Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Tackling family and domestic violence among refugee communities

Defence of FDV perpetrators at all cost by their victims: therapists’ advocacy and support for male perpetrators

Ernest Nnadigwe

Ernest Nnadigwe explains how the differences in culture and family dynamics as well as the lived realities of culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia can help us understand the phenomenon of family and domestic violence (FDV) victims defending their perpetrators, and what is needed to address it.

The Australian government historically opened its doors in 1976 for those who were either being persecuted, at risk of being persecuted or were experiencing wars in their home countries. With the refugee policy of Australia, Asians, Africans, Middle Easterners and people from other countries who met the eligibility criteria of the program have migrated to Australia over the years.

These migrants came with their languages, culture, religion and ways of life which are often at variance with Australian culture and laws. It is no secret this has acted as a hindrance to the successful settling of these migrants in Australia. The cultural differences cause cultural shock for the refugees. In addition to cultural shocks, there are pre-migration traumatic issues that migrant families battle with every day, which add to their difficulty settling in and putting down new roots. Due to these difficulties in most families, women get jobs before men or are eligible for financial support from Centrelink. Women in such families become the breadwinners for the family, necessitating a tense role reversal. In many typical African families, men are usually the breadwinners, while the women look after the children at home. However, in Australia when men cannot get jobs and women become breadwinners, effecting a role reversal, this leads to a sense that women are increasingly directing household affairs.

The role reversal, in addition to cultural shock and unaddressed pre-migration traumatic experiences, increases family conflicts. Neighbours and other family members usually settle family conflicts in Africa through the communal way of life being practised in Africa. However, in Australia with an isolated way of life, neighbours cannot intervene and settle conflicts in another family. Due to restricted involvement of neighbours in family conflicts in Australia, conflicts in refugee families quickly escalate to family and domestic violence (FDV) where men exercise control over their partners and family members.

Where women reported incidences of FDV, men have been removed from their families, causing serious family breakdowns. These family breakdowns caused many divorces, increasing the odds of children displaying anti-social behaviours including but not limited to mental health issues, substance addiction, gang violence, robbery, and so forth. Unfortunately, the community members have continued to blame these women who reported the incidences of FDV to the police. In addition to being blamed by the community members, these women lost all forms of respect in the community because of their actions in destroying their families. This contributes to a sense of further distress beyond the scourge of FDV itself.

Due to such consequences of reporting FDV to the police, most women victims of FDV of African descent will rather defend their perpetrators and make excuses for the perpetrators. Another reason why women FDV victims defend their perpetrators at all cost is because of financial security, especially where the woman affected is jobless and/or economically inactive.

A case study

Recently I was invited to settle a family dispute. This involved FDV that both the wife (the victim) and the husband would not ordinarily report formally. According to the details from the family, the wife, who was unemployed, discovered that the husband had been living a double life while deceiving her with lies. Each time the wife confronted him with his double life, he got very violent to stop her from mentioning it again. He would hit her to deter her. However, one day she was severely wounded in the presence of her daughter, and she called police. When the police came, the wife thought to herself that if she tells the truth, the husband will be locked up and lose his job. She also thought that if the husband loses his job, then she will not be able to pay for the daughter’s school fees in a private school, and worse still, she will not be able to sustain the family. With all these thoughts in her head, she decided to tell lies, defended the husband and presented a completely false story to explain her injuries. Although the daughter explained what she saw, the wife got two other adults to tell lies to corroborate her own. It became a situation of three adults against a child. The police had no option but to accept the version of the adults.

There are many other reasons why women defend FDV perpetrators at all cost; however, this article is limited in scope and content. I would therefore like to write about the therapists’ advocacy and support for male FDV perpetrators.

Therapists’ advocacy and support for male FDV perpetrators

In Africa and some other culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) communities, FDV is a private matter that should not be discussed in public. Many African males will not admit being an FDV perpetrator, especially in public. However, some men may readily admit having anger problems but not concede they are an FDV perpetrator. With this pattern in mind, it becomes a challenge to identify perpetrators in African communities. In consequence, handling FDV in African communities or advocating for male perpetrators in African communities requires utmost wisdom, knowledge of the culture, adequate knowledge of FDV and command of respect and trust from community members.

Women victims of FDV often approach us in Redeemed Care confidentially about FDV in the families. The women want men to stop behaving violently but without any family separation. Nearly 98 per cent of the women will not want their names to be mentioned because of their safety concerns. Using other reasons as a cover-up, the Redeemed Care counsellors and social workers usually go to the family and engage the man. With tact and wisdom, our professionals usually find a way to talk about his use of violence, offer him help or direct him to other services where he will get appropriate help.

Harnessing and using best practice

The Best Practice Principles for Interventions with Domestic and Family Violence Perpetrators from Refugee Backgrounds fills the gap in the fight against FDV in CaLD communities. Implementing these research findings will help minimise the issues of women defending their FDV perpetrators at all cost, minimise the resistance of men in FDV intervention programs and reduce the attrition rate. Making use of the 12 key elements in the research findings with the refugee perpetrators during FDV assessment, therapists will be able to build a therapeutic alliance and offer culturally sensitive counselling.

The potential benefits to the community in using this best practice is substantial, notably in working with young men to help them understand FDV and help them prevent violence long before they develop into adulthood. There are also potential gains in using best practice to engage regularly with men in the community on issues of healthy relationships.

Ernest Nnadigwe is the Director of Redeemed Care Inc and a Family and Domestic Violence practitioner consultant with over 12 years’ experience. He is of African descent and runs family and domestic violence training for CaLD communities. He is currently undertaking a PhD research in Family and Domestic Violence at The University of Western Australia.


UWA Public Policy Institute