Hope is a powerful motivator; it inspires, strengthens and emboldens. It is hope which gives people the courage to leave their home country and seek a new life in Australia. Hope which quiets the fears that arise at the thought of travelling across the world and leaving behind all you have known. With hope, anything is possible. Hope gives us wings.
Imagine what it would be like to have that hope crushed and instead of the great future you believed was awaiting, you are socially isolated, emotionally and physically abused, and threatened with deportation if you seek help or escape. Even if you found the courage to seek help, you can’t speak, read or understand the language of your new home, and you’re unable to share your story. Or imagine if, when you did find someone who understood you, they didn’t believe you because you are a woman.
For woman of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds who are experiencing domestic violence and are living in Australia under a Spousal Visa where residency is granted to them through their husband, this can be their reality.
Farhana is one such woman. She had a dream of life beyond her native Bangladesh with her first born child and husband. Together they planned with enthusiasm for a future in Australia.. For a time, the dream seemed to work, and they had a second child together in Australia. Sadly, the dream didn’t last and Farhana, in Australia on a Spousal Visa and without a support network of her own, found herself living in the nightmare of domestic violence.
Farhana was in a desperate situation when she first came to BaptistCare HopeStreet’s Supported Accommodation for women and children experiencing violence. Forced to escape her violent husband, Farhana had been living in emergency accommodation at a local women’s refuge with her two young children. For a time, this was a safe place for them until her husband found out where she was and tried to get to her. Farhana was petrified at what he would do. Before then, he had stabbed her and raped her. He could have killed her.
At BaptistCare, Farhana was given a safe home and the longer term accommodation needed for her and her children to begin to rebuild their lives. Even then, and for the next 12 months, her husband continued to be a threat.
“It was an incredibly worrying time for everyone. We all believed that he would have killed Farhana if given the chance,” said Lesley Robson, Manager of BaptistCare HopeStreet Supported Accommodation.
Unlike many women from CALD backgrounds, Farhana was eligible for a special Centrelink payment because her second child had been born in Australia and had citizenship. Without this, Farhana and her children would have had been ineligible for support payments and would have been refused help from any Government-run refuge. This payment gave Farhana some financial independence as she worked towards dissolving her ties with the man who had abused her.
BaptistCare HopeStreet was able to assist Farhana with completing her Independent Visa application, a subclass visa which is open to women with a background of ‘proven domestic violence’. The team also assisted with family law and divorce proceedings, as well as supporting Farhana and her children through counselling services and building connections with their community.
For women who come from CALD backgrounds there are a number of additional challenges beyond those which Australian-born women leaving a domestic violence situation have. A critical difference is the language barrier. In order to give them a voice, help them fill out complex forms, file police reports, and take those first steps towards freedom, they will need an interpreter who can speak and listen for them. BaptistCare HopeStreet is careful to ensure that interpreter services are engaged from the start.
BaptistCare HopeStreet also provides help with access to English conversation classes and TAFE, where they can enrol on a course called ‘Skilled and Smart’ and is free for women who have experienced domestic violence. Of critical importance to the support given is building a sense of community and developing support networks for women from CALD backgrounds.
“The help we offer is just the first step of a much longer journey. When these families leave supported accommodation, they still need a lot of support. Where we can, we connect them with the ongoing support services they will need, but this may not always be possible. We want them to stay connected with each other and to build new support networks. Our ultimate goal is for them not to need us anymore,” said Lesley.
Farhana’s husband finally ‘disappeared from the scene’ after the divorce went through, and he has no contact with her or the children. Yet the repercussions have hit home back in Bangladesh, where there is now a rift between his and Farhana’s families.
“This is something we often hear of with women who come from CALD backgrounds. There is a tendency to side with the man and believe him above all else. There is deep shame for families when domestic violence occurs,” Lesley said.
“Thankfully for Farhana, she has not lost the support of her own family. Earlier damage has been repaired and they are supportive of her and thankful that she is safe. Her mother has even taken the opportunity to visit Australia, and their relationship is stronger than before,” Lesley shared.
Since leaving the supported accommodation, Farhana continues to connect with other women who have benefitted from the services offered by BaptistCare HopeStreet. Through their BoomerangClub these women, often with limited family and support networks, meet monthly for lunch and are united by their shared history and new hope.
Farhana and her first child have now been granted Permanent Residency in Australia; her hope is for them to become Australian citizens in the future so that the three of them can fully know the security of belonging to their adopted home.