International Students

Advocacy Groups Respond to Al Jazeera Documentary ‘Australia: Rape on Campus’

4 May 2018

Content warning: sexual assault and sexual harassment

University sexual assault advocates have called for government action against sexual violence on international students after the launch of Al Jazeera’s documentary Australia: Rape on Campus last week.

Released last Thursday, Al Jazeera’s new documentary revealed the issue of international student sexual assault on campus, and their difficulties in seeking help. In response to the issue, leading advocacy groups End Rape on Campus Australia, Fair Agenda, National Union of Students and Hunting Ground Australia Project released a joint statement, demanding more support for international students from the government.

“The ongoing revelations about sexual violence in universities demonstrates that there is a systemic and ingrained problem,” said Renee Carr, executive director of Fair Agenda.

“I think the Al Jazeera‘s documentary is further evidence that the federal government needs to step in and establish a taskforce to ensure the safety of all students at our universities,” she said.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report last year, 5.1 per cent of international students were sexually assaulted from 2015 to 2016. The report also found that in comparison to domestic students, international student survivors were less likely to know where to report their assault to, and more likely to feel too embarrassed or ashamed to report it.

“With international students they’ve got an added level of fear, because lots of students think that by making a report to their university or the police, there could be an impact on their student visa,” said End Rape on Campus Australia Director Sharna Bremner.

Bremner also said the complexity of police and legal procedures and the lack of culturally appropriate support services at universities have become barriers for international student survivors when reporting sexual assault and seeking support.

National Union of Students Women’s Officer Kate Crossin said universities are failing to provide detailed and accurate information addressing the issue for international students.

“There are already a federal law and code of practice that universities have to follow which very clearly state that in order to be a registered educational body that educate international students, you must supply them information about around legal issues around medical issues in all those sorts of things,” said Crossin.

“I think that universities are breaking the law, they are not meeting these codes of practice.”

Bremner also suggests that universities are not providing useful information to help international students develop a comprehensive understanding of Australian culture.

“We see a lot of educational lectures or seminars held in o-week that meant to be about Australian culture, but maybe what they touch on is simple things like slangs,” said Bremner.

“They don’t really talk about cultural differences in relationships and dating and things that 19, 20 year-old will be doing.”

International student representatives expressed their support for both Al Jazeera’s documentary and the advocates’ proposals.

“The documentary shines a light on an issue that is quite prevalent but not spoken about too often by the general public,” said John Hee, University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) International president.

“The issue of sexual harassment and assault is not something that can be dealt with overnight. The continued cooperation between different stakeholders across the University, staff and student alike is key to building a safer community on campus,” said Hee.

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