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Invisible Women: Barriers Facing CALD Women in Family Violence Matters

[TW: This article references sensitive topics, including domestic and family violence]

In Australia, domestic and family violence (‘DFV’) against women as predominant victims has become the focus of political, social, and legal change. As a movement has arisen to identify and address the diversity and complexity of behaviours that constitute DFV, it is pertinent to ensure that laws, policies, and services do not exclude women who also face additional systemic and gendered disadvantages;[1] otherwise known as ‘intersectionality’. The term intersectionality was coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics operate together and exacerbate each other.[2] This article will discuss the barriers facing culturally and linguistically diverse (‘CALD’) women, and what measures can be implemented to address the space of intersectionality when they face DFV.

Barriers Facing CALD Women


Responses to DFV rely on either a woman reporting the incident, or police intervention. In many CALD communities, reports of DFV incidents are lower than in English speaking cohorts.[3] The Royal Commission into Family Violence’s 2016 report highlighted that these lower reporting numbers can be a result of CALD women’s fear of being ostracised from their community, lack of CALD specific support services, negative interactions with police and government agencies, and the stigma associated with involving others in family matters.[4]

Where early intervention from support services is not sought, matters may escalate to a level that requires police involvement.[5] In an interview I conducted with Dr Cate Banks, a lawyer working with disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in a health justice partnership, the issues arising from reporting incidents of DFV to the police was highlighted.

“Most of the time, the police bring the application and our client, as the affected person, is cut out of the loop despite all the consequences of that intervention order lying with them. The woman has no agency in that process, and although the police are doing it to save people from being killed, there needs to be much more support around the process.” [6]

The social, community and religious consequences of intervention orders may leave CALD women and their families in what they believe to be a ‘worse off position’. This perception is further embedded in circumstances where women are economically dependent on the perpetrator and do not have the requisite experience, language skills, or confidence to apply for employment.[7] Additionally, CALD women may be further isolated from their cultural communities for ‘breaking up’ their family unit, particularly when the perpetrator cannot return to the family home.[8]

Support Services

Australian support services are a key source of support for many CALD women, offering them guidance in navigating the legal system and alleviating some of their financial barriers.[9] However, CALD women, as well as many support services themselves, often note issues surrounding a lack of sensitivity, cultural awareness, and limited resources.[10]

These deficiencies significantly impact how CALD women experience support services, particularly those services with entrenched values and practices based on cultural stereotyping. Negative interactions with support services, reported by CALD women, reflect that they were not taken seriously, they were discriminated against, and in some instances, were further marginalised by not being provided with a qualified interpreter to effectively communicate their matter.[12] These kinds of practices influence the response from service workers and have long lasting impacts on CALD women and their communities.[11]

These impacts are further exacerbated when services are underfunded, particularly for those who aim to assist CALD women with employment support. A report by InTouch (2010) described that service workers were concerned about their capacity to assist CALD women who experienced trouble obtaining employment, had no independent income, no residency status, nor entitlement to services such as public housing or language courses.[13]

Language barriers and interpretation services

Whilst there is some acknowledgement of the intersectionality between CALD women and DFV legal responses, there has unfortunately been little practical change. For example, The Family Violence Bench Book recognises that CALD communities face additional language barriers compared to English speaking victims, which are exacerbated by the high cost, limited availability, and quality of interpreting services.[14] Additionally, limited translated legal information and advice materials means that CALD communities cannot readily access legal information, and are effectively excluded from receiving that assistance.[15]

The Royal Commission into Family Violence Report (2016) confirmed that the availability of professional and independent interpreting services for CALD victims of DFV is inadequate.[16] Whilst there are limited courses available for interpreters to be trained in family violence, such as Monash University’s ‘Introduction to Interpreting in Family Violence Settings’,[17] they are not a mandatory requirement to become accredited and work with DFV services and their clients.

This raises the gravity of the disadvantage experienced by CALD victims of DFV. The 2016 ABS Census reported that there are over 300 diverse languages spoken in Australian homes, with more than 20% of Australians speaking a language other than English at home.[18] Online resources such as the Family Violence Court website and the Victoria Legal Aid website have attempted to expand their translation services to enhance accessibility to members of the CALD community, however they are arguably still inaccessible for smaller language communities. In addition to this, there is still a limited resource of translated documents and legal information. Dr Banks says she is concerned about the gap in translated materials and the adverse effect it has on CALD women’s willingness to pursue DFV matters.

“There needs to be more depth in what they translate into different languages. A lot of the resources online are very broad and don’t give you a lot of information or tell you how to fill in the forms. So, people just don’t take action.” [19]

The Path Forward

An integral part of relieving the barriers that CALD women face in family violence matters is transforming attitudes of reluctance and fear towards reporting family violence.[20] This necessitates informing CALD women that the legal system is there to support them and can assist in keeping them safe within their house. One practical means of achieving this is through providing CALD women with in-person information sessions supported by trusted community leaders in their own language about how the legal system works, how they can report incidents of family violence and the different outcomes that may result from reporting. This strategy is aimed at transforming the fear many CALD women face in making reports and combatting the isolation they may feel as a result of discrimination from their wider community.

