Domestic & Family Violence: A Cross-Cultural Lens

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Welcome to my second blog exploring domestic and family violence from a cross-cultural. This post will explore cross-cultural 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 (hyperlink1). It is an important concept to better understand the notion of cultural competence. The term cultural competence (hyperlink2) 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 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 domestic and family violence is a product of their culture. If that were the case, every family with the same cultural background would be experiencing domestic and family violence. When we blame culture for domestic and family violence we encourage the belief that there is something intrinsic to certain ‘cultures’ that allows violence to flourish and therefore nothing can be done about it. This is detrimental to protecting people subjected to domestic and family violence 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 (predominantly) women but to attribute domestic and family violence to culture serves little purpose when addressing the problem and protecting those impacted by violence.

Having some understanding of the nature of domestic and family violence 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 domestic and family violence presents differently in different cultures. You may be dealing with an individual whose understanding of domestic and family violence is very different to your own so not assuming your understanding of domestic and family violence 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 domestic and family violence can present differently to Western understandings.

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 domestic and family violence can present 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 disclose or receive help.

In whatever intervention is made to support people subjected to domestic and family violence, being culturally respectful is important but keeping in mind that safety of people concerned is key. We must never assume that domestic and family violence 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 in Australia as a result of domestic and family violence, it is imperative that we all take the responsibility to help people around us, be it in a professional capacity, a colleague at work, a neighbor or the kid in our child’s sporting club. Preventing and addressing domestic and family violence is every one’s responsibility.

That’s all from me for this week.

Best,
Elizabeth

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