SEXtember: Identifying sexual assault and harassment

WHAT is sexual assault and how do victims seek the help they need? With cases on the rise on campus, students – especially international students – need to understand their options. Samantha Chew reports.

As international students, our voices are sometimes quelled by the public and ourselves. Yet even the loudest of voices in the community can be made smaller when encountered with sexual assault or harassment. Chances are, many international students won’t even know when it happens to them or what to do.

Most of us might recognise sexual assault and harassment as something that can happen in public with a stranger. That bus ride home might not be the same ever again after you feel someone else’s hand somewhere inappropriate or the path you walk to and from uni might be too dangerous to go unaccompanied at night.

But sexual assault comes in many forms and the perpetrators are never just strangers; they can also include those closest to us.

When we move to a new country, those of us in a relationship may feel that the dependence on a partner is magnified. But consent is still consent, even in a relationship, and it is completely okay to deny even your partner when you do not feel up to sex. What may start out as a caress, can end up becoming manipulation and it is never okay to feel violated.

To be sexually empowered does not mean you have to say yes to everything. But what can you do if it does, or has, happened to you?

Where to go look for help


There are many resources for students to either seek help or contribute to assist victims of sexual assault and harassment. It is important to know that while you are residing in Australia, you are protected by Australian laws.

The Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA) are a great resource for women and men who have experienced sexual assault or abuse in recent times or during childhood. Not only do they provide counselling services, there is a 24-hour hotline that operates every single day. Working closely with the Monash Hospital Interpretation Department, victims can call in and ask for an interpreter if they are more comfortable speaking in another language. Brochures are available in 11 languages —  including Chinese, Arabic, Khmer, Spanish and Vietnamese — with more information available in 16 languages.

CASA employs workers of various backgrounds, and its counsellors also receive training to deal with people of different cultural makeups to ensure that you can receive the right culturally sensitive help. They are also sensitive to visa, university and financial considerations which many international students have.

“[If] you’re a young Chinese girl and you come here and your parents have struggled to send you to do a course and you get sexually assaulted, we understand why it is that you would not want anyone to know,” says Carolyn Worth, Manager of the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault.

Various workshops run by CASA also teaches victims how to get a job, take care of themselves and learn relevant skills to healthily be a functioning member of society.

1800Respect is also great in that it provides counselling services for people in Australia and is also useful for victims wishing to seek help for everything from everyday issues to mental health problems.

How you can help to creating a better campus experience

Still from 'The Hunting Ground' (2015), a documentary about sexual assault on campus.

Still from ‘The Hunting Ground’ (2015), a documentary about sexual assault on campus.

In an effort to further research the landscape of sexual assault and harassment in Australia, especially on campuses, students are encouraged to contribute to a national survey in a campaign called Respect. Now. Always, by the Australian Human Rights Commission. This survey is the first of its kind and will help government, academia and local forces fully understand the issue and implement solutions and preventative measures in the future.

International students are especially being called upon for their assistance. While international students make up a large portion of the student population, most reports and statistics provided to authorities unfortunately do not shed light on the impact that sexual assault has on international students.

“We often hear that international students may be particularly vulnerable when these kinds of incidents do occur,” says Professor Gilliam Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

“Someone who is in a new country may not be aware of their rights or the local support services that can assist them.”

International student participation in the survey would therefore go a long way in ensuring that the right support services could be provided.


There is absolutely no shame in seeking help even from a family member of friend. If you are in immediate danger and unsure of your options, call the emergency hotline, 000. The CASA hotline is only available in Victoria at 1800 806 292 but the 1800Respect hotline is national wide at 1800 737 732. It is recommended that students have these numbers saved on their phones. If you would like to anonymously send in a police report through CASA online, you can do so through here.

If you are interested in participating in the national survey, do so by visiting the Australian Human Rights Commission’s official website. Submissions are anonymous and will not have an impact on your visa, university status or any other aspect of your public life.

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Meld Magazine was incorporated as an independent not-for-profit media outlet in September 2008 to reach out to international students in Melbourne, and provide students the opportunity to gain real work experience.

Many international students live in or around the city because of the proximity to their colleges and universities, and that was where we decided to focus our efforts first. Many of us live, work and study locally too. Our editorial team is made of both local and international students, and it has worked to our advantage in providing local content in every sense of the word.

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