Case studies of community initiatives addressing family violence in refugee and migrant communities

Case studies of community initiatives addressing f…
01 Aug 2011

This research describes the kinds of initiatives that were perceived by community members and service providers as working well in refugee and migrant communities and the conditions that encourage them to flourish. The report presents two case studies of community initiatives addressing family violence in refugee and migrant communities.


The research explored a range of community-based initiatives addressing family violence in refugee and migrant communities. Two initiatives were selected to be developed into full case studies.

The research was staged. The first stage was in-depth interviews with key informants who were the main stakeholders for the research in central government and national-level NGO sector. The second stage was group and individual interviews with a wide range of stakeholders with direct involvement in community-level initiatives working to address family violence in refugee and migrant communities. Using the knowledge gained from these interviews, the researchers selected the two case studies, the development of which comprised the final stage of the research. The researchers drew on the FACS community coordinators to provide advice on cultural sensitivities and customs.

The interviewees were chosen for their knowledge in the field of family violence and/or for their experience in working with refugee and migrant communities on sensitive topics. They came from a wide range of national, regional and local government agencies, service providers and community groups. In-depth individual and group interviews continued, using snowball sampling, until a saturation of themes on family violence in refugee and migrant communities was achieved. A full list of interviewees is appended.

The interviews were semi-structured, generally lasting two to three hours, focusing mainly on people’s knowledge of family violence, help-seeking patterns, approaches to family violence and recommendations for particular initiatives. The key informant interview guide is appended. The questions were adapted to the particular interviewees and used flexibly to explore emergent issues.



Key Results

Effectiveness of community initiatives

A consistent picture of the key issues, the most useful strategies and the community initiatives that were particularly effective emerged from interviews with key informants from central, regional and local government, and from community organisations.

The most effective initiatives were well networked with other groups, which gave them access to the knowledge and resources of other groups and signalled that they themselves had knowledge and resources worth sharing with others. They also had deep community ties, which meant that they had lots of community members involved in their programmes and they could also draw on skills and resources there.

The work of community initiatives

One of the themes that emerged from the research was about the importance of both prevention and intervention in addressing family violence in refugee and migrant communities. Often, in responding to community needs, the organisations that were focused on preventive work expanded their efforts to include work like counselling, which is closer to the intervention end of the family violence response spectrum.

The community initiatives were part of a strong network of groups committed to addressing family violence among refugees and migrants. These groups included central, regional and local government agencies, and non-government organisations (NGOs). This report discusses a range of types of community initiatives and illustrates them with specific examples. These types include:

  • service and support providers: addressing a range of community needs
  • refuges: aimed at the immediate safety of victims of family violence
  • women’s networks: addressing the isolation that makes women vulnerable.

Education, empowerment and community awareness work aimed at preventing family violence tended to be couched in terms of family safety, family health and family development. This was because family violence was a sensitive topic for the ethnic communities, and “family safety” was a more acceptable way of framing it.

Women’s refuges that accept women from refugee and migrant communities have an extra challenge in providing appropriate food and opportunities for religious observance. If the women do not have permanent residence status, they will be unlikely to be able to contribute to their keep and the refuge will have to cover all costs.

Systemic Issues

Several systemic issues emerged regarding family violence in refugee and migrant communities. The most important of these were:

  • Refugee and migrant women were often isolated, both from the family support systems left behind in their country of origin, and from mainstream New Zealand culture and its formal support systems. The host culture will be unfamiliar to them until they have learned to speak English and develop contacts in the host community. The issue of isolation is made worse when a woman’s partner forbids her access to the world outside her home or outside the ethnic community. Isolation was identified as a risk factor for family violence in the research literature.
  • Women who are dependent on their partners to meet immigration policy requirements for a temporary or residence visa may stay in abusive relationships to maintain their current immigration status. When women leave their partners, their partners may revoke their support, and the women would then have to apply for a temporary or residence visa in their own right. During this process, the women may be left with little or no financial support. Until such time as her residence is confirmed, she may have reduced opportunities for gaining employment.
  • The Victims of Domestic Violence (VDV) immigration policy[2] was introduced in 2001 and changes to it were implemented in March 2009 to respond to these issues. The policy ensures that women can, without needing the support of their partner, apply for and receive an immigration status that allows them access to assistance and financial support.
  • While the VDV policy exists, not all refugee and migrant women can use it. This may be because they are unaware of the policy, they are not eligible because their partner is not a New Zealand resident or citizen (that is, the partner may be on a student or work visa), or they may not be willing to go to the people or organisations competent to make a statutory declaration that domestic violence has occurred.
  • A range of issues relating to the cultures of refugee and migrant communities emerged in the course of the research. The most salient was the way that some men used their culture and religion, and their standing in the community, to rationalise their coercive behaviour.


Poverty and unemployment were identified as family stressors that can exacerbate family violence. The influence of the host culture on young people is another family stressor, especially if young people got into trouble or brought home partners their parents did not approve of.

Good practice

Three broad principles of good practice emerged from the research, and these are consistent with the literature on addressing family violence in refugee and migrant communities.

  • A holistic approach to family violence in refugee and migrant communities entails:

- building trust in the community, so that community members are willing to talk about this difficult and sensitive topic

- building good networks across the community and government sectors, so that resources can be shared and family violence can be addressed at the individual, community, societal and government level

- involving men and male community leaders

- dealing with perpetrators as well as victims.

  • Empowering the community acknowledges community ownership of the problem and its solutions, so that communities are able to address family violence in their own way, and the emerging initiatives are relevant and useful. Empowerment also means providing individuals within the community with knowledge and training that enables them to do this work. In particular, this includes educating people about relevant New Zealand laws, what constitutes family violence, and the impact of family violence on children and their future.
  • Effective engagement with the community requires that culturally sensitive and acceptable ways are found to address the sensitive issue of family violence. Mainstream service providers in particular need to be aware of the different languages, customs and traditions of the refugee and migrant communities.



Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018