Cultural Competency in Domestic and Family Violence

Welcome to my second blog exploring cultural competency in domestic and family violence (DFV). This post will explore why cultural competency skills are important in addressing issues of domestic and family violence with culturally diverse individuals and groups. In Australia, we use the term culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) or more recently new and emerging communities (NEC) to describe groups that are culturally diverse (from the mainstream Anglo Celtic Australian identity). Both these definitions cover people that may have also arrived in Australia through various migration channels and incudes the refugee humanitarian channel.

To begin with I’ll start with some definitions of key terms; culture and cultural competence. Culture can be described as a set of shared beliefs and patterns of behavior learned through socialisation. It encompasses language (verbal and non-verbal), religion, food, clothing, music, what is perceived as right and wrong and many other aspects of a groups identity (click here). It is an important concept to better understand the notion of cultural competence. The term cultural competence (click here) first appeared in social work literature in the early 1980’s and is characterised by a set of principles, attitudes, skills and behaviours that allow people to effectively interact with people across cultures. Cultural competency encompasses;

  • An awareness of one’s own world view and biases
  • An awareness of and respect for cultural differences, practices and worldviews
  • Developing skills that allow for effective cross-cultural communication
  • Is an ongoing journey of learning

So why is cultural competency key when addressing domestic and family violence (DFV) with individuals and groups? Humans by nature are cultured beings, culture makes up a huge and important aspect of our identity. When working with individuals and groups, it is key to firstly never assume that DFV is a product of their culture. If that were the case, every family with the same cultural background would be experiencing DFV. When we blame culture for DFV we encourage the belief that there is something intrinsic to certain ‘cultures’ that allows violence against women to flourish and therefore nothing can be done about it. This is detrimental to protecting people subjected to DFV as it stigmatises individuals and groups and further isolates them. I am very aware that there are many cultures around the globe which may hold strict beliefs and norms that act to oppress women but to attribute DFV to culture serves little purpose when addressing the problem and protecting those impacted by violence.  

Having some understanding of the nature of DFV in different cultures would go a long way. It is not to say that you must know everything there is to know about particular cultures but some basic awareness that DFV presents differently in different cultures. You may be dealing with an individual whose understanding of DFV is very different to your own so not assuming you’re your understanding of DFV is universal. Some behaviours such as controlling or abusive behaviour against a mother or females in a family by the eldest son, child and forced marriage, decision making by the males in the family, discipline of women and girls are just some examples of how DFV can present differently to Western understandings of DFV.

When a person is able to approach someone who uses violence or a person subjected to violence in a manner that is firstly aware of their own beliefs, attitudes and biases and the potential difference in beliefs held by the other person as well as some basic understanding that DFV presents differently across different groups and contexts, there is a much better chance of a more respectful engagement and the person may even be able to effect some kind of positive impact, depending of course on the situation, the nature of the relationship and where the other person is at in terms of their readiness to receive help.   

In whatever intervention is made to support people subjected to DFV, being culturally respectful is important but keeping in mind that safety of the person/s concerned is key. We must never assume that DFV is an intrinsic aspect of culture and therefore leave people to suffer. We must also never assume that intervening in a situation where a person is subjected to violence is somehow being culturally ‘disrespectful’ and therefore turn a blind eye. You may be the last chance a person has to stay alive. This may sound far-fetched but when you consider the fact that nearly two women are murdered each week as a result of DFV in Australia or 1 in 3 women experiences DFV, it is imperative that we all take the responsibility to help people around us, being it in a professional capacity, a colleague at work, a neighbor or the kid in our child’s sporting club. Preventing and addressing DFV is every ones responsibility.

Working in a manner that is informed by cultural competency principles and skills is important. The issue of addressing DFV is a complex one made even more challenging when you consider the above mentioned issues and the added layer of complexity brought on by settlement challenges, issues of societal, systemic and structural disadvantage faced by people from CaLD backgrounds or new and emerging communities. I have not explored many issues which are equally important in my attempt to avoid writing an essay but other factors such as racism and discrimination and issues of intersectionality are important concepts that impact on people’s experiences with regards to help seeking whether as people who use violence or those subjected to violence.

What are your thoughts on cultural competency in the context of addressing domestic and family violence? Would love to hear from you with any questions or comments.

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