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Crime Prevention for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities in Australia

By Natalie Loo

Australia is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse countries in the world, combining a multitude of cultures, religions, experiences and traditions with more than 300 ancestries (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2022). In 2013, almost half the Australian population was either born overseas or had at least one parent who was born overseas. Compared to ten years ago, the proportion of overseas-born residents has significantly increased (ABS, 2011; ABS, 2022). While migrants from the United Kingdom and New Zealand remain the largest groups of overseas-born Australian residents, the fastest-growing migrant population is predominantly from non-English speaking backgrounds (ABS, 2011; ABS, 2022). In these ten years, the countries of birth within Australia’s overseas-born population with the largest increases were India, China, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam. The residents born in a non-English-speaking country or whose parents were born in a non-English-speaking country are often termed Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD). In addition, over the 10 years leading up to December 2022, Australia received significant numbers of CALD arrivals through humanitarian intake programs, including refugees from Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq, constituting around 0.75% (180,073 refugees) of the global total of 23.99 million refugees recognised or resettled in that period (Refugee Council of Australia, 2023). 

As such, CALD migrants and refugees often encounter pre- and post-migration challenges while residing in Australia. Aside from resettlement difficulties, their adjustment experiences are typically complicated by cultural differences, barriers to services, language proficiency, assimilation stress, discrimination and previous adversities (Bartels, 2011). While not all migrants experience integration difficulties, the above examples can often lead to disenfranchisement, isolation and frustration (Bhat and Pithavadian, 2023). Australia’s prison population has shown an overrepresentation of Australian offenders born in Lebanon, New Zealand, Vietnam, Turkey, Romania, Fiji and Samoa (Baur, 2006). Similarly, in Victoria, young Sudanese and Pasifika Australians are overrepresented in the youth justice system (Centre for Multicultural Youth, 2014). Recent research also points to the higher rates of serious violent and drug-related offences for particular CALD groups (Carcach and Grant, 2000). Although these findings cannot be taken as evidence that people born in particular countries are at higher risk of engaging in criminal activities, it shows a correlation between immigration and crime within CALD communities. Over several decades, it has been identified that a combination of environmental and psychosocial risk factors such as community disintegration and isolation are associated with offending, and that migrant offending patterns are similarly underpinned by such dynamics. For this reason, CALD

communities have high risks of being subject to the criminal justice system owing to post-migratory obstacles that hinder meaningful community participation.


The Australian literature on CALD communities underlines a number of key socioeconomic and environmental challenges for CALD residents which impact on wellbeing and may increase the likelihood of involvement in crime. Despite minimal exploration, it is likely that many of the core risk factors for violence are similar across ethnicity and cultural groups as shown in research on Aboriginal offenders (Gutierrez et. al., 2013). However, the main three risk factors for criminal involvement among CALD communities are as outlined below: 

Risk factor 1: Inability to assimilate into the broader Australian culture while maintaining a sense of identification with their culture of origin.

CALD communities may face a range of complex issues, including discrimination, prejudice, social isolation and disenfranchisement that hinder their ability to assimilate into the wider Australian social context while maintaining their pre-existing sense of cultural identity. To that end, migrants might face resettlement challenges such as acculturation which refers to the process of adapting to a new or majority culture and is an experience characterised by high levels of stress (Berry, 1997). The speed of acculturation is also determined by levels of social interaction, community connectivity, and cultural compatibility with the new country. When adapting to unfamiliar cultural values, norms, and worldviews, it may be difficult to merge with previously held cultural beliefs, thus resulting in culture shock and a resultant loss or weakening of identity. This is particularly problematic for migrants whose cultural practices may diverge significantly from their host country (Queensland Government, 2010). While maintaining traditional cultural practices can engender a positive identity (L. Andrews and Sibbel, 2003), the same practices may be perceived negatively or run counter to the ideology of the dominant culture. For example, Muslim migrants have reported being insulted or spat on for wearing hijabs(Allimant and Ostapiej-Piatkowski, 2011). Many other CALD groups have also reported being the target of hate crimes due to their ethnic appearance, faith-based clothing or accessories, cultural accents, or developing English proficiency (Keel et. al., 2022). Although thousands of cases of hate crimes including verbal and physical assault have been reported in Australia, only 21 people have been convicted under hate crime laws as of 2019 (Cohen and Mitchell, 2019). It not only shows that difficulty in resettlement and acculturation can lead to potential demonisation and ostracism, but also shows the pressing concerns of Australian law enforcement and its treatment of CALD groups.

