First national study into migrant and refugee women reveals diversity of experiences

One in three refugee and migrant women living in Australia have experienced some form of domestic and family violence, with nearly a quarter reporting this increased in severity during COVID-19 lockdowns last year, a first-of-its-kind study has revealed.

Led by researchers from Monash University’s Migration and Inclusion Centre (MMIC) and Harmony Alliance, the Migrant and Refugee Women in Australia: The Safety and Security Study report, released today, reveals the experiences and needs of women across Australia’s diverse migrant and refugee communities.

The report draws on survey responses from almost 1,400 migrant and refugee women across Australia, providing a unique snapshot of a sample of women across Australia.

It’s the first national study to capture the diversity of migrant and refugee women, including residency / visa status, and to examine controlling behaviours related to the visa and migration status of women.

It also asked broader questions pertaining to women’s safety and security, including trust in police and institutions, experiences of general victimisation, and employment and financial security before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study was split into key themes, and found:

  • Domestic and family violence
    • 91 per cent of respondents reported experiencing controlling behaviours
    • 42 per cent experienced physical or sexual violence
    • Perpetrators were most often identified as the current or former partner, however many reported multiple perpetrators, predominantly extended family and family-in-law
    • Temporary visa holders reported higher levels of domestic and family violence and reported much higher levels of migration-related abuse and threats
  • Trust in institutions
    • While many respondents identified as being affiliated with a religion and that their faith was important, there was a consistently low level of trust in religious institutions across all age levels, most particularly for those aged 18-29
  • Victimisation
    • Of those who reported an experience of general victimisation (specifically burglary, theft, threatening behaviour or property damage) nearly 40 per cent believed this victimisation was motivated by ethno-racial prejudice
  • Employment and financial security
    • 10 per cent lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic
  • Police 
    • Positive perceptions of police were more prominent among older participants and those from North Africa and the Middle East and less likely among those with tertiary education qualifications
    • Women who had experienced domestic and family violence and general victimisation viewed the police as less procedurally just and fair than the rest of the sample

In relation to domestic and family violence, researchers said the findings revealed the need for the inclusion of migration status and other forms of harm, such as financial abuse linked to a marriage-related payment, to inform more expansive understandings of how power can be leveraged by perpetrators, including via migration law and policy.

“The higher reported levels of domestic and family violence among temporary visa holders in this study attests to this,” Associate Professor Marie Segrave, lead author, said.

“Understanding where and how power is exerted is key to establishing a more holistic view of where reform for women’s safety is needed, and where safety nets and systems can be redeveloped to protect women and disempower perpetrators.”

MMIC Director and report co-author Professor Rebecca Wickes said the report’s findings affirm the need to ask specific questions about migrant and refugee women’s experiences, as well as consider the diversity of identity and circumstances of the group.

“This research offers key insights to build a more nuanced understanding of the diversity of migrant and refugee women’s experiences and its findings can be used to inform policy and other measures that may best support migrant and refugee women into the future,” she said.

“Across residency / visa status, religious affiliation and age group, we need to carefully explore these women’s experiences and perspectives, and tailor efforts to improve their lives.

“As Australia moves towards a vaccination strategy and a post-COVID-19 national recovery, it has been recognised that women have been impacted the hardest. Our findings also demonstrate that we need to attend to those most impacted such as young people and temporary visa holders.”

Migrant and Refugee Women in Australia: The Safety and Security Study will be officially launched at the National Press Club today at 12.30pm AEST, in a special address by Harmony Alliance Chair Nyadol Nyuon. To find out more about the study, click here.