A long-term strategy must be to increase the accessibility of language appropriate legal resources to CALD women and improve legal awareness within their communities.[21] A preliminary means of achieving this is to expand the provision of translated materials beyond solely online platforms. Different forms of communication such as newspapers, radio and television should be utilised to provide free information across different languages. A more collaborative approach to increasing legal awareness would be to conduct workshops for CALD women and community leaders about laws, legal services, their rights and how they can be empowered to educate others in their community.

The significant language barriers faced by CALD women require not only a larger quantity of interpretation services, but for those interpreters to undertake appropriate training that deepens their understanding of issues surrounding DFV.[22] The Royal Commission into Family Violence Report (2016) supports this recommendation, suggesting that the professional accreditation standards should be amended to include a minimum standard.[23] Dr Banks describes the lack of training received by interpreters to be of particular concern when working with emotionally loaded cases and recognises the need for further training.

“[Interpreters] shouldn’t be invested in the content of the discussion, they should just be interpreting. If they’re not trained it’s a problem, there’s a lack of understanding of boundaries and they may attempt to give their own advice. You can kind of tell when you’ve been doing it for long enough, when the discussion has moved away from ‘just interpreting’ what you’ve said.” [24]

In discussing access to the legal system for CALD women, it is important to consider additional barriers they face. Access to justice is further limited for CALD women if they are from a vulnerable age group, live with disabilities, or are experiencing financial hardship.[25] To make meaningful impact, these intersecting barriers for CALD women also need to be addressed. A strategy targeted towards breaking down these systemic inequities is the provision of resources to shorten the waiting time for services such as housing and financial support. Further, implementing a mechanism for CALD women to provide feedback on support services will strengthen the ability for services to be tailored to their needs. These strategies will offer long-term and more holistic support to CALD women experiencing DFV.

Image: Her Canberra


[1] Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration, National domestic and family violence bench book (2018) <>.

[2] Kimberlé Crenshaw, ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’ (1989) 1(8) University of Chicago Legal Forum 139.

[3] Department of Social Services, 'Hearing her voice: kitchen table conversations on violence against culturally and linguistically diverse women and their children' (Report, Commonwealth of Australia, 2015) 8.

[4] State of Victoria, Royal Commission into Family Violence: Report and recommendations (Volume 1, 2016) 106.

[5] Hearing her voice (n 3) 14.

[6] Interview with Dr Cate Banks (Emelia Rohani, The Reasonable Observer, 26 July 2021).

[7] Nafiseh Ghafournia and Patricia Easteal, ‘Are Immigrant Women Visible in Australian Domestic Violence Reports that Potentially Influence Policy?’ (2018) 7(32) Laws 1, 4.

[8] Hearing her voice (n 3) 28.

[9] Dr Cathy Vaughan et al, ‘Promoting community-led responses to violence against immigrant and refugee women in metropolitan and regional Australia. The ASPIRE Project: Key findings and future directions’ (Research Report No 8, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, December 2016) 2.

[10] Lisa Cavallaro, ‘Barriers to the Justice System Faced by CALD Women Experiencing Family Violence’ (Research Report, InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, 2010) 22.

[11] Maeve Lu, Xannel Mangahas and Jessica Nimmo, ‘Domestic and Family Violence in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Communities’ (Literature Review, University of Queensland, March 2020) 12.

[12] Cavallaro (n 10) 23.

[13] Ibid 22.

[14] Judicial College of Victoria, Family Violence Bench Book (2014) <>.

[15] Ibid.

[16] State of Victoria, Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and recommendations (Parl Paper No 132, 2016).

[17] ‘Introduction to Interpreting in Family Violence Settings’, Monash University (Web Page) <>.

[18] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Census reveals a fast changing, culturally diverse nation’ (Media Release, 073/2017, 27 June 2017).

[19] Interview with Dr Cate Banks (n 6).

[20] Cavallaro (n 10) 26.

[21] Neha Prakash et al, ‘Access to Justice for People from Refugee and Migrant Backgrounds in Australia’ (Research Paper, Settlement Council of Australia, 2019) 16.

[22] Cavallaro (n 10) 27.

[23] Royal Commission into Family Violence (n 16).

[24] Interview with Dr Cate Banks (n 6).

[25] Ghafournia (n 7) 2.


Emelia Rohani is a fifth year LLB (Hons)/ BA (Criminology/ Psychology) student at Monash University. Emelia is passionate about enhancing access to justice and seeks to explore the systemic barriers that minority groups face, as well as how they are exacerbated through their intersection with gender, cultural and linguistic diversity, socio-economic factors, and the LGBTQIA+ community.

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