British Columbia

International students more vulnerable to sexual assault, immigrant services group says

MOSAIC's CEO believes international students are more vulnerable because they are likelier to be isolated, lack a social network and have to navigate a "new culture of dating and relationships."

MOSAIC aims to improve support services at schools

Students at the University of British Columbia campus. MOSAIC CEO Olga Stachova says international students may face extra barriers when it comes to reporting sexual assault. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

A Vancouver immigrant services organization wants to improve sexual assault support for international students.

MOSAIC wants to better equip school staff to help students from abroad because they report sexual assault more often than domestic students.

CEO Olga Stachova believes international students are more vulnerable because they are likelier to be isolated, lack a social network and have to navigate a "new culture of dating and relationships."

They may also be unaware of Canadian laws and resources for them.

"[Students] might come from a cultural background where maybe the behaviour feels normal. Maybe you felt that you were at fault, you might think that no one will believe you if you had a negative experience with authorities," Stachova told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko.

"We want to make sure that educational institutions are prepared to provide the support and to lead the process … and link to the services and supports available in the community."

MOSAIC is putting together a series of workshops for staff at schools to help them develop ways to better assist students who report being assaulted.

'You're making a paradigm shift'

Maham Kamal Khanum, an international student from Pakistan studying at the University of British Columbia, explained that for many international students, talking about sexual violence is highly taboo.

She said that international students may have culturally influenced perceptions about the topic and aren't open to discussing it, even if they feel something isn't right.

"You're making a paradigm shift in your thoughts and your ideas. You're almost unlearning a lot of cultural ideas, you're re-learning things," Khanum said.

"[I] also just learned things that I wasn't really open to learning [about] or I wasn't really in this space to learn before and one of those was how to talk about sexual violence."

The message she has for international students who have been assaulted is to not be afraid to reach out for help.

Stachova says raising awareness among international students about their rights and available support is the next step for MOSAIC.

Listen to the full story:

MOSAIC wants to better equip staff at educational institutions to help students from abroad because they report sexual assault more often than domestic students. 7:12

Where to get help

Rape Crisis Centre 24-hour crisis line: 604-255-6344 or toll free 1-877-392-7583

Battered Women's Support Services: 604-687-1867

VictimLink B.C.: 1-800-563-0808

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868; Live Chat counselling at kidshelpphone.ca

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast