This is an open letter,
To anyone who felt like it was their fault.
To anyone who had to stay quiet
To everyone, who understands.
This is an open letter to them.
For her, for him, for them, for us.
It's okay. Right now, it might feel like you’re overthinking it, maybe you’re trying not to think about it. Maybe it’s on your mind, maybe it isn’t. Maybe you want to move on and forget about it and maybe you don’t. What I’m trying to say is that everything that you’re feeling right now, is valid. Your emotions right now are valid. It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. No matter what your brain or even society is trying to tell you, you did not ask for it.
there is no “right way” to respond to this act of sexual assault. But you need to remember, that even though these emotions can be unbearable, intense and difficult to bear with, there are people ready to listen. There are people ready to help. No matter what gender you identify as, feeling these emotions that you’re coping with are valid.
try to listen. I know it might be hard to be sympathetic to an emotion you haven’t felt before, but listen. Maybe you’re a parent, or a teacher, or a friend. Listen to them. Hear them out. They need the support. On your part, it isn’t always easy knowing what to say to someone who has been sexually assaulted, especially if that one person is someone who is a family member, or someone close to you. It can take a lot for someone to open up about sexual assault, but be cautious not to take their possible calmness as a sign to degrade the fact that something has happened. Everyone responds to sexual harassment differently. Let them know they are not alone. If you personally feel like you cannot provide them with the help that they need, recommend some helpline services,
April is sexual assault awareness month. Dear Em is one of the many organisations that are constantly advocating and spreading awareness about sexual assault, and how we as a community can fight to remove the stigma around Sexual abuse.
If you, or someone you know might need help, here are some hotlines that are 100 percent confidential:
Help Auckland 0800 6231700
Safe to talk 0800 044 334
National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673)
1 in 3 girls have experienced sexual assault before she even is 16.
1 in 7 boys will have experienced sexual assault by adulthood.
You may have come across these terms various times, and unfortunately this is the truth.
It has been this way for years now. April is known as the month for sexual assault awareness. This time, we will not remain silent. He will not have to shrug it off. She will not be forced silent. They will not have to pretend like it didn’t happen. You are more than a statistic. You are more than just the ‘victim’. You are a survivor. He is not a coward. She is brave. They have done nothing to deserve this. Right now, you need to remember, there is no right way to ‘react’ to what has happened. But you need to remember, that even though these emotions can be unbearable, intense and difficult to bear with, there are people ready to listen. There are people ready to help. No matter what gender you identify as, feeling these emotions that you’re coping with are valid.
Remember, sexual assault can happen to anyone. Regardless of gender.
To the boys who feel ashamed, and think that they should have been ‘strong enough’ to fight off the abuser, we hear you. You need to remember, this was not your fault. Many people believe that sexual assault doesn’t happen to men. This is completely false. 1in6 is a website dedicated to removing that stigma, and is entirely confidential. (https://1in6.org/) The social stigma and silence around male sexual abuse and assault results in a lack of awareness and understanding about the effects of these experiences, and what men need to move forward.
Boys and men can both be sexually assaulted, and has nothing to do with how ‘masculine’ they might be. Whether he is gay, straight or bisexual, a boy’s sexual orientation is neither the cause nor the result of sexual abuse. By focusing on the abusive nature of sexual abuse rather than the sexual aspects of the interaction, it becomes easier to understand that sexual abuse has nothing to do with a boy’s sexual orientation. Girls and women can sexually abuse or assault boys and men. The boys and men are not “lucky,” but exploited and harmed.
To the girls who have been taught that they were ‘asking for it’. We hear you. You were not ‘tempting’ your abuser into assaulting you. To the women who were told to be grateful it happened, we hear you. We are here for you. You need to remember, there are people ready to listen. You were not abused because your ‘skirt was too short’ or because you were ‘asking for it’. You are so much more than that.
Survivors of sexual assault have been silenced daily. Heads bowed, lips pursed, eyes down. Put a scarf on our heads, and marry our women and girls off. Congratulate our men and tell them they are lucky. Put henna on our women and girl’s hands, the very same hands that were pinned down. Tell our boys that they can’t ‘be a victim’.
Slapped, shut down, told to be quiet.
Hurt, silenced, and told not to tell anyone else.
Shamed, considered ‘impure’ and married off.
You are more than numbers on a paper. You are more than the police reports stacked on a desk, gathering dust, unnoticed. You are more than a statistic, and it is so important that you know that. You are not defined by what your abuser(s) have done. Those who have been traumatised will never be what they were, they are remade into something that is beyond measure stronger, more beautiful, kinder and empathetic."
The stigma that has grown around our people, is disgusting to say at the least.