Risk factor 2: Traditional family structures and social hierarchies that prevent people from seeking extra-familial support.

In many ethnic minority families, cultural norms and traditional family structures may prohibit individuals from seeking extra-familial support regarding resettlement and acculturation difficulties. CALD migrants and refugees often face difficulties such as uncertainty around appropriate housing and financial support, language and communication barriers that inhibit the early development of community engagement, potential diminishing social and familial roles, underemployment and a lower socioeconomic status after resettlement (Centre for Multicultural Youth, 2010; Brewer, 2009; Queensland Government, 2010). However, most family counselling services in Australia found that there is great difficulty in engaging fathers from CALD communities, especially in familial issues such as raising children as it is delineated as being a predominantly female activity (Page et. al., 2007). Women migrants and refugees are also found to resist seeking extra-familial assistance regarding domestic violence or sexual assault issues as it is normalised and could be frowned upon (Kiamanesh and Hauge, 2018). Although culturally specific services can provide assistance and support, it is normative to rely on the family as the main source of support in collectivist cultures. Family and private issues are generally not known to outsiders and if they were to become widely known, it could compromise their social standing. For example, migrated Chinese families from the US stated that one of their cultural beliefs is that “the private shame of a family should not be made known to outsiders” (Lieh-Mak et. al., 1984). As such, some CALD families may find themselves resisting seeking extra-familial help because of a prohibitive socio-cultural norm (Sawrikar and Katz, 2008). As social connectivity and access to cultural specific services are necessary to help minimise adjustment frustration and disconnection (ABS, 2012), failure to settle and engage with the local community can lead to marginalisation, insecurity, powerlessness, mental ill health and a lack of social and financial capital. When combined with concerns about cultural identity and familial conflict, these issues can result in serious disenfranchisement and a vulnerability to radicalisation and negative peer pressure. Therefore, suitable culturally sensitive transition services are crucial in breaking down rigid gender roles and traditional cultural norms that offsets CALD communities’ negative pathways to crime. 

Risk factor 3: Mistrust of therapeutic and justice systems due to fear of discrimination and racism. 

Although migrants with limited familial and structural support networks in Australia sometimes require specific services to assist in successful community integration, they are often underutilised community health services and programs due to negative experiences and discrimination (Colluci, 2014). This is largely due to limited awareness of available services, low English language proficiency, unfamiliarity with the health and legal systems, and culturally insensitive service provision (FECCA, 2011). One of the major concerns impeding the accessibility and delivery of services to migrants and refugees is language difficulties, usually compounded by the paucity of translation services across several government sectors and a lack of cultural sensitivity and awareness. This can mean inhibiting participation in educational programs, being unfamiliar with one’s legal rights and entitlements, and impeding effective interaction with health workers and the criminal justice system (ADFVC, 2013). Language barriers and a lack of cultural awareness can also cause miscommunication and misinterpretation of behaviours between CALD communities and police officers. For example, the custom of ‘coining’ in the Indochinese community to treat colds is often misinterpreted as child abuse by law enforcement officers in the US, causing multiple false arrests (Rose, 1986). This symbolises one of many cultural barriers that law enforcement authorities face when encountering migrants and refugees. In addition, in a correctional environment, language barriers can prevent access to treatment, participation in vocational and pre-release programs, a misunderstanding of the sentencing process, and an increased likelihood of violating institutional rules and regulations (Victorian Government, 2010). For example, CALD offenders may have past traumas and experiences caused by hate crimes stemming from racism that refrains them from trusting police officers and health services. Whether in custody or in the community, language barriers for CALD individuals hinder the ability to cope, communicate, and receive appropriate services that are necessary for health and well-being. Service providers and law enforcement authorities thus need to be familiar with different cultural practices and recognise the complex experiences and needs of different CALD communities to provide equitable care and assistance to migrants and refugees. In doing so, it improves their trust in the healthcare and law enforcement systems, fosters community engagement and education, and as a result, reduces migrants’ risk of social isolation and alienation within the community. 

