Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Arts and Science)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Dr Linda MacKay

Second Supervisor

Dr Catherine Bettman


Domestic violence is a universal public health concern (VicHealth, 2011; World Health Organisation [WHO], 2013). Domestic violence cuts across all countries, regardless of economic, social, cultural or religious differences (Ali et al., 2020; VicHealth, 2011; WHO 2013). Men are often responsible for perpetrating domestic violence against women (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2019; Australia Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2018).

The effects of domestic violence on victims can be serious and long-term; affecting their physical and mental wellbeing, and lingering even after the exposure to violence has ended (Mitchell, 2011). That is, the effect on victims’ mental health is cumulative and detrimental (Ali et al., 2020; WHO, 2013). The impact of domestic violence on the health of its victims is well known (Dedeigbo & Cocodia, 2016). Its prevalence in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities is problematic because of limitations in research methodology, including sample selection and under-representation, leading to mixed findings being reported within existing studies. Globally, one of three women is a victim of domestic violence, and in Australia this figure is one in six (AIHW, 2017; Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria [ECCV] 2012); WHO, 2013). A similar prevalence appears among Australia’s CALD communities, which constitute about one fifth of the total Australian population (AIHW, 2017). In addition, the prevalence of domestic violence is likely to be underestimated as many instances of domestic violence go unreported to authorities (Australian Parliament House [APH], 2015).

Briefly, CALD communities refer to communities with diverse languages, ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, tradition, societal structures, and religions (ECCV, 2012). Therefore, they are a highly diverse group, and victims of domestic violence can belong to several communities. Despite this variation, they all tend to share a lack of familiarity with the local services available for domestic violence or the benefits of these services, and this presents as a challenge in need of further study.

There are organisations that provide help to women who have experienced domestic violence, including social services, counselling and psychotherapy (initial and ongoing), legal services, financial counselling and employment support (Australian Government’s Department of Social Services [DSS], 2019). These organisations employ the services of professionals who directly support victims of domestic violence in these many ways (DSS, 2019), including those from diverse cultural backgrounds and socio-economic classes, with varying needs.

In their role, frontline workers have firsthand knowledge about CALD victims of domestic violence who utilise their services. However, research is limited on their perceptions of CALD women, and therapeutic approaches, outcomes and challenges involved in supporting these victims. This thesis attempts to fill this important research gap.

Specifically, this thesis aims to understand frontline workers’ perceptions of domestic violence in CALD communities more fully, and more fully explore the therapeutic approaches utilised with CALD women who have experienced domestic violence, as well as the consequences and behavioural impact of such approaches from the perspectives of social workers, shelter workers, health care workers, counsellors, therapists and other frontline workers. This project assessed services in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) for CALD communities, and situates the discussion in relation to the literature on similar services in terms of cultural sensitivity, therapeutic approaches and accessibility in selected comparable countries.

Sixty frontline workers participated in an online survey that comprised a structured questionnaire and free response sections, allowing for quantitative and qualitative analysis. Data was analysed using standard statistical parameters. In addition, seven research papers from the international literature base were selected for critical theme-analysis. Themes were identified, and syntactic analysis of the themes was performed. Also, support services for CALD domestic violence victims in the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada were compared with those in Australia.

In this study, 85% (n=51) of the survey participants were females and had been trained in working with CALD communities. Of all participants, 83% (n=50) were counsellors, and 87% (n=52) had more than five years’ work experience. Among these frontline workers, 57% (n=34) had received training in working with CALD communities, and 53% (n=32) had received specific guidelines for working with CALD communities in their organisation.

The findings also showed that frontline workers consistently drew upon a Person Centred Therapeutic approach (PCT) with CALD victims while acknowledging each client had a specific cultural identity. When other therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) were used, frontline workers adapted such therapies to create culturally sensitive interventions for CALD women. Hence, wide variations between clients required that therapies be adapted to meet each client’s need.

The research shows that support services in Australia were similar to those in selected comparable countries. However, more services in Australia appear faith-based. Overall, the findings identified the need to develop standardised but flexible multicultural frameworks and education schemes for frontline workers to assist CALD victims of domestic violence.

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