Women's groups and individuals have come forth to support female international students in Melbourne, who have received explicit messages for dates, massages, and even sex, in response to social media posts for assistance during COVID-19. They have slammed those men of Indian origin who are 'preying on vulnerable and young girls,' and are 'giving a bad name to the entire community.'
Several Indian international students recently spoke to SBS Punjabi about their experiences that have left them ‘shocked’ and ‘shaken’.
- After hearing that several female international students were being harassed over social media by men of Indian origin, some individuals and women's groups have come forward to help
- Unsolicited messages include invitations for dates and sex, and at least one police complaint has been lodged
- Young women are being encouraged to speak up and not suffer in silence.
When Sonia* posted on social media for a short-term loan to pay for her fees, a man of Indian origin offered to help and even transferred the money into her account for an agreed monthly interest of $40.
But soon after, he sought sexual favours, saying although "he was married his wife didn’t like sex". He even asked her to ‘send a friend’ if she was unable to come, offering to pay $200 ‘per date’.
Sonia reported this to the police on the advice of a good Samaritan who had helped her out earlier as well.
Pooja* wanted to earn some money during the COVID lockdown and posted on social media that she was selling sanitisers and face masks.
In response, she had multiple responses from men who either sought dates, massages and even sex by sending suggestive messages like becoming “friends with benefits.”
Both Sonia and Pooja say these are not isolated incidents and personally know many female international students who have had to endure similar experiences.
"I came to Australia 12 years ago as a student and had the same experience'
When Melbourne-based Shashi Kanta Singh and Reena Rana came to know about this, they tried to offer help on an individual basis, as well as through their social media networks. Both are neither social workers nor associated with specific organisations, but felt compelled to help.
“I myself came to Australia as an international student 12 years ago and even I faced the exact same thing. It broke my heart to see this happening again to someone much younger, and knowing how soul destroying this can be, I set out to help these young women,” Ms Rana told SBS Punjabi.
Using social media, she first posted a video to call out this predatory behaviour as unacceptable and rallied community support to provide some financial aid.
“We organised a fundraiser to help these international students monetarily and also provided emotional support because this can be a very harrowing experience.”
Also providing assistance was Shashi Kanta Singh, who reached out to the young women personally to provide support.
“I called Pooja several times to reassure her,” she says, adding, “the saddest thing about all this is that all the men making these unsolicited advances were Indian, and many of them are married.”
"I have seen and read all of their messages, which made my soul tremble. I can't even repeat those words back to you," she said in an interview with SBS Punjabi.
“They are like vultures and predators trying to prey on these students, especially now during the COVID crisis when hardly any international student has a job.”
“Many of these young students are teenage girls who have come to study in Australia after finishing high school. It’s so awful that they have to deal with this, that too from grown men in our community,” says Ms Singh.
Ms Rana says, “I have received so many calls for help, not just from Melbourne, but even from Perth and Brisbane. In fact a lady recently told me how her niece was being harassed by sexual messages similar to what Sonia and Pooja received."
"She was employed as a tutor by a family. After three classes, the father of the child offered to set her up on a date with a friend in his 40's."
“It’s just disgusting.”
She talked about another case where a married man of Indian origin was taking sexual favours from a female international student, which has now left the young woman in a dire predicament.
“He trapped her for his pleasure, and now the girl has become emotionally involved with him. She is in her early twenties and is involved with this married man who is much older than her. Experiences like these can scar you for life."
'Don't suffer in silence, help is available'
Ms Rana has gone on to launch two Facebook groups to help support the young women.
“I started two groups named Indian Students in Australia and Indian Women in Australia to create a safe network for these young women, so they can come forward and share their problems. We provide information classes on family violence prevention and women's’ rights, and also have free activities like fitness, dance and language classes.”
Both Ms Rana and Ms Singh encourage anyone caught up in a difficult situation to speak up, and not to suffer in silence.
“There is a lot of help available from many organisations in Australia and many good people in the Indian community who will come forward to help. So please don’t feel alone – we will help you.”
To hear audio interviews with Ms Singh and Ms Rana, click on the audio player above.
In an unrelated case, SBS Punjabi recently reported about an Indian-origin man in Perth, who has been jailed for offenses related to revenge porn.
It is recommended that for cases of cyberbullying or image-based harassment, the victims should report to the eSafety Commission via their website.
Tips for victims of image-based abuse
The Australian Federal Police advises any victim of image-based abuse to consider the following course of action:
- do not send any more images or videos or give in to any other demands
- get support from a trusted friend or family member, or professional support services
- collect as much evidence as you can, including screenshots, URLs or any other records
- report the matter to police
- if you are worried about your physical safety, call Triple Zero (000).
- For more information about image-based abuse or for help with removal of intimate content posted online, contact the eSafety Commissioner on esafety.gov.au/imagebasedabuse.
If you or someone you know is impacted by family violence or sexual assault, please call 1800 RESPECT ( 1800 737 7328) or call Mens' Referral Service on 1300 766 491. In an emergency, please call 000.
* Sonia and Pooja are not their real names
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