Working with victims of foreign background

In foreign families, there may be both general domestic violence and violence related to the cultural background of the family (so-called harmful traditions). One has to be aware of these special forms of violence in order to help the victims. 

Who is an immigrant?

Immigrants may be members of Finnish families, whole families with foreign background, quota refugees, asylum seekers, remigrants, students, guest workers or illegal immigrants.

Domestic violence

In foreign families, there may be the same kind of domestic violence as in native families. However, a foreigner may be in a weaker position than a native due to lack of language skills or lack of familiarity with basic services. In some cases the victim of violence does not know that domestic violence is a crime in Finland. Moreover, some foreigners do not trust the authorities. 

Special features of violence among foreigners

Honour-related violence:

A person who is suspected of having violated the moral code of the group may be subjected to physical or psychological violence. The suspicions lead to public disgrace in a male-dominated world. Honour-related violence may include control, suppression, physical violence, and even murder or forced suicide.

 Forced marriage:

Parents or relatives may arrange a marriage which on of the spouses, or both, do not approve of. A forced marriage may be arranged because of the financial interests or honour of the family. A forced marriage can also be used as a way to get a resident's permit or citizenship.

 Polygamy:

In some cultures, a man may have several wives at the same time. In Finland, the man officially has only one wife, but in reality, he has married others according to his native customs.

Violence related to dowries:

A dowry is a gift from the bride's family to the groom's family. Too small a dowry may lead to violence or the dissolution of an arranged marriage. In case of divorce, the dowry should be returned to the bride's family.

 Female circumcision or genital cutting:

Mutilation of young girls' genitals is done due to non-medical reasons including the position of women and cultural traditions.  Female circumcision is an act of violence which causes women both physical and psychological problems. Girls who are living in Finland may be forced  to undergo genital cutting while travelling abroad, for example during a summer holiday.

Human trafficking:

Both individuals and groups may be guilty of human trafficking. Victims are used as sex slaves, forced labour or for other purposes below human dignity. Illegal organ and tissue trade is also a form of human trafficking.

Racial violence:

A person may be subjected to violence because of his or her skin colour, origin, nationality or ethnicity. 

 Violence against women and girls during wars, conflicts, and among refugees:

Typical forms of violence are mutilations of the limbs and sexual violence.

 

Natalie Gerbert, manager of the Monika Resource Center, Monika – Multicultural Women’s Association in Finland

Ljudmila Kettunen, shelter manager, Monika – Multicultural Women’s Association in Finland 

 

 

Concerning victims of violence in general, please read the guidelines in the "Working with traumatized victims" section

Tips for the police

1. Determine whether the victim needs an interpreter. Find a reliable interpreter and book him or her well in advance. Ask the victim about possible cultural and political difficulties associated with using an interpreter.

2. Find a professional interpreter, not family members, relatives or friends! If the victim is female, it is often wise to find a female interpreter. In some cases, an interpreter from the same ethnic group cannot be considered reliable.

3. Let the victim express his or her opinion about the interpretation. Make sure that the victim understands the interpreter's dialect, writing and terminology.

4. Make sure that written materials, especially decisions made by the authorities, are translated and sufficiently explained to the victim.

5. Remember to reserve enough time since a conversation takes twice as long if an interpreter has to be used.

6. Express yourself clearly and explain all the difficult terms you use, such as "claim for damages".

7. Be aware of the fact that it may be difficult for foreigners to talk about their relatives. Make sure that the safety of the victim and his or her family can be ensured during the investigation.

8. Ask about the details of the violence, such as whether the victim has been hit, pushed or pulled by the hair. Be specific and explain what you mean. A foreign victim is not always able to distinguish between different forms of violence, particularly if domestic violence is not illegal in his or her native country.

9. Remember that the victim may be illiterate.

10. Use a support person to make the investigation easier for the victim.

11. When entering a home, please include a female police officer in the team so as to make it possible for female victims to talk freely to the police. If the victim does not understand what you are saying, also make sure that there is an interpreter available. The victim has the right to know what is happening. For example, if the violent person is taken away, it is of great importance that those in the home know where he or she is taken and when he or she will be released.

12. Remember that there may be victims of human trafficking among those in the apartment. Learn how to recognize them and check everyone's documents.

13. When you accompany the victim to his or her home to pick up his or her belongings, make sure that the victim remembers to take his or her documents and medicines.

14. When investigating suicides, find out whether the suicide was forced or otherwise related to honour violence.

In court

1. Determine whether the victim needs an interpreter. Find a reliable interpreter and book him or her well in advance. Provide both parties with their own interpreter. Ask the victim about possible cultural and political difficulties associated with using an interpreter.

2. Find a professional interpreter, not family members, relatives or friends! If the victim is female, it is often wise to find a female interpreter. In some cases, an interpreter from the same ethnic group cannot be considered reliable.

3. Let the victim express his or her opinion about the interpretation. Make sure that the victim understands the interpreter's dialect, writing and terminology.

4. Make sure that the victim does not have to see the accused during the legal process. This is particularly important in cases of honour-related violence.

5. Reserve more time than you would with native victims. Please also remember that the victim may tend to talk about other things than the central points due to reluctance to talk about his or her own relatives.