
practitioners and community staff in order 'to
help them recognise or even increase awareness' that dowry abuse may be
In its submission, DSS informed the committee about the development of new
training for frontline workers:
In 2018–19, Lifeline Australia will research and develop new
specialised DV-alert training to build the knowledge and capacity of frontline
workers to effectively recognise, respond and appropriately refer people
experiencing, or at risk of, complex forms of domestic and family violence.
Specifically, this training will address forced marriage, female genital
mutilation, dowry abuse and human trafficking/slavery (domestic servitude).
DV-alert provides training and awareness programs nationally
to help health, allied health and community frontline workers recognise and
respond to domestic and family violence and refer people to the most
appropriate support services. DV-alert is a free, nationally accredited
training package and has been delivered by Lifeline Australia since 2007.
In relation to training of officials in the Department of Home Affairs (DHA),
the Immigration Advice & Rights Centre recommended 'that decision makers
should receive appropriate and regular training on family violence'.
The committee was informed by DHA that an action plan exists to strengthen
the department's ability to deliver information on domestic and family
We have developed a domestic and family violence strategy
under which sits the domestic family violence action plan. It focuses precisely
on raising awareness of family violence and embedding the processes and policy
changes and legislative changes that have been made in the information but also
upskilling our staff so that they are also aware of where they need to be
providing the information and making sure applicants are getting this
information. An incredibly important aspect when people migrate to Australia is
their awareness of the legal operating context and also what their rights are
and also the provisions that we have under the Migration Act which offer
protections. So we are alive to the importance of information exchange and
The committee recognises that dowry abuse affects women on a wide range
of visa categories and accepts that the Australian government needs to do more
to ensure that people who come to Australia on temporary or permanent visas are
better educated on Australian laws, including the prohibition of family
violence, such as dowry abuse.
The committee considers that one way to engage individually with women,
who are more likely to experience dowry abuse, is to inform women who apply for
a visa to come to Australia about their rights under Australian law during
their routine medical examination. It is important that these women are personally
provided with this information, rather than through their families or partners,
and that it is provided in their first language.
The committee recommends the Department of Social Services Family Safety
Pack is provided individually to all visa applicants in their first language,
such as during the health examination required as a condition of their visa application.
While the committee acknowledges that there is training and resources
available to frontline workers on family violence—including dowry abuse as a
form of economic abuse—the committee accepts the evidence that more training is
required for these frontline workers.
The committee considers that proposed changes to legislation must be
accompanied by public discussion and community education if we are to prevent
dowry abuse in Australia. The committee considers that the Australian
government, together with state and territory governments, should engage with
stakeholders in order to fund and develop ongoing education and awareness
raising campaigns about family violence, including dowry abuse, in conjunction
with the development of further training of frontline officers.
Training on dowry abuse (and other forms of economic abuse) should be
delivered to all professionals who are likely to interact with victims of
family violence, including social workers, police, doctors, judges and decision
makers in DHA. This training should include the fact that dowry abuse may be a
possible indicator of exploitation for the purposes of divisions 270 and 271 of
the Criminal Code Act 1995.
The committee recommends that the Australian, state and territory governments
engage with stakeholders in order to develop ongoing education and awareness
raising campaigns about family violence, including dowry abuse, in conjunction
with the development of further training of frontline professionals including
social workers, police, doctors, judges and decision makers in the Department
of Home Affairs.
The committee recommends that the Australian government include dowry
abuse as a possible indicator of exploitation for the purposes of divisions 270
and 271 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 and ensure that this is included
in any training programs.
Senator Louise Pratt
Australian Labor Party
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