DISCLOSURE: This piece cites cases of women from an East Asian background. My next few ppieces will look at the same issue but with regards to South Asian women and LGBTIQ Asian students.
There have been requests from readers and Asian Facebook group members for me to make this a topic for this week’s piece. Many have expressed their concerns of the recent media around various attacks and/or murder of Asian women, many of whom are international students. Upon reflecting on what I would say about this topic and how I would write this up, I went through some of the previous posts I have written, and realised that yes, it is a huge issue, and one which needs to be discussed openly and transparently in the public sphere. However, the concerns are not just about what happened to these women, but it is also about the nature of their attacks/murder, the notion that they were not able to access adequate support networks and some of the reactions by Asian men that somehow these women deserved what happened because the attacks which have been circulated on the media have been perpetrated by non-Asian men. To answer that I just wanted to firmly state abusers come in all shapes and sizes and men from all colours.
So when I think about what is going on with these spate of attacks and murders, I am reminded of a number of cases which have occurred (predominantly in Europe and the West). Obviously there are many more from other parts of the world, but for the purposes of this piece, I will list the 6 which come to mind and ones which we have covered on this site.
The first case which comes to mind was one which happened in 2009, the murder of Annie Le who was a Yale doctoral student. She was only 24 when she was murdered by Raymond J. Clark, III, a Yale laboratory technician who worked in the same building as Annie. Her body was found in a wall basement and her death was due to asphyxia. Her clothes were bloody and its clear to the violent nature of her murder.
The second case which comes to mind is of Michelle Leng, who was murdered last April in Sydney. Michelle was an international student from China and the suspected murderer was her uncle by marriage, Derek Barrett, who was married to Michelle’s Aunt. Michelle lived with her aunt and uncle. It was alleged that Derek tied her up, gagged her, stripped her naked and stabbed her over 30 times at the back of the neck, then dumped her body in the ocean.
Zhang was a young aspiring fashion designer who went to study abroad in Rome, Italy. She was only 20, when she was hit by a train chasing muggers who stole her purse just last year. Her body was later found, bloody and in a ditch. She had been in Rome for less than a year.
This also only happened in May last year. Li was a 25 year old architecture student from China studying in Germany. She was taking a jog and was somehow lured to an apartment of a young German couple, who raped her severely and left her for dead. When they returned to the apartment later and saw that she was still alive, they murdered her and discarded her body in the bushes.
This also happened in September last year, Natsumi was an international student from Japan and studying English in Canada. Her disappearance in September was a mystery with her body later found in a historic mansion in Vancouver. 48 year old Canadian William Victor Schneider was arrested in connection with the murder of Natsumi. The connections between the two were unclear.
Xixi was a 24 year old Masters student studying in Cardiff, and was murdered by her 24 year old British boyfriend Jordan Matthews, who beat her to death. It is clear that Xixi’s death was due to prolonged domestic violence and the final beating in August 2016, was the one which killed her. Paramedics found her not breathing laying on the floor, and the medical examiner later found bruises and fractures all over her body. Matthews claims that he accidentally beat her as he has a black belt in Karate and didn’t realise his own strength.
So upon reading all these cases, asides from Annie Le’s death, the other 4 happened last year. The 5 out of 6 cases which I have recounted were all international students. This list does not include those which are not reported or the cases which are under reported. It also doesn’t include the number of reported incidence (which we have written about over the past year) of both international and exchange students (high school age) being sexually assaulted by members of their host families. There are two cases which I have written about here from New Zealand and the US. All this sounds extremely alarming and they are.
Interestingly, I have spoken to a number of Chinese international students living in Australia. I was curious to find out how these cases have been reported on Chinese media. I was told that it has become front and centre of the media a lot more often than it use to be – which is a positive in my books. However, some of the debate around these murders (specifically Xixi Bi) was around the notion of the dangers of interracial relationships ( I will discuss this notion later). The other debates were more safety related and there are talks about overhauling what Chinese students are taught in preparation prior to studying abroad.
My question is why are young Asian females being targeted? Was it that these men saw young, naive Asian/Chinese women as an easy target? Many questions need to be asked and I question the safety of young Asian female students in the West and Europe. More importantly, are Asian female students (particularly international students ) naive and ill equipped to understand how best to prepare for being safe? I mean Zhang was mugged and chased her muggers and was hit by a train as a result. The others were all horrifically sexually motivated. The other concern I hold is whether it is our Asian culture that is holding us back. I mean, the instances of both Michelle being murdered by her uncle and Xixi being beaten to death by her boyfriend are clear examples of potentially prolonged domestic/sexual abuse. It is part of our culture to “save face” – meaning any issues such as sexual/domestic abuse are dealt with internally and not shared with others in the public. You can bet my bottom dollar that the rates of sexual and domestic abuse is extremely high in Asia. But because females are still seen as subservient and obedient to the males (in the most traditional sense), these cases are all under reported and women feel trapped and deal with these things internally to not break up the relationship/family. Women are often blamed for being beaten up, and I can see that as a possibility in the cases of Michelle and Xixi, who felt they could not talk about their problems freely. This has to change.
Another point I wish to make is that we need to stop blaming interracial relationships for sexual and domestic abuse. Yes, I agree that some non-Asian men do feel superior over their Asian female partners/family members/strangers because Asians are still seen as subservient and weak. But this notion shouldn’t become victim blaming, as I have witnessed in various social media groups, where the articles to these cases are shared. I have seen some Asian men, laugh (using the Facebook laughing emoticon) and insinuate that these women “deserved” what they got all because they knew/or was with a non-Asian partner. There is no acknowledgement of the abuse that had occurred, it was just usual childish banter of the circle jerking kind. This is sad and disappointing and I question how they have been bought up to view their own Asian sisters in such a low light.
Finally, what can we do? What can we as the Asian diaspora do to look out for Asian females, particularly international students. It is hard, but for us who were raised, lived or were born in the West and Europe have the responsibility to look out for particularly Asian international students. Many study abroad with little to no support network asides from friends or fellow classmates. Many do not know they can access certain services, community groups and individuals who can help support them before the inevitable happens. I do this. I spend a lot of time talking to Asian female international students about keeping safe and letting them know I am only a phone call away. We need to be their big sisters/brothers and support them so they can do the same for others who may be in the same situation. This is all I will say about this, as there is a lot more I can go on about. Let’s be aware, share information and create a strong and cohesive network which will protect and look out for our fellow Asian sisters.
Images via Midday.com