Protective factors 

For many CALD communities, particularly those with collectivist origins, strong family structure and community cohesion are significantly important. Specifically, strong social support is associated with the mitigation of re-offending in risk literature (Hart et. al., 2007). Similarly, social connectedness is shown to be related to successful resettlement in Australia (ABS, 2012). This is because the stressors of migration such as family separation, instability and difficulty in assimilating to the broader Australian culture may be assuaged by a supportive community (Schweitzer et. al., 2006). The development of social networks also enables the maintenance of traditional values and cultural identity which can bolster resilience (Gorman et. al., 2003; Sawrikar and Hunt, 2005). Moreover, CALD young

offenders have been found to have stronger social support and greater involvement in pro-social activities compared to non-CALD young offenders (Shepherd et. al., 2014). A strong emphasis on education, reflected in surveys demonstrating stronger interest and involvement in schooling in CALD groups compared to non-CALD groups (Centre for Multicultural Youth, 2014b), is also crucial for fostering education and personal growth among CALD adolescents. As such, family cohesion, community support, and education play a key role in protecting CALD communities from the risk of crime engagement after migration. 


  1. On a practitioner level, health and legal service-providers and practitioners in the outlet should receive training in cultural competency to become more aware of migrants’ cultural norms, values and beliefs. This can mean researching and paying attention to individual variation within different cultural groups to avoid stereotyping or homogenising the needs of CALD families. It can also help practitioners avoid underestimating or overestimating the role of culture in the nature of the issues CALD clients are facing so they are less likely to misattribute problematic behaviours to culture (Bhui et. al., 2007; Katz and Sawrikar, 2008). 

  2. On a service level, it is important for government agencies to partner with other CALD-focused centres and organisations in the community. This not only allows health and law enforcement services to receive more support, advice and consultation on culturally appropriate service delivery through networks, but it also builds trust among CALD families and individuals by having their community support. They can also use the language services and cultural awareness training already existing in these communities. By responding to the needs of CALD migrants and having collective knowledge, experience, and support from the local community, government services may be able to provide a more holistic support for CALD families. 

  3. On a policy level, health and legal services can create equal employment opportunity policies to increase the cultural diversity of staff profile and represent different ethnic mixes in the local community. For example, CALD community members are encouraged to participate in leadership roles and join management boards to engage hard-to-reach groups and represent diverse populations. In turn, it could facilitate greater CALD community engagement within the area and decrease the likelihood of crime, and at the same time eradicate systemic barriers to access health and legal support.  


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2022). Cultural diversity of Australia, ABS, viewed 5 May 2024, <>

Refugee Council of Australia (2023). Is Australia’s Response to Refugees Generous? An analysis of UNHCR Global Trends statistics from 2013 to 2022. [online] Available at:

An analysis of UNHCR Global Trends statistics from 2013 to 2022. [online] Available at: 

Kiamanesh, P. and Hauge, M.-I. (2018). ‘We are not weak, we just experience domestic violence’-Immigrant women’s experiences of encounters with service providers as a result of domestic violence. Child & Family Social Work. doi:

Rose, A. (1986). ‘Breaking Down Cultural Barriers: Police and Asian Community Learn Each Other’s Customs.’ [online] Los Angeles Times. Available at: 


Natalie Loo is a third-year law and arts student, majoring in Criminology. She is passionate about spreading awareness of issues affecting culturally and linguistically diverse communities and plans to do so in the future/ throughout her career. 

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