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Protecting Asian international students from crime

With international youth gang violence making headlines in recent times Griffith University’s Stephen Illidge’s research into the problem has never been more relevant and timely.

Mr Illidge, former head of the Queensland Police Asian Specialist Unit, is completing a PhD through Griffith’s Centre of Excellence for Policing and Security and the Griffith Asia Institute, providing the first sustained study of Asian international student-related crime in Australia.

He is exploring intervention and prevention strategies for international students from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong who are victimised by other Asian groups – and he has the support of settled migrant communities and student associations from those Asian regions.

Mr Illidge has been embraced by the local Asian communities from his position as detective sergeant and officer in charge of the Asian Specialist Unit, having been given the Korean name SooHo (meaning Protector) for himself and honorary Korean names for his sons. 

“Northeast Asian communities here in Australia and abroad are embracing the research,” Mr Illidge said.

“I have received genuine interest and assistance from key tertiary institutions and ELICOS providers throughout Australia, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. 

“I have also had successful talks with senior police and government officials from these regions to assist my field research early next year.”

Mr Illidge’s research is examining why student gangs exist, how their extortion-based activities operate, and the risks and challenges Asian international students face shortly after arrival which leave them vulnerable as targets of criminal activity.

He said the focus on China, Taiwan and Hong Kong was based on the student cohort sizes.

“According to Australian government reports, in 2007 Australia's top 10 international student market segments were from Asia.  China represented the largest student cohort accounting for one-fifth of Australia's total onshore student export income ($2.7 billion),” Mr Illidge said.

“Hong Kong accounted for $572 million and Taiwan $233 million.

“China’s one child policy also means international student welfare is very important to the Chinese government in terms of family prosperity.”

Mr Illidge said social isolation and a lack of family supervision and support systems appeared to be key risk factors for these young people.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests the first two months is a danger period where it is critical students link into student associations and support networks, otherwise they’re more susceptible to being victimised or exploited by Asian gangs,” Mr Illidge said.

“I’m also hoping to develop a better understanding of the cultural factors and how they relate to the widespread under-reporting of crime against Asian international students.”

Mr Illidge’s research will involve interviews with victims and offenders, surveys with Chinese students, and a review of current literature and police data. 

In early 2009 Mr Illidge will spend a few months in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong conducting further research. 

International students interested in being involved can contact Mr Illidge on 07 3735 7311 or [email protected] for a confidential and informal discussion.

Mr Illidge qualifications include a Bachelor of Arts (Korean Language and Criminal Justice) and a Master of Asian and International Studies.  While completing the Master degree he started another degree, a Master of Management.  By the time Mr Illidge graduated with his second Master qualification he had already enrolled in his doctorate and undertaken a Graduate Certificate in Australian Migration Law and Practice.  While Head of the Asian Specialist Unit Mr Illidge initiated a number of detection and prevention programs to improve international student welfare and the delivery of police services to Queensland’s Asian communities.  Mr Illidge resigned from the Queensland Police at the start of 2008 to pursue his doctorate full time after 15 years police service – with the last five years as Head of the Asian Specialist Unit. 


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