Gold, cars, property claimed as dowry abuse goes under the radar in Australia – WAtoday | Wonder Mind Kids

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“She came to India where she got a call from his father from a nearby village to say if you give me 10 million rupees (about $183,000) my son will sponsor you again – because he’s the sponsorship had withdrawn in the meantime.” O’Connor, an expert on dowry abuse, said.

“She had already aborted the baby and was in so much heartache and distress. She then received a letter from the Home Office saying she had 25 days if she wanted to return to Melbourne. She returned in an extreme state of distress, anxiety and depression, and with post-traumatic stress symptoms.”

The woman, who was no longer with the man, was supported by friends and O’Connor reported to the Australian Federal Police that she had been a victim of “exit trafficking” and dowry abuse. She still hopes to stay in Australia.

O’Connor said that since May 2022 she has assisted six or seven victims of dowry extortion and reported the cases to the Home Office.

The study says more than 15 percent of Australian- and foreign-born South Asian women who reported domestic and family violence also experienced dowry abuse. But under federal law, there are no mechanisms to combat dowry abuse. “The Family Law Act (1975) does not allow victims of dowry abuse to reclaim dowry provided by the victim or his family in divorce proceedings,” it said.

Kittu Randhawa, founder of the Sydney-based Indian Crisis & Support Agency, 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 if they are in that situation of dependency, then that is the time [abuse] escalates, there is coercion and demands increase,” she said.

Women are at risk when they have to go abroad to complete immigration and their partner demands money to keep the process going. “Some of the amounts I’ve heard even surprise me. We’ve seen everything from $20,000 to $90,000 and even up to millions,” she said.

Ela Stewart of InTouch Multicultural Service Against Family Violence said the organization has supported clients whose family members have been threatened with violence when money is not handed over.

“It was difficult for women to know where to go. There really isn’t much expertise about it,” she said.

A 2018 Senate investigation into dowry abuse found it had led to violence, extortion and a spate of suicides and murders. The Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs recommended new national laws identifying the “malicious” practice as a form of domestic violence.

There are currently no mechanisms in place under Australian law to combat dowry abuse.Recognition:AP

Sita*, from Sydney, who was supported by Randhawa’s organization, said her whole family remained distressed by the dowry abuse she had witnessed.

She was engaged when she was a teenager and her fiancé came to Australia to marry her. By this time her family had to pay $20,000 for her sister-in-law’s wedding and for improvements to her in-laws’ family home. Sita had to give him $2500 worth of gold.

“He started cheating on me openly when I was six months pregnant and there was so much mental abuse,” she said. “My father paid $120,000 for a house bond and my mother had to give him her gold and my sister’s gold, now it’s all gone,” said Sita, who became pregnant at 18.

“I didn’t know where to turn,” she said.

She is raising the child alone, the house is to be sold soon, her ex-husband keeps 40 percent of the value.

“It’s not talked about in our community, I want people to know and tell people to be very careful.”

The study’s recommendations included that federal and state governments adopt a common definition of dowry abuse, provide resources and training to identify and respond to it, and reform family law to provide recovery pathways for victims.

*Sita is not her real name.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counseling Service at 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114 or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

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