Survivors are people who have been through so much. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a different reason as to why they wake up every morning. We are all so extraordinarily complex. But we at shakti believe that this is what makes us beautiful. You are not alone. You are not the only one who can’t sleep at night, or is crying today.
Women of colour all over the world have been subjected to sexual assault, and are forced silent. They are married off, and told that they are worthless. Here at shakti, we are dedicated to eradicating this stigma surrounding our brave survivors.
Some helplines that are completely confidential;
SHAKTI- 0800 742 584
SAFE NETWORK- 09 377 9898
SHINE- 0508 744 633
HELP- 09 623 1700
Call 111 for emergency services.
Lifeline- 0800 543 354
Or call 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
Feminism means something different to everyone. Feminism is a bad word in my own religious community, and most of my family have probably never had to think about the word at all. Regardless, feminism was always an obvious identity choice to me.
Growing up, I learned how to be a feminist, but not because I read about it or saw it on TV. My mum asked me recently how I came to be so invested in issues of gender equality, but I couldn’t answer, I couldn’t figure out why.
I’ve heard stories about one of my great grandmothers, a descendant of slave women, a hard-working farmer, and a wife to two husbands. I never believed that a supposedly oppressed woman from the early 1900s, living in a strict patriarchal society, could have the autonomy to work outside of her home, and be free from ownership by a man.
I’ve heard stories about my grandmother, the first woman in my family to defy social and family expectations, to work for herself and her family, to raise them out from poverty. Again, it was hard to imagine an oppressed woman living in a poor village during the 1960s achieving something like this. Especially a twenty-something, mother of three, forced into marriage at the age of fifteen, who lived with the heartbreak of losing two of her own children.
I’ve heard stories from my mother about her unfair childhood, mostly because she was born a girl. She told me about how her friend helped her to get qualified for a job she never wanted or asked for, but took because it was her only path to independence. She recognised the importance of girls supporting girls. She told me how she moved to New Zealand alone and worked harder than she ever could to establish a life for herself. She looked after her family, and followed their instructions to get married, even though she had life of her own. She was someone I looked up to more than anyone in my life.
These images of feminism may never be politically adequate or unequivocally correct, but they convey something that took me a long time to realise. Like myself, these women weren’t born with an academically sound concept of feminism, but they were born with a sound understanding of self-worth, knowing their value as equal human beings. Through these stories, my mother implicitly showed me the link between feminism and marriage.
I have learned that being forced into marriage doesn’t end someone’s feminist narrative. These unknowing feminist role models didn’t have control over their choices or their relationships, but they didn’t doubt themselves or fear societal opposition. Going through the stories of the women in my family, I can answer my mum’s question: she has inspired me to continue our culture of intersectional feminism. I could never achieve a fraction of what has been accomplished before me, mostly because these women have made sure I don’t have to face the same confines of their female experience.
The only way to move forward, and make our foremothers proud, is to empower other women and make sure their life choices are without limitations. It’s hard to do this in a country that isn’t your home, your family’s home, and doesn’t understand what is familiar to you. But together we can identify that our struggles are everyone’s struggles, and we are all responsible for acts of oppression. By preventing young women from the heartbreak, loss of innocence, and physical and emotional danger of forced marriage, we can set an example to empower the feminists that will follow us.
Controversial commentary is my middle name, and placating men around me, is the game. I recall, after a particularly violating encounter on crowded public transportation, condemning men, as a singular entity, in a melodramatic monologue to my friend, when out of nowhere, a grandpa playing the devil’s advocate, declared that “not all men are like that!” in a tone almost insinuating that I had to apologise to him, a “man who isn’t like that”, or so he claims.
Allow us all to analyse the knee-jerk reactions to generalisations of men, from men, specifically the ones who interpret these sweeping statements as personalised insults attacking the very core of their characters, rather than a valid expression of exasperation towards rampant displays of misogyny, seemingly indoctrinated into every sector of society, and continuously perpetuated by its leading members.
Here’s how it usually goes:
Woman: Throughout my life, I have been hurt by many men, socialised from birth to demand my domestic, emotional, and sexual labour without reciprocation. It’s within reason to expect the remaining men in my life to finally return the favour.
Man: Before you say anything else, I just want to point out that not all men are like that. Most men would never dare to behave in the way you’re describing. Definitely not me. You’re basically implying all men are monsters and NOT ALL MEN ARE.
Newsflash! We know! Not all men are violent, only some. Not all men are abusive, only some. Not all men will disfigure women who reject their romantic proposals, only some. Not all men will embark on killing sprees out of sexual frustration that he lacked experience with women, only some. So yeah, we know that not every man is responsible for the widespread inappropriate treatment of women, especially not YOU, Mr “but I’m not like that”, as you have surely reminded us enough. Do you want a badge for basic human decency? A trophy?
