Addressing the unique needs of immigrant women facing domestic violence

By Sheldon Spackman
April 14, 2018 - 3:48pm

Representatives from nearly three dozen local organizations attended the release of a Domestic Violence Report to the Community event held at the Pidherney Curling Centre in Red Deer on Friday.

Hosted by the Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association, Women’s Economic Security & Research Program Coordinator Tabitha Phiri says the event unveiled results from three years of research.

“We had a forum in November to report to people what we found in our research regarding domestic violence in immigrant families,” explains Phiri. “So people gave us some feedback on what they think needs to be changed in order to meet the needs of immigrants to address domestic violence. Today we are bringing people together and bring back the strategies that we think can be utilized in central Alberta to address domestic violence.”

Phiri says the last three years of research has shown them that immigrant families face certain issues that can make domestic violence even worse than what often happens in non-immigrant families.

“Those things include the language barrier, the inability to speak the local language and also fear of just approaching the locals to talk to them about domestic violence,” Phiri explains. “The other biggest challenge that immigrant women are facing is that spouses will use their immigrant status to threaten them that if they report it, they will be deported. So that makes it difficult for them and they keep silent.”

Phiri points out the fear of having their children taken away from them is another reason why many immigrant women dealing with domestic violence do not come forward to report it.

“The officers will try to use children as interpreters between mom and law enforcement but immigrants feel uncomfortable because of that,” Phiri states. “Also, sometimes the message that goes between the child and the officer and the child and the parents may be not the right message. Parents will be telling the children what they need to say and then the child will say something that is not and then the officer just believes there is nothing going on.”

Understanding the cultural backgrounds of immigrant families is another area local service providers often struggle with according to Phiri.

“Sometimes when they’re explaining about domestic violence with immigrants, they don’t think hitting your spouse is actually domestic violence but they take it as correction,” says Phiri. “This, we heard from almost the majority of the groups we’re talking to, they think it’s correcting. So just correcting your spouse, is just like you can correct your own child, which here in Canada, we see it as domestic violence.”

Phiri adds that many immigrants use their families as their source of support but once they’re here in Canada, they find it difficult to go outside of their family to seek help and support.

“For them to go to another person and tell them about what’s going on, it’s not very easy for them,” says Phiri. “The majority of immigrants come from backgrounds where marriage is intact, so they think that if they seek help, they’ll be told to divorce right away, so they try to strive in those relationships and keep quiet and keep silent.”

Phiri says the plan now is to reach out to local service providers and offer them their findings so they can work on implementing culturally competent services for immigrant families.

“There has to be a bridge that’s going to be built between us and the immigrants so that they learn to trust us,” states Phiri. “Depending on how long they’ve lived in Canada, some of them are beginning to approach service providers but some service providers are saying they don’t have immigrants come or they come once and then don’t come at all.”

Phiri says the bottom line is that we as a community need to reach out to immigrants so we can better understand their issues and backgrounds and offer much improved help and support.

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