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CALD, migrant and refugee experiences of violence

  • Culture includes a person’s beliefs, values, customs and religious practices and can affect how a person thinks and behaves
  • However, it is important to remember that belonging to a certain culture does not always mean following all its beliefs and traditions
  • People from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds experiencing violence face complex issues when trying to access services
  • To provide services that put safety first, support workers must develop cultural understanding

Understanding barriers to support

There can be many barriers for women from CALD backgrounds when trying to access support services, including:

  • Language
  • Discrimination
  • Issues around settlement and immigration
  • Pre-migration history of torture and trauma
  • Lack of family and community support
  • Fear of authorities, as well as a lack of understanding of systems and laws that can provide support and protection

Effective cross-cultural communication can assist in breaking down some of these barriers and increasing access and safety for clients.

Respect for an individual’s culture, including acknowledgement of values and belief systems, while recognising the strengths people from CALD backgrounds demonstrate are also essential. Providing options through information and support while reinforcing the unacceptability of violence are all important to increasing the safety and wellbeing of people from CALD backgrounds who are experiencing violence.

Understanding CALD worldviews

A worldview is how we understand and make sense of the world around us. It includes beliefs and value systems. 

Understanding the worldview of a person from a CALD background is crucial, because it informs the decisions they make for themselves and their family in relation to experiences of domestic and family violence. Often people from CALD backgrounds are afraid to talk about their situation to family and friends or to contact a support service. This may be because of feelings of shame or discomfort around the topic of reporting abuse. There may also be fear of being cast out by friends, family or the community.

It is important to provide information around the different forms of domestic and family violence and make clear it is a violation of human rights. It is also important to understand how culture, traditions and social norms can frame these issues and contribute to the challenges that women face. There are several key areas that help frame a worldview for CALD women. Three of the most important are pre-migration experience, settlement experience and cultural context.

Understanding CALD experiences of sexual violence

People from CALD communities might hold different perspectives on what sexual violence is. Culture may also play a role in how a person who has experienced sexual violence understands the experience.

Responding to a disclosure of sexual violence by someone from a CALD background requires an understanding of the issues surrounding their experience. Reporting sexual violence is daunting for anyone who has experienced it, for people from CALD backgrounds there are an increased number of risks and considerations to be aware of.

Listening without judgement and not making any assumptions about the woman’s experience are essential skills when providing support.

There are a number of factors that will influence a person’s experience of assault, including:

  • Age and developmental stage of the person experiencing violence
  • Severity and pervasiveness of the violence experienced
  • Timeframe of assaults
  • Presence or lack of a protective or responsive significant other
  • Social and family perspectives on sexual assault
  • Previous trauma
  • Cognitive and emotional capacity of the person experiencing violence
  • Capacity and knowledge of the right to seek legal support

All of these factors can influence how a woman from a CALD background might disclose. To ensure appropriate support is given, the understanding and skills of the service need to support safe disclosure. As a support worker you have an opportunity to address barriers for people from CALD backgrounds in accessing their rights and options.

Responding to CALD, migrant and refugee experiences of violence

  • Responding effectively to sexual, domestic and family violence in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities requires cultural competence
  • The best way to learn how to respond in a culturally competent way is with training
  • If you don't respond to sexual, domestic or family violence often, our Introduction to responding page is a good place to start


inTouch offers a range of opportunities for professionals, volunteers and community members to develop their understanding and skills in working with culturally and linguistically diverse women and families experiencing family violence.

Focus areas include:

  • Introduction to family violence in multicultural communities
  • Family violence in CALD communities: identification, response  & referral
  • Family Violence in CALD communities: culturally responsive practice
  • Family Violence Prevention in Multicultural Communities
  • Working with children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (based on The Empty Jar resource kit)

For more information see the inTouch website.

Cultural competence

Cultural competence is the ability to interact effectively with people from different cultures. The general principles of cultural competence are:

  • Respect and appreciation of cultural diversity
  • Cultural awareness
  • Social justice
  • Entitlements and human rights
  • Equality and equity

When supporting someone from a CALD community, never view the person or the violence only in terms of their cultural background. Culture is never an excuse for violence.

