Think Smart, Stay Safe: Identifying verbal abuse and how int’l students can manage confrontations

It was supposed to be a fun day out with friends but after being on the receiving end of a verbal tirade, Monash University student Chui Choo Feng was instead left feeling rattled.

“At the back of the bus, I heard this man mumbling to himself,” recounted the Singaporean student, who at the time was traveling into the city with her friends.

What initially sounded like incoherent chatter soon became targeted language as Feng quickly realised she was being singled out by her harasser.

“He pointed me out by identifying the clothes that I wore and at that time, I was the only one on the bus [who] was wearing that kind of colour and that kind of clothing,” she said.

The man continued to mumble, Feng said, and at one point he spat his gum at Feng which made contact with her leg.

Although afraid and confused, she remained silent and chose not to do or say something that would antagonise her harasser. Her friends also sensed her fear.

“I think my friends knew what the problem was so they told me to move [further] into the seat for my own safety and I did that.”

The man eventually alighted from the bus yet despite his absence, Feng could not stop thinking about what had transpired before her. She was “surprisingly affected” by the experience as this was the first, and so far only, incidence of verbal abuse to happen to the Monash student who has been living in Australia for almost two years.

“I didn’t feel confident about myself and for a few days after that I was just constantly slightly worried about the people around me when I was traveling out.”

Where does verbal abuse happen and how can I protect myself?

Verbal abuse can take place anywhere at any time and to anybody. Familiar and innocuous environments such as your campus, a professional workplace or internship, a shopping centre or even inside your home can still become settings where verbal abuse happens.

Moreover, this kind of abuse can also take on several malicious forms. Racial, sexual, queer, socio-economic and disabled discrimination are just some of the ways in which harassers may target individuals for abuse. And in such scenarios where individuals are singled in a prejudice motivated crime, a report should be made to your local police station. Alternatively, anonymous reports can also be made to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

To assist, students on how best to manage confrontational spots on the spot however, and what students can do after the incident has occurred, here are some safety and wellbeing tips.

Priortise your safety

Ensure that your personal safety is not in any danger by doing whatever you can to remove yourself from an incidence of verbal abuse. This can include moving to a different and safer location or making yourself more visible to others in public, if these options are available to you.

Feng advises students walk away entirely, if possible, rather than engage in any form of retaliation or display of aggression towards the abuser.

“Stick to crowds and be near people so that if anything happens, people around might be able to help you,” recommends Feng.

If you are in an environment where staff or authorities are present, you can also let them know what has happened afterwards if it is safe for you to do so. They can take steps to help you, as well to ensure the space is safe for other members of the public.

In case of emergency, call Triple Zero (000)

In the event of an emergency, students who strongly feel their personal safety may be in danger can seek immediate assistance by also calling Triple Zero (000) and asking for police.

By letting authorities know where you are and the nature of your emergency, police can step in to protect vulnerable individuals from any potential threat or harm.

Another tactic students can refer to in case of an emergency is to save close contacts on speed dial. Quick and easy access is always a good idea.

Make a formal report after the incident

If the incident has already occurred and you would like to make a formal report, head into your local police station and speak with a police officer.

When you report the incident to an officer, remember to provide as much detail as possible which may aid in police investigation. If your abuser is known to police, your report could go a long way in ensuring the area they occupy is a lot safer for residents, including other international students.

Talking through your experiences

Incidents involving verbal abuse may be traumatic to an individual. One way of coming to terms with these events is to be open about the experience with others and express how it made you feel.

For Feng, she found that it helped to talk about it with her friends immediately after as the experience was “a little bit scary and unfamiliar” to her.

“At first I felt both angry and scared. But after a while I just started […] trying to understand why he [would do] something like that,” she said.

This story is part of Meld Magazine’s “Think Smart, Stay Safe” campaign and has been produced with assistance from Victoria Police.

The campaign aims to provide international students with relevant resources that ensure students are aware of when to report a crime, how to identify when a crime has happened to them and who students can report to. 

In case of emergency, please call Triple Zero (000) for police, fire or ambulance services.

If you’re a victim of crime, contact the nearest police station in person or via phone to make a report. For information about local police stations in Victoria, visit Victoria Police’s official website.

If you want to provide information about crime or suspicious activity anonymously, call Crime Stoppers Victoria on 1800 333 000 or report online through its official website or download the Crime Stoppers Victoria app.

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