Tuesday, June 4, 2013

International Students - targets for bullies and sexual predators.

International students can have an extremely difficult time when studying overseas. There are often issues of painful, sometimes debilitating homesickness, insecurity, confusion and loss.

They can feel resented by the local students and may in turn feel resentful. There are challenges in understanding the nuances of lectures presented in rapid-fire English, and local idiom can be a minefield for those who learnt a very formal version of The Queen’s English. There can be difficulties finding part time work and not understanding the local culture, businesses and expectations.

In their home country, the international student can be confident, capable and resilient.  Navigating and adapting to new experiences and cultural mores without the support of their family and friends can result in the student feeling overwhelmed. The initial excitement and anticipation of studying overseas can develop into realising they need extra support.

In comparison, local students can appear confident with their studies and quite relaxed with members of staff. There may be an appearance of easy informality which is at odds with the respect and compliance towards authority figures at home. Apparently casual relationships at work or at their college can make it difficult for the international student to be alert to, and aware of, inappropriate behaviour by a more powerful person.

These challenges can result in some students being vulnerable to being targeted by various types of bullies, but particularly by sexual predators. The student is confused, lost and alone, and a kind, understanding person who appears to be offering support, local knowledge, warmth, friendship and help seems very welcome. 

The goal of sexual predators is to gain the trust of their target in very gradual, apparently safe and inoffensive stages. Every move the predator initially makes may appear normal, but is in fact calculated so that the target becomes increasingly trusting, familiar, comfortable and reliant on the person. If you express doubts or concerns these will be dismissed as worrying too much, being silly, or an over-reaction. Early meetings are designed to calm and allay any suspicion of inappropriate behaviour, but in reality the predator's goal is to manipulate and control.

Signs of inappropriate behaviour
A student or employee shouldn’t meet their manager, teacher or lecturer on the weekend. When you’re lonely, the attraction of going out with someone who “knows the ropes” and offers to take you for coffee and perhaps to an art show could be attractive, however the blurring of boundaries between professional and private life should always be discouraged.

I’ll repeat that, because it’s so important. It is never acceptable for a lecturer, teacher, counsellor or boss to invite you out. There may be meetings where the whole class or team is involved, that's fine. One on one? Never. Interactions between the authority figure and student should always be strictly professional and formal.  

Employees of an organisation should never give you their private business card or encourage you to contact them after hours. There are accepted professional boundaries which have been established for everyone’s safety. Advertising a private business on company time is not allowed. A reputable employee won’t do this.

A teacher or manager shouldn’t touch you and will appologise if this happens unintentionally. There should be professional physical and emotional distance between a person in authority such as teacher and student, or manager and employee.

If you happen to be looking at detailed information on a computer screen this will be arranged so you’re not physically touching. Your knees and hands won’t touch, “accidentally on purpose” and if they do, you won’t be made to feel foolish for complaining or drawing attention to the fact that this is not appropriate. It’s not to be expected, it’s not acceptable and any concern you express should be respected.

If you feel uncomfortable, your discomfort should be taken seriously. You shouldn’t be told you’ve mistaken the intention or have your unease minimised or dismissed. You shouldn't be made to feel confused or be blamed for feeling uncomfortable.  

In an appropriate professional relationship, sexual comments won’t be made, photos of a sexual nature won’t be shown or referred to and there should be no suggestion of being involved in spending time viewing nude art even if that includes attending a reputable art gallery. If this has happened to you, let someone know, perhaps a teacher or co-worker. To clarify, if you’re enrolled in an art class, and the entire group attends an art show as an integral part of the course, that’s acceptable. Being alone with a person in authority or even with one other person in an out of hours situation; no. 

Inappropriate sexual behaviour of this nature is against organisational rules of conduct, and is illegal. Doctors and psychologists can be de-registered if found guilty of misconduct of this nature.

Unfortunately, some counsellors and career counsellors aren't formally registered and choose to disregard accepted standards of professional conduct. 

When you’re lonely and far from home, when you’re unsure of the roles and expectations in your new environment and are comforted by a smiling, reassuring, confident person who makes you feel special, who knows some of your personal details and who offers support and friendship such as coffee and an outing, or visits to shows where there may be nudity, be very wary and concerned. If it appears too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true, and down the line, there could be a distressing cost. 

Sexual predators make friends with people who feel vulnerableand who don't have a strong support network.  They'll begin by nurturing a relationship which will feel good, reassuring and safe.  Unlike a genuine friendship, the relationship with a predator will slowly change.  You'll start to feel uncomfortable when exposed to inappropriate material and suggestions, and you'll begin to feel emotionally manipulated although his explanations may still appear innocent and plausible. Eventually, there may be overt or subtle blackmail, and your emotions won’t be respected when you try to assert yourself. 

When the boundaries between professional and private life have been blurred by the dominant person, you are unlikely to  have the skills to deal with the experience alone especially if the person is a serial predator. The predator will try to normalise the behaviour and allay your concerns, however there is no excuse for unprofessional conduct and the sooner you seek help, the better.

If you're concerned that you may be the target of a sexual predator at work, at your place of worship or where you're studying, seek help. Talk to other students, teachers, the student union. A discussion with your doctor or a private counsellor who has experience in these issues will be confidential, and there is no shame in seeking help.  Your experiences should be validated and you won't be blamed for what has happened. In many cases, the sexual predator will have a history of similar complaints, possibly going back many years.

The counsellor will give you skills in how to manage the situation and offer ongoing support. If there have been other complaints about a particular person in the organisation, you may be asked for a statement to add to a file of evidence. The best way for these predators to be stopped is to gather evidence from those who've been preyed on. When you talk to someone in authority the pattern of behaviour can be identified over time and action can be taken.
You can feel overwhelmed, alone and crushed by the experience of being targeted by a sexual predator. Seeking help from someone experienced in the area is vital.


David Yamada, who presents excellent information about workplace bullying over at Minding the Workplace, has posted about bullying and sexual harassment of students and cites a study about this resulting in increased alcohol consumption.

There's a bit more on the patterns investigators into bullying and harassment look for here: http://traverselife.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/y-you-can-do-something-if-youre-being.html

Other reasons you might be a target:

The serial bully: http://traverselife.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/u-underestimate-unrelenting-workplace.html

Posted by Sue Travers


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - a very powerful post - you do cover so many important aspects .. and bullying, predatory traits are really unpleasant ... and can upset, dominate and scare so many. Overseas students must have a very challenging time ...

Impacting their lives in the future, so often too ..

I do hope this gets out to many - the most important thing at least it's here to be found.

All the best - Hilary

Deborah said...

Great blog Sue.
A number of my young , female intentional students, experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. They were very relieved, after talking to me, to discover that it was not a normal or acceptable part of working life in Australia. Problem was of course, that they were sometimes working 'cash in hand' and so were too terrified to take any action other than leaving the job...


Sue Travers said...

Thanks Hilary. this is one post I'd rather not see the need to write, however students are vulnerable and supposedly responsible adults take advantage of them.

Deborah, cash payments are open to abuse on a number of levels. It's a real minefield and the only person who seems to benefit is the unscrupulous employer.