Close this search box.

‘Romance’ Trap

Picture of Xu Han

Xu Han


‘When you are young, on a student visa, can barely speak English but want to stay in Australia, then there’s an Australian guy asking if you want to be with him and he can help you out with your visa. 

Who would say NO?’

Partner visa (subclass 820) is a temporary visa that lets partners of Australian citizens and Permanent residents live in Australia before stepping towards a permanent Partner visa and then Australian citizenship. Back in 2008, there were 80,000 applications going to the Department of Home Affairs, with the process normally taking around 2 years. Applicants must notify the Department if the relationship is over while the visa is under process. And it also means they can no longer stay in Australia lawfully.

One out of three migrant and refugee women reported they experienced some form of domestic violence, including controlling behaviours and migration-related abuse and threats (such as threats to be deported or separated from their children). A survey conducted in 2020 (sample size: 1400) shows 91% of them have experienced controlling behaviours, 47% experienced or witnessed violence toward others, and 42% experienced physical or sexual violence.

If we say visa issues and financial dependence on their partners are commonly used as tools for coercive control; cultural barriers and language difficulties prevent women from being heard, therefore reinforcing the power of the abuser.


“I called 000 and told the operator ‘My husband wants to kill me’. I’d lost so much blood by the time officers arrived. They didn’t ask me what happened, instead, they asked me ‘Can you speak English’.”

“When I told them I can’t speak much English, they spoke with my Australian husband.”


 – Lilian, a partner visa holder originally from China



Lilian is not the only one feeling helpless when the ‘help’ is around. The survey also showed that women who had experienced domestic violence and were victims of other crimes viewed the police as less procedurally just and fair than the rest of the female participants.

Culture also affects people’s attitudes toward domestic violence. For example, in Somali culture, domestic violence is only considered to be physical violence and includes violence between all family members. A Somali woman is responsible for maintaining harmony within the family by respecting, obeying and not angering her husband. Physical violence is viewed as the husband’s right to ‘teach his wife a lesson’. In the Vietnamese community, domestic violence is seen as a private family matter and sharing information about the family with outsiders is viewed as inappropriate. Shame appears to be a major barrier to seeking help (court, counsellors, police).

Another victim of domestic violence said, “I think no matter which country you are from, if you are going to stay in another country you need to protect yourself”. However, there are more women who remain silent in abusive relationships. Considering their cultural backgrounds and language barriers, they are probably not aware that they have the choice of living their life free of fear.


>>> Services available in 10 different languages & step-by-step guidance:

Your Tool Kit (4 steps to empower vulnerable women to transition away from domestic abuse and financial abuse).


One third of migrant and refugee women experience domestic violence, major survey reveals. Marie, S., Rebecca, W., Chloe, K. Monash University. 01 July 2021.


‘Denied a voice’: how Australia fails migrant victims of domestic violence. Ben, S. The Guardian. 20 September 2021.


Understanding the Role of Culture in Domestic Violence: The Ahimsa Project for Safe Families. Amy, P. et al. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, Vol. 8, No. 1. January 2006.