The fundamental idea within this classic rebuttal is that when a woman presents an issue arising from her female identity, commonly occurring at the hands of men, instead of listening to her explanation, men would instinctively defend themselves by pulling out the memorised response from out of their fedoras: “not all men” are like that, do that! Essentially, it’s the argumentative equivalent of “I do not actually care about solving this issue for women, nor did I ever, but since you are challenging me to recognise how the patriarchy protects me while endangering women, I shall interpret it as a personal attack, which is offensive, therefore YOU are the bad person.”
Here’s a tip! Immediately interjecting that it’s “not all men!” into conversations criticising male complicity in plights which predominantly affect women is, in fact, a completely useless contribution. You are not furthering the discussion but dismissing the lived experiences of others, and derailing it to be about your fragile ego.
Obviously, I understand how negative generalisations can offend the demographics it concerns, but there remains a clear dichotomy between demanding men be held accountable for mindlessly condoning the prevalence of harmful contingencies, experienced by women underneath the patriarchy and blatantly bashing every single man for their involvement, unintentional or otherwise, in the patriarchal fraternisation.
Consider this: how many times has your uncle’s distasteful dinner party jokes at the expense of other women has fallen on your own deaf ears? How many times have you rolled your eyes at your neighbour’s obscene comments towards unsuspecting women on the street, but failed to chastise him? How many times have you listened intently to descriptive recounts to the ‘sexual conquests’ of your mate in the gym locker room and even congratulated him afterwards? How many more times are you able to condone the inherently problematic behaviours of men around you while justifying that you yourself aren’t the same as them?
Proclaiming “NOT ALL MEN” into the abyss doesn’t negate the troubling reality that men are statistically sound sources of misogyny. Alternatively, drop the defensive attitude, and start listening to the difficult, but necessary dialogue regarding phenomenons where women are disproportionately victimised. Focusing all your energy on distancing yourself from the narrative directs the attention from establishing a requisite remedy to the issue at hand. Re-evaluate your position. Is it really worth prioritising your own hurt feelings over female lives in potential jeopardy?
Men have the power to alleviate the suffering of women, by being proactive in eliminating toxic behaviourisms learnt from the patriarchy, speaking out against male counterparts exhibiting similar impropriety, and throwing the derailment tactic of “NOT ALL MEN” into the trash, where it rightfully belongs.
[Spoiler Alert: Boys Over Flowers, Meteor Garden, Princess Pearl/Huan Zhu Ge Ge, Strong Girl Bong-Soon, It Started with a Kiss]
Mengzhu: This winter, I made the terrible mistake of watching “romantic” East Asian TV dramas.
Helen: Is it the ones they’ve added to Netflix? I noticed they’ve added lots of Asian dramas lately, useful to have English subtitles too. I just finished Strong Girl Bong-Soon, what did you watch?
M: Yes, the Netflix rabbit hole! I started watching Boys Over Flowers on Netflix because the description mentioned “class warfare, high school style.” I was wanting to switch off from work and not have to think about gender violence and abuse, but this show really didn’t help. It’s apparently a really popular K-drama and it was based on a Japanese manga. Then I realised, 25 episodes later, this is also the same story as the Taiwanese TV series Meteor Garden! I remember watching this addictively as a teenager, or maybe even pre-teen around 11 or 12. It was a really popular show among teenage girls in my family friends circle of diaspora Chinese kids. The bullying, intimate partner violence and sexual abuse and harassment in this is really intense, but it’s like portrayed as love? It’s so messed up. Have you two seen it?
Emma: I’ve seen Boys Over Flowers and I heard about it because it was making its rounds online! It seemed like a really extra version of every other Korean drama I’d seen up until that point and that’s saying something considering most Korean dramas are intense. The way that abusive behaviours were portrayed in this show was really bad, but at the same time, the way that harassment and persistence is shown as “love” is such a common trope in East Asian dramas. I used to watch K-dramas as a kid growing up so I was desensitised to seeing these tropes, but I hadn’t really watched K-dramas that centred on the lives of high school students and youth in general. So it was really jarring when I got into K-dramas again to watch people who would be considered my peers displaying really harmful behaviours and for the shows to not “problematise” or challenge those behaviours.
H: Same here! I have heaps of memories on watching Meteor Garden with my mum, it was such a hit back in the 2000s. Growing up in diaspora in a predominantly white area, I felt isolated from my own culture. Dramas were a window for me to reconnect and learn about Hong Kong, even though it was a second hand source of information it helped me retain a sense of belonging. Being an only child too, I didn’t have any family friends my age to watch dramas with me but I was brought up in a household where dramas were played on a daily basis. Every night I ate dinner with my parents, I would zone out to the latest episode of TVB dramas from Hong Kong, taped on VCR and mailed over from Hong Kong.
