Domestic violence occurs in every community at similar rates. However, violence against immigrant women may look different because of the unique circumstances they are living in. Immigrant women also face more barriers to accessing support.
Violence against immigrant women is distinct in the following ways:
- The violence may include threatening to withdraw sponsorship
- She may be highly dependent on the abuser and isolated from others – especially if she has no friends, family or social or professional networks established in Canada
- She may be abused by someone other than her partner or in addition to her partner – such as a family member, a member of the community, someone who assisted her in immigrating to Ontario, a job recruiter or an employer
- If she is has migrated into a specific community that is tightly bound and isolated from outside contacts, this may impact her ability to access support or intervention. This is especially true if community members support the abuser or minimize or justify his violence. Remember: many small communities may support an abuser and fail to support the woman being abused. This is not unique to newcomer communities.
- In addition to living with domestic violence, immigrant women across Ontario may face discrimination on the basis of their immigration status. They also may face discrimination or profiling based on race, ethnicity, faith, language, ability, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and class
Myths & Facts About Violence Against Immigrant & Refugee Women: https://www.immigrantandrefugeenff.ca/infographics/myths-facts-about-against-immigrant-refugee-women
Barriers Faced by Immigrant & Refugee Women that Prevent them from Accessing Support:
Gaps in social services can prevent immigrant women from accessing support for domestic violence.
- Immigration Status
- If she does not have any immigration status in Canada (if she is “non-status”), she may be afraid to access services. Many services ask for proof of status. She may fear calling the police, because police may communicate her status to Canadian border services.
- Abusers may use immigration status to get power and control over the woman he abusing. For example, if he is sponsoring her to become a permanent resident, he may threaten to withdraw sponsorship. The immigration and refugee system in Canada is complicated and every situation is different. If a woman living with abuse is concerned about her status in Canada she should seek legal advice.
- She may not meet narrow qualifications to be eligible to access support services
- With guidelines within the immigration system related to sponsorship and Conditional Permanent Residence, she may feel that even if she is being abused, she must stay with her partner for 2 years, Note: This policy has been revoked as of April 28th, 2017. (https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/news/notices/elminating-conditional-pr.html)
- For more information on legal status and domestic violence, see: http://www.cleo.on.ca/en/publications/handbook/part-seven-next-steps
- Financial Barriers
- In Ontario, immigrant and refugee women are overrepresented in the lowest paying at least stable jobs. Many of these jobs have irregular hours, making it difficult to access language classes and other services.
- In Ontario, the cost of living is going up, particularly around the cost of market rent, childcare, transportation, and food.
- If an immigrant or refugee woman is living with abuse, she often cannot afford to leave. Ontario shelter workers have told us that women cite the cost of market rent as the #1 reason for not leaving an abuser. In different cities, there are affordable housing programs, but waitlists are long.
- She may not be able to afford the cost of transportation to services she requires
- Language Barriers
- Immigrant and refugee women often speak 2, 3, 4 or 5 languages. But English may be challenge for them.
- In some cases, the abusive partner may speak English, and be the one who interprets everything for her, making it difficult for her to have a conversation on her own.
- It can be challenging for women to find services in their own languages or to access interpreters to be able to get the services they need.
- She may face language barriers and there may not be language interpreters available when she tries to access services
- Racism and Discrimination
- Everyone in Canada is from an immigrant background, except for First Nations people.
- Not all immigrant and refugee women are racialized (i.e. Black, Indigenous, or women of colour), because many immigrants come from European countries.
- Immigrant and refugee women who are racialized may face racism when they seek support for domestic violence. They may face racism from front-line workers/staff.
- When domestic violence happens in racialized communities, too often their whole culture is blamed and stereotyped. In contrast, when domestic violence happens in white communities, it is treated as an individual problem.
- She may not have access to information about Canadian law
- She may encounter shelters that are full or that do not accommodate her and her children and do not respect her cultural beliefs and practices
Federal and Provincial legislation impact immigrant women living with violence and immigrant communities as a whole:
- OHIP Waiting Period: In Ontario, newcomers are not able to access health care for the first 3 months after arrival. This applies to economic and family class immigrants as well as Live-in Caregivers. Individuals who have refugee status on arrival, are in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program or have a full time work permit have access to OHIP without the 3 month wait.
- Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015: Bill C-51 gives increased power to Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and increased opportunities for suspicion of terrorism to result in arrest. The Bill also impacts the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in the case of security certificates that allow Canada to detain and deport permanent residents who are considered to be a security threat, without the need to disclose evidence.
- Bill S-7, Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act: This act impacts the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act, and the Criminal Code with a wide number of amendments, including on polygamy and consent to marriage. The language and focus of the act has been widely critiqued, including by OCASI, to perpetuate Islamophobia and xenophobia.
Power and Control Wheel – Violence Against Immigrant & Refugee Women
link to pdf
How to support newcomer woman living in abuse?
- SNCit: (link to the pdf
- BLUE SKY (link to pdf)
Newcomer Men: Unique Challenges and Considerations
(link to pdf)
You Are Listening To Me…..
I Feel You are Not Listening to Me When…
- I am told I have been understood before knowing me well enough.
- I get an answer for my problem before I have finished telling what my problem is or sharing my whole story.
- I am cut off before I have finished speaking.
- I feel criticized by comments about my grammar, accent, culture, or way of doing and saying things.
- I feel attention is diverted from my meeting to communicating with someone else in the room or over the phone (to the friend or someone else…)
- I am being waited on eagerly to tell me something or I am corrected right away.
- My details are being sorted out without being aware of the feelings behind the words.
- I am being told what I should do instead of asking me what I want or giving me information, options & suggestions.
- My thanks is not well recieved.
I Feel You are Listening to Me When…
- Efforts are made to understand me when I do not make sense.
- My point of view is grasped when it goes against any sincere conviction.
- I am not interrupted by any funny stories.
- I am given the dignity of making my own decisions.
- I am given enough information and understanding about my rights & about the supports available and I am given enough time to think for myself and make informed decision
- My gift of gratitude is accepted by telling me it was good to know I had been helped.
- Step away from blaming the culture; treat as individual problem
- Try to keep our own biases to self; stay open minded, open to learn something new, open to customize rather than being rigid; refrain from jumping into conclusions
- Make use of interpreter/translator services
- Reach out to other staff/organization who might have expertise/knowledge in dealing with I & R community
- Understand immigration process
- Make “cultural safety” training mandatory for all staff