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Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Policy reform

6.1        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 Australia.

Data collection

6.2        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[1] 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'.[2] Further, no comprehensive study into dowry abuse in Australia has been undertaken to date, and the available evidence on dowry abuse 'is largely anecdotal'.[3]

6.3        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'.[4]

6.4        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 organisations (NGOs)].[5]

6.5        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.[6]

6.6        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'.[7] 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.[8]

6.7        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 Indian communities.[9]

6.8        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'.[10]

6.9        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'.[11]

6.10      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'.[12]

6.11      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'.[13] GSANZ and inTouch also reflected that these markers are 'often missing from risk assessment tools'.[14]

6.12      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.[15]

6.13      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.[16] Shakti attributed this number to either of the following explanations:

  1. women affected by these two types of abuse were not reaching out to agencies or services, or
  2. even if women were reaching out, these culturally-specific forms of abuse were not being assessed or discovered by the agencies or services.[17]

6.14      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'.[18]

6.15      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'.[19] 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'.[20]

6.16      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 to:

  1. establish a clear evidence base on the availability of existing legal protections, and
  2. make recommendations about any necessary amendments to ensure that those who are at risk of, or experiencing, dowry abuse have access to protection.[21]

6.17      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.[22]

6.18      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'.[23]

6.19      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).[24] 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 18 months].[25]

6.20      The Family Violence Data Portal provides access to: 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.[26]

6.21      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:

  1. reporting rates for instances of dowry abuse and the nature of that abuse;
  2. demographics, including the migration status of victims of dowry abuse and their dependents;
  3. details of the perpetrators of dowry abuse, including the migration status of perpetrators and their relationship to the victims of dowry abuse; and
  4. the number of affected women and dependents presenting to health services as a result of violence arising from dowry abuse.[27]

Committee view

6.22      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.

6.23      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.

6.24      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.  

6.25      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.

6.26      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.

Recommendation 8

6.27      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. 

6.28      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 economic abuse.

6.29      The committee agrees with ASA that relevant statistics and data must be collected from legal, health, community, migration and justice systems on:

Recommendation 9

6.30      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

6.31      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

6.32      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'.[28]

6.33      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 that:

Where relevant, AUSCO trainers also create group discussions on dowries and discuss the topic through a session on 'Unacceptable vs acceptable practices in Australia'.[29]

6.34      Further orientation on Australian law is provided upon arrival to Australia,  including that:

6.35      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'.[31] 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.[32] 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'.[33]

6.36      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'.[34]

6.37      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'.[35]

6.38      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'.[36] Mrs Kotwal considered that this information could be provided to 'new migrants, including international students'.[37]

6.39      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 the Government'.[38]

6.40      This, and similar recommendations were reflected in a number of other submissions.[39]

6.41      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.[40]

6.42      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 the woman?

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.[41]

Education on dowry abuse

6.43      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.

6.44      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'.[42] 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'.[43]

6.45      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 in Australia.[44]

6.46      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.[45]

Training of frontline workers

6.47      A number of submitters and witnesses also recommended training frontline officials on the occurrence of dowry abuse as a form of family violence.[46]

6.48      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 wellbeing'.[47]

6.49      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.[48]

6.50      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 communities.[49]

6.51      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'.[50] 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'.[51] 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 dowry abuse.[52]

6.52      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'.[53]

6.53      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 Department.[54]

6.54      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.[55]

6.55      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'.[56] 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'.[57]

6.56      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 following areas:

6.57      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 happening.[59]

6.58      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.[60]

6.59      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'.[61]

6.60      The committee was informed by DHA that an action plan exists to strengthen the department's ability to deliver information on domestic and family violence:

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 communication.[62]

Committee view

6.61      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.

6.62      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.

Recommendation 10

6.63      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. 

6.64      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.

6.65      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.

6.66      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.

Recommendation 11

6.67      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.

Recommendation 12

6.68      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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