The PEER CAFES – Peer Creating Awareness to Facilitate Education and Support is an initiative that addresses the issue of sexual assault and its impact on international students. This includes developing informational workshops centered around sexual violence support and prevention, one to one support, an accessible educational safety guide translated into Punjabi, Arabic, Mandarin, and Japanese, as well as a social media awareness campaign.
The objective of this initiative is to increase international students’ understanding of sexual assault, victimization, consent, and rape culture, while also increasing their knowledge and capacity to support their peers. The initiative also strives to provide international students with information about how to report/disclose, and how to access wrap around support services such as those provided by MOSAIC.
The initiative provides an opportunity to engage in dialogue that centers on the needs of international students rather than promoting conversations that socially exclude them from their ethnic communities in addition to the larger community.
Importance of PEER CAFES
A 2018 report stated that there are 721,205 international students at all levels of study in Canada, which was the largest number ever recorded. From 2014 to 2018, there has been a 68% increase in the number of international students in Canada. In fact, British Columbia hosts the second largest international student population, with most students concentrated in large cities such as Surrey.
Despite the rapid increase, there are still a lack of culturally sensitive and inclusive support services that acknowledge the unique complexities international students face. International students may face complexities which include: language barriers; lack of knowledge of laws; racism and discrimination; marginalization; sexism; lack of a social circle and support; loneliness; homesickness; anxiety; and lack of confidence. International students may face these from the larger community but also from within their own ethnic communities and campus community.
Sexual assault and victimization of international students are not reflected, as demonstrated by sparse documentation and literature on the issue. Moreover, there is little to no data available on the reporting trends of international students’ victims of sexual violence, despite the increase of international students accessing transition houses and sharing their experiences with peers. Recent reports released by L’Universite du Quebec a Montreal (UQAM) found that in Quebec, international students experience sexual assault in higher frequencies in comparison to their domestic counterparts. However, existing support services do not recognize the unique challenges that make international students more vulnerable to victimization and exploitation.
According to the BC International Student Survey support, international students rely primarily on other international students from their home country and from other countries for their primary sources of support rather than disclosing/reporting to the police or other support services. The issue of non-reporting is due to several reasons which have not been acknowledged. Non-reporting may be due to perceived stigma, cultural expectations of maintaining family honour, fear of the perpetrator, or the fear of losing housing and employment where the perpetrator is a landlord or employer. Additionally, cultural perspective of violence and rape myths differ from one culture to another. Thus, international students might have difficulty identifying sexual violence and responding to disclosure of sexual assault.
A study of Student Psychological Wellbeing at McGill University revealed that international students experience more traumatic events that evoke intense fear, helplessness, or horror than domestic students. Financial challenges such as being able to pay high tuition fees, bills, rent, food, while sending money back home can also induce stress. In addition, international students may be exploited by their employer to work longer (illegal) hours or be sexually exploited by their landlord. The fear of deportation also lingers for international students, as they may be threatened or further exploited by landlords, employers, or family members due to a lack of knowledge of their rights. The hardship of transitioning and adjusting to a new country where they may not know anyone or have a sense of community can also have a severe impact.