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Immigrant women facing intimate partner violence: A view from the frontline

By: Kewei Xiao, WISE Board Member

August 2019

Intimate partner violence exists in every country and community. However, education programs and prevention strategies for violence against women (VAW) can vary. Some countries, like Canada, place emphasis on this pervasive issue while others tolerate or ignore the problem. Culture has a great impact on how women are perceived and respected. 

As a law enforcement officer, I deal with intimate partner violence disputes on a nearly daily basis; ranging from verbal arguments to physical assault causing bodily harm. On the frontline, I hear first-hand the stories and am able to help women who are suffering from physical and psychological abuse in their relationships. In many cases, women are isolated from their friends and families. In other cases, women are unable to leave abusive relationships because they are newcomers to Canada without any support to rely on. Intimate partner violence can have a huge impact on children who witness it on an ongoing basis. The abuse can lead to serious physical injury to women and can be fatal. Yet, the number of reported domestic violence incidents does not accurately reflect reality. Why is that? 

From my experience, there seems to be a number of reasons why women, women who have immigrated to Canada in particular, are less willing to report instances of abuse:

Women are fearful that they may lose their immigration status. Often they are dependent on their partner who may be earning their household income. Fears of being deported are always a strong motivator to remain silent.

Women may not have the training or experience to enter the workforce when they first arrive. This further increases dependency on their partner.

Women are fearful of losing financial support. Laying complaints against an abuser can leave them vulnerable, often isolate them from their cultural community and leave them with no means of support. 

Mistrust of the police because of previous experiences and interactions with them either here or abroad.

Community or cultural norms often create huge pressure on women which discourages them from airing issues frowned upon by ethnic community leaders. 

As more and more immigrant families arrive in Canada, it is imperative that we provide more education and prevention programs that can help break down such barriers for immigrant women and create support systems for when they choose to leave an abusive situation. We need to do more to support these women until the violence stops.

At WISE, not only do we offer our Personal Safety Workshops to everyone in the city of Ottawa, including immigrant women, but we also offer a Legal Education Workshop to help all women know what their rights are here in Canada. If these workshops are of interest to you or to your community, or you simply want some more information, send us an e-mail at info@wiseottawa.ca.