Victoria University has published a lengthy research paper on the ‘community safety’ of international students.
Their survey of international and domestic students at Victorian universities and private providers finds that international students are at greater risk than domestic students of various adverse incidents. But this greater risk is in the context of a more general incivility and crime problem:
Compared with domestic students, international students were significantly more likely to feel unsafe at work (10% vs 5%), to report being verbally abused (58% vs 44%) to report being physically attacked (11% vs 7.5%) and to report being robbed (10% vs 5%). ‘Physical intimidation’ was the only safety threat experienced reported slightly more often by domestic students compared with international students (25% vs 20%).
While the researchers surveyed students and interviewed various ‘stakeholders’, the most important people in understanding the causes of these problems – the perpetrators, or even people from the youth subcultures they come from – don’t get a voice. Instead the report gives us pages of academic theories about racism, little of which seems to me to be helpful in understanding Melbourne’s particular recent issues.
For example, talk of racism as being to do with ‘domination and subordination’ or ‘privilege or oppression’ hardly fits with what little we do know about the perpetrators, except perhaps for the few minutes during which their numbers and physical strength let them take advantage of a vulnerable international student:
most stakeholders interviewed …believed that perpetrators of crime are alienated uneducated young men
One of the few actual reports of a perpetrator (most of the court cases have been in the Children’s Court, which limits identifying detail) showed just how sad a case he was:
The court heard he [Zakarie Hussein] had migrated to Australia from Somalia, aged about six, with his older brother and mother, who were both later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His younger sister had died from malaria shortly before the family left Africa where they spent time in a refugee camp in Kenya.The court heard Hussein had experienced a difficult childhood and by his final year of school was drinking and taking drugs daily.
In the overall scheme of things, there is no reason to regard the perpetrators as ‘dominant’ or ‘privileged’. In any other context of academic inquiry, they would be the ‘victims’.
I don’t want to be too critical of this report. They have gathered some interesting information on an important issue, and there is a useful synthesis of events to date. But as is too often the case, academic theories are the round holes into which the square pegs of empirical reality do not fit.