“He arrived in India, where he received a call from his father in a nearby town to say that if he gives me 10 crores (about $183,000) my son will sponsor him again, because he had withdrawn sponsorship in the meantime.” O’Connor, expert on dowry abuse.
“She had already miscarried the baby and was in a lot of pain and anguish. She then received a letter from the Department of the Interior saying that if she wanted to return to Melbourne, she had 25 days; she came back in an extreme state of distress, anxiety, and depression and with post-traumatic stress symptoms.”
The woman, who was no longer with the man, had been supported by friends and O’Connor reported to the Australian Federal Police that she had been the victim of “get out of human trafficking” and dowry abuse. She still hopes to stay in Australia.
O’Connor said that since May 2022 he had supported six or seven victims of dowry extortion and reported the cases to the Department of the Interior.
The study said more than 15 per cent of Australian- and overseas-born South Asian women who reported domestic and family violence were also affected by dowry abuse. But under federal law, there are no mechanisms to address dowry abuse. “The Family Law Act (1975) does not allow victims of dowry abuse to recover the dowry provided by the victim or her family in the event of a divorce proceeding,” she said.
Kittu Randhawa, founder of the Sydney-based company Indian Support and Crisis AgencyHe said dowry abuse can occur before or at the time of marriage, or after, and is often facilitated during the immigration process.
“When a citizen goes abroad to get married and bring their partner here, they first have a visitor visa, and when they are in that situation of being dependent, that is when [abuse] it intensifies, coercion occurs and demands increase,” he said.
Women are vulnerable if they need to go abroad to complete immigration and their partner demands money from them to avoid canceling the process. “Some of the amounts I’ve heard even surprise me. We have seen everything from $20,000 to $90,000 and even millions,” she said.
Ella Stewart, of In contact Multicultural Service against Family Violence, said the organization had supported clients whose family members were threatened with violence if they did not hand over the money.
“It has been difficult for women to know where to go. There really isn’t a lot of specialist knowledge on this,” she said.
A 2018 Senate investigation into dowry abuse heard that it had resulted in violence, extortion and a wave of suicides and murders. The standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs has recommended new national laws identifying the “harmful” practice as a form of domestic violence.
Sydney woman Sita*, who has received support from Randhawa’s organisation, said her entire family remained distraught over the dowry abuse she had experienced.
She became engaged in her teens and her fiancé came to Australia to marry her, at which point her family had to pay $20,000 for her sister-in-law’s wedding and pay for improvements to her in-laws’ family home. Sita had to give him $2500 worth of gold.
“He started openly cheating on me when I was six months pregnant and there was a lot of mental abuse going on,” she said. “My dad paid $120,000 for a deposit on the house, and my mother had to give her her gold and my sister’s gold, now that’s over,” said Sita, who got pregnant when she was 18.
“I didn’t know where to turn,” he said.
She is raising the child alone and the house will soon be sold, with her ex-husband getting 40 percent of its value.
“This is not talked about in our community, I want people to know and tell people to be very careful.”
The study’s recommendations included that the federal and state governments adopt a consistent definition of dowry abuse, commit resources and training to help identify and respond to it, and reform the Family Law Act to provide avenues for victims to recover.
*Sita is not her real name.
If you or someone you know needs support, you can contact the National Counseling Service for Sexual Abuse, Domestic and Family Violence at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Life line 131 114, or beyond the blue 1300 224 636.
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