Cross-cultural communication and engagement

Cross-cultural communication and engagement skills are a set of skills that facilitate communication across different cultural perspectives. It aims to make sure that messages, concepts and information can be heard, understood and respected.

Good cross-cultural communication is important because frontline workers might only have one or two windows of opportunity to engage and support clients with disclosures, information and referral.

Skills in cross-cultural communication and engagement can assist in breaking down barriers and increasing access and safety for clients. Approaches to assisting CALD women are culturally responsive when they recognise people’s unique experiences and provide for diverse needs and circumstances.

While cultures are not static and are constantly changing, there are common elements on which workers may build a foundation of cultural awareness. In addition to the use of interpreters and translated materials the following cross-cultural communication tools offer insight into some practical engagement strategies: Understanding worldviews, and Talking about the system.

The inTouch website contains a range of resources for workers and professionals supporting people from CALD backgrounds who have experienced sexual, domestic and family violence.

Human rights framework

The Human Rights Framework for Improving Service Delivery to CALD Women looks at cultural competence and the rights of CALD women and their children to be safe from sexual assault, domestic and family violence.

The document is set out to provide managers with information and ideas on how to improve practice. A support worker may also use the Implementation Tools even before organisational change has taken place.

Download the Human Rights Framework for Improving Service Delivery to CALD Women

Cultural competence when working with CALD communities

25 NOV 2015

The window of opportunity

This video shows how a worker might use cross-cultural communication and engagements skills when a woman arrives at a community centre seeking support.

Window of opportunity: Cultural understanding

13 NOV 2014

Talking about the system with people from CALD, migrant and refugee backgrounds

  • For people from CALD backgrounds, seeking support can be a daunting experience, made more difficult by language and cultural gaps
  • Where necessary, support workers need to take the time clearly explain to people from CALD backgrounds what services exist, how they operate and how they can assist
  • You can search our Services directory for specialist CALD services that can provide support

Issues to be aware of when talking about the system

Legal, social and other support services can vary greatly between countries, which can lead to confusion for people who have settled in Australia. Experiences with authority figures in another country may make people from CALD backgrounds reluctant to involve the police or state services after migration for fear of making things worse.

For some people, taking action to end violence may affect other members of their family, even those overseas. Support workers need to keep these things in mind when supporting people from CALD backgrounds and talking about how the Australian service systems work.

Increasing safety

When talking about how the system works, it is also important to:

  • Reinforce that everyone in Australia has a right to feel safe in their home
  • Reinforce that there are laws designed to protect people
  • Communicate that violence and abuse is more than just physically hurting someone – it is also things like calling someone names, forcing them to have sex (including if they are married) and controlling all of the family’s finances
  • Ensure the right to interpreters

Ongoing support

It's important to understand that a person from a CALD background might not have a strong support network nearby. Sometimes most of their friends and family are overseas. Referral to ongoing support is crucial. It may take time for someone to gain the confidence to continue using services. The reasons for this might include them not having experience in making these kinds of decisions as well as the challenges of accessing a complex system.

It is important to keep these things in mind when recommending ongoing support:

  • The person might be overwhelmed and confused about the various support services available — take the time to explain the service as well as what they can and can't do
  • Support from the community service sector is free
  • Support is confidential (if necessary, explain what this means)
  • Simply providing referrals might not be enough due to hesitation in approaching services
  • Concepts and language used such as 'risk', 'threat' and 'violence' might mean different things to your client

Talking about confidentiality

Confidentiality practices in the service sector often require explanation. One of the reasons people from CALD backgrounds may not seek support for domestic and family violence is their concern that everyone in their community will find out.

Talking through the following points may reassure the person you are supporting:

  • What confidentiality means and the laws that exist to protect a person's privacy
  • The Privacy Act and how it works
  • That each person has control over what information can be shared through 'consent to release information'.
  • That all services have a legal duty of care to their clients that must be met

Explaining the system where necessary assists people from CALD backgrounds experiencing violence to understand what their rights and options are. This means that they can make informed choices to increase the safety of themselves and their children.