New "PEER CAFE" initiative to offer sexual violence support to international students

Feb 26 2020, 11:00 am

The number of international students in Canada — specifically in BC — is on the rise, creating complexities in addressing the challenges faced by this population.

A new Vancouver initiative spearheaded by Mosaic BC provides support services and education related to sexual violence to the Lower Mainland’s international student population.

PEER CAFES was started in April 2019 by Mosaic to address the issue of sexual assault and its impact on international students.

Mosaic supports international students when it comes to disclosure, reporting, and accessing resources.

“Mosaic recognizes that there are a lot of complexities for international students when facing sexual violence, such as the language barrier, racism or discrimination, marginalization, sexism, or even a lack of having these social or family supports that they had in their home country,” said Rena Kim, Multicultural Outreach Services Worker with Mosaic, who works with the PEER CAFES initiative.

According to research done by Mosaic, in 2018, a total of 721, 205 international students at all level studied in Canada.

BC’s international student population is composed of foreign nationals who may be temporary residents, refugee claimants, or individuals without immigration status, who face unique struggles, and are more likely to be exploited.

According to Mosaic BC, a study of Student Psychological Wellbeing at McGill University revealed that international students experience more traumatic events that evoke intense fear, helplessness, or horror than domestic students.

“Financial challenges such as being able to pay high tuition fees, bills, rent, food, while sending money back home can also induce stress. In addition, international students may be exploited by their employer to work longer (illegal) hours or be sexually exploited by their landlord,” says the Mosaic website.

Mosaic recognized there was a huge increase in international students, many from East Asia and South Asia, with the total population having gone up 68% from 2014 to 2018 and on track to increase.

“Despite the population increasing, in terms of service delivery, there is a reflection that in terms of disclosing sexual assault sexual violence, there’s been a lot of underrepresentation and underreporting of the lived experience of international students and Mosaic wanted to fill that gap in terms of service delivery, to help give them support and education,” said Kim.

The PEER CAFES program initially starts with a two-hour educational workshop, offered all across the Lower Mainland in educational institutions, to talk about sexual violence, consent, rape culture, resources, options, cultural barriers and how to support peers, among other things.

“A lot of students don’t know of existing resources, and they don’t know if they can access them, and many go through further barriers like not knowing what their rights are, having a fear of deportation as well as not knowing the disclosure process, not knowing police procedures,” said Arshdeep Grewal, Multicultural Outreach Services Worker with Mosaic, who works with the PEER CAFES initiative.

According to the BC International Student Survey support, international students rely primarily on other international students from their home country and from other countries for their primary sources of support rather than disclosing/reporting to the police or other support services.

In addition to the workshop, PEER CAFES provides an accessible educational safety guide translated into Punjabi, Arabic, Mandarin, and Japanese, as well as a social media awareness campaign.

“A lot of students don’t know sexual violence is not just rape, that there’s other forms, and other attitudes that are still considered sexual violence,” said Grewal. “We get feedback that you can’t be abused or face sexual violence in a relationship, so there are still a lot of misperceptions or assumptions regarding sexual violence.”

“One-to-one support is also available at the Mosaic office in Vancouver, encompassing emotional support as well as practical assistance that comes hand to hand with leaving an abusive relationship, income assistance, finding housing or shelters, as well as legal resources,” said Kim.

The service is open to any and all international students, who are able to access the resources online, or to go to the Vancouver office to access in-person services.

For more information on services available for international students, visit the Mosaic website.