Last Wednesday, a video of an altercation between several women received worldwide attention. In the video, two Asian international students were shown getting attacked by two Caucasian women on Elizabeth Street in Melbourne.
Many believed this to be a race fuelled attack.
The two Melbourne University students were walking to get groceries when they saw two Caucasian women verbally abusing another international student.
Sloanne and Charmaine (interviewee’s names have been changed as per their request) are the two Asian students in the video. They made eye contact with the suspects, one woman in a light pink jacket with blonde hair, and the other in a green jacket with brunette hair.
They then started redirecting the verbal abuse at Sloane and Charmaine instead. The two international students, who are identified in the media as ‘two ‘Chinese’ or ‘Korean’ students but are in fact Malaysian and Singaporean, responded back to the harassment.
“They were saying like Coronavirus, get the f*ck out of my country, go back to China”
Sloanne explained that Charmaine was the first to yell back.
“She said shut up colonizer and I think that messed them up and I did like the middle finger at them.”
But one of the perpetrators, the woman in a green jacket then started sprinting towards the girls, saying, “Come back here you c*nt, I’m gonna kill you die c*nt.”
The attacker then threw an object at her and it hit Charmaine on her temple. When the suspect went to pick it up again, Charmaine tried to defend herself by punching her once on the head.
This was when a bystander started recording. The video played out as Charmaine was dragged to the ground, repeatedly struck with punches and kicks to her body and face as her attacker screamed, “Don’t f*cking hit me, you f*cking imbecile.”
Sloanne was trying to get to Charmaine to help but was blocked by the other suspect instead. Her attacker was holding a bottle of Smirnoff, and she was afraid that it would be used as a weapon.
“She kept saying to me ‘let her be’, ‘let her be’ as in let her friend [continue the] assault, ” Sloanne recalled.
Fortunately, a passer-by intervened at this point and stopped the perpetrators from doing further harm.
The girls who were in shock and fear felt as though everything in that moment was a blur. They only processed what happened and broke down into tears after calling and talking to the police.
“I got a couple of bruises and swelling on my head and a couple of scratches, but I was defending myself so it wasn’t that bad,” Charmaine said, after a checkup at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
When asked if they regretted responding that way, they said they regretted the message but not for speaking up.
“No, we laugh about it now, but a little bit, maybe we shouldn’t have, but the few times we’ve gotten these remarks we’ve never said anything.”
The video only received attention because they decided to speak up and fight back. They did so after a build-up of racist remarks they had been receiving during this outbreak, both subtle and direct.
“[Before the lockdown] we were walking with a group of friends and there were three people walking towards us and as they passed us they said Coronavirus” Charmaine said, remembering the taunting voice they used.
“There was a lady who walked by, but even though we had so much space she went out and about just to avoid us.”
“[And] right after that lady there was a drunk guy, he started coughing really loud and then we [thought] ‘Ah shit, we’ve already seen it coming’ and then he coughed at us and said Coronavirus,” Sloanne recounted.
Normally, Sloanne and Charmaine said they would just brush it off and walk away like many international students were ingrained to do. Advice that they received from their parents and peers were “don’t make eye contact, just walk away.”
Both girls are also disappointed in the way the media has reported the incident. They spoke to the hesitance of news outlets calling it a racist attack while being quick to assume their race and nationality without confirmation.
They had hopes of settling down here after their studies but not anymore. The experience had left a mental trauma on them.
“As we haven’t been able to sleep well or eat properly, we’re jittery when we’re outside.”
”Now whenever we hear a Caucasian yelling we start crying and freaking out,” Sloanne explained.
“It reminds us that we are not welcomed in this country.”
Despite the attack, however, they were grateful for the response they received from their university. ”It helped us feel safe and heard, because we were afraid they were just going to brush it off,” Sloanne added.
The girls hoped that spreading the video would help the police to catch the perpetrators.
“It’s not good that if you just let an assault like this go, it’s like telling people that it’s okay for them to go and assault people in the street… We’re honestly afraid the girls will just go out on bail, we want to make an example and show that this is not okay.”
When asked what they suggest other international students do in a similar situation they both agreed that safety should be first.
“At this point and time no matter what you say or how you justify yourself they’re not gonna listen, so I think it’s best for you to keep to yourself and not respond especially if you’re in a small group even in groups of two. So safety first, you can fight back another way like call the police or film it if you can, don’t endanger yourself.”
On 29 April 2020, the Victorian Government announced a $45 million fund to support international students in Victoria facing hardship as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The fund is being delivered in partnership with Victoria’s tertiary education providers. Head to StudyMelbourne to learn more
If you are in an emergency situation please contact one of the following numbers:
- National Emergency Helpline: 000
- Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000
- Sexual Assault Crisis Line: 1800 806 929
- Lifeline Suicide Hotline: 13 11 14
Meld strongly advises international students to abide by social distancing practices during the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you need any help and questions send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact your respective state’s Study Australia Partners.