Auckland Indian housewife Prema (not her real name) has been a victim of domestic abuse for nearly 30 years, and only found the courage to seek help after being directed to a culturally appropriate safe house.

An Auckland charity which helps South Asian women victims says incidents of domestic violence are "drastically under reported" in the community, and that having a culturally appropriate service was critical.

Roopa Suchdev, chief executive of the Roopa Aur Aap Charitable Trust, said the number of victims the charity is helping has doubled in since 2016 - from 500 to about 1000 and
the number requiring emergency safe house services is up from 10 to 60.

"South Asian women don't feel right reporting domestic violence because they have this belief that it is a private affair," Suchdev said.

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"Many also feel others would not understand their culture or why they are expected to treat their husbands like gods."

South Asian women refers to those from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and also Fiji Indians.

Roopa Suchdev, chief executive of the Roopa aur Aap Charitable Trust. Photo / file
Roopa Suchdev, chief executive of the Roopa aur Aap Charitable Trust. Photo / file

The trust has been working with victims of domestic violence for the past 10 years, and has this year opened the safe house, a leased seven-bedroom property.

But Suchdev said a spike in demand for its services has left the trust struggling to stay afloat.

According to the New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey, 76 per cent of family violence incidents are not reported to the police.

Suchdev believes the number could be as high as 90 per cent in South Asian communities.

"Many women are now coming forward because they know there is somewhere that understands their cultural, religious, customary and traditional beliefs," said Suchdev.

"But that is really putting a big strain on our resources, and without further funding, we are not sure how much more we can keep going."

The trust, which has seven staff that includes counsellors, social workers and admin staff, has an operating cost of more than $1.2 million annually.

Pictured is an Indian lady who suffered abuse at the hand of her husband. 31 August 2018 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Doug Sherring.
Pictured is an Indian lady who suffered abuse at the hand of her husband. 31 August 2018 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Doug Sherring.

Prema, who comes from a small village in India, said hers was an arranged marriage.

"I married when I was 18, and it didn't take long before my husband's side of the family ganged up against me," she said.

The mother-of-two, who is now in her 40s, said she has been taught that it was her "duty" to endure both the physical and mainly verbal abuse.

"Beating someone, the pain will last one or two days. But if you're abusing verbally, swearing saying you are mad ... every time you call someone mad the person starts to think, 'Really, am I mad?'" Prema said.

"Those types of thoughts started to get into my head and built up so much I started to think of suicide. I prayed, please God stop this."

Last summer, she tried to take her life but didn't succeed.

Prema said she endured nearly three decades of abuse because she didn't think anyone would understand her.

"Then my friend encouraged me, because she had been through all this. She encouraged me to come to this charitable trust," Prema said.

"It's been amazing. I found myself and now have the courage to speak up."

AUT University Diversity Professor Edwina Pio said many South Asian immigrants "carry their cultural mores including that of a controlling patriarchy".

"For South Asian diasporic women, disclosure of violence is linked to a loss of face and parental and community sanctions," Pio said.

"In addition to a patriarchal culture, the experience of being an immigrant and the ramifications of employment also serve as flash points of violence and its acceptance."

Expectations placed on South Asian women, Pio said, include being "a loyal, devoted, self-sacrificing wife and mother and uphold family honour".

"For the man, he has generally a privileged standing and is often of the belief that he is sexually entitled to his female partner or wife's body and may view abuse on a continuum from slapping, pulling hair, emotional and psychological intimidation to violent physical abuse as a marital norm."

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Get help

• If you're in immediate danger, call police on 111 or ask neighbours or friends to ring for you

• Roopa Aur Charitable Trust: specialist cultural services for South Asian women
09 6204606

• Women's Refuge: free national crisis line 0800 733843

• Shakti: specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and children 0800 742584