M: Wow I remember VCR, and VCDs. My aunt used to send us all the episodes of Huan Zhu Ge Ge (Princess Pearl) on VCDs haha. I recently rewatched for the first time as an adult, with a totally different lens and understanding of the world. While the women protagonists are better than a lot of other TV shows, there’s actually also a lot of apologism for the Emperor’s violence against his daughters and concubines. In the second season, he kept to sexually harassing and assaulting the Uighur princess Han Xiang until she escaped, ordered the execution of his daughters who helped her escape and put them through so much horror, but is still redeemed at the end for being a good Emperor and father! Urgh.
H: Going back to what you said about the prevalence of intimate partner violence, sexual abuse and harassment though, when I was around fourteen, fifteen, I was never aware of these tropes in East Asian dramas. I especially loved watching Hong Kong crime and detective based dramas as a child, at the time I was too young to pick up how women were depicted merely as sex objects and subjected to sexual violence. It's scary how media is able to ingrain patriarchal values to children at a young age.
M: Yeah totally, it’s pretty scary thinking that shows like Boys Over Flowers and Meteor Garden had such a wide reach with teenage girls in Asia. The romance was torturous, full of calamity and tragedy. I didn’t know what healthy relationships were when I first watched Meteor Garden, but thinking back, the conflation of love with abusive and controlling behaviours is an incredibly dangerous message to be sending to young women and girls. And these shows are made for young women and girls - a fantasy of powerful, handsome and rich men falling in love with ordinary working class girls, then ‘saving’ them from poverty with their wealth. It’s so unoriginal, we heard it all before in western fairy tales like Cinderella. It wasn’t about class warfare at all, but submission to the violent capitalist patriarchy.
E: Yeah! When I was younger, a really popular drama that took off in Korea and across Asia I think, was Full House, where this rich celebrity marries a woman, who works for him as a maid, to make another woman jealous and it’s so gross because a running joke in the whole series is that the one working as a maid has “short legs” and he is constantly putting her down, calling her stupid and incredibly and unsurprisingly, they end up falling in love? Looking back, it was pretty disturbing that a lot of people found him and his character attractive even though he played an outwardly abusive jerk.
H: I noticed similar tropes in Strong Girl Bong-Soon, which was fun to watch at first, but the storyline became increasingly problematic as it progressed. What made me angry in particular was how Bong-Soon became infatuated with Mr. An, the rich CEO, as a result of him “helping” her find her true purpose and self. The dynamics of an “intelligent” upper class man aiding “unintelligent” lower class women is all too familiar in East Asian dramas, take the 2005 Taiwanese drama, It Started with a Kiss. What disturbed me the most wasn’t that but the second narrative which followed a series of kidnappings of young women in Bong-Soon’s town. They were supposedly planned by a kidnapper who was inspired by a famous play where seven women were captured and killed through a ritual. Scenes following these kidnappings were incredibly graphic, with the women shown to be tortured, starved and hit on camera. Those scenes were completely unnecessary and obvious existed as a form of gratification.
M: I know what you mean. I’ve seen some other dramas like that, with murders of trans-women and sex workers as the mystery/crime to be solved. I find them really difficult to watch. But it’s almost like the violence against women has to be really extreme for it to be considered violence, and for the perpetrators to be considered as villains. The violence against women by their partners, or the guy who likes them, is depicted as ‘romantic’ and normal.
E: Because abuse can only be physical right? East Asian dramas completely skip over emotional abuse, verbal abuse and intimidation as being valid and dangerous forms of abuse.
M: Using Boys Over Flowers again, the way the main rich guy, Gu Jun Pyo treated Geum Jan Di, the working class girl protagonist, is nothing less than abusive. He treats women like crap. We see him smearing a cake a girl made for him in her face as a way of rejecting her, like it was “cool”. I don’t know where this idea that you should bully the girl you like comes from, but he would go out of his way to make her life hell. Some other abusive, controlling or inappropriate behaviours he displayed included constantly putting her down, calling her names, casually threatening her if she doesn’t show up to a date. You never hear him asking her for consent for anything. Have you noticed how in so many East Asian romantic dramas, the first kiss is always a “surprise” kiss (i.e. not consensual)? One person always has their eyes open. There are so many scenes where he’s sitting in his car stalking her, and some of it is like it’s justified in case she’s in danger and he needs to be there protect her. On top of all this, he’s physically violent and at one point strangling her and she tells him “I can’t breathe”. It’s completely unacceptable behaviour in any relationship. He even kidnapped her and detained her in his house as his maid. That’s not even all of them.
E: And it’s considered acceptable to put down the love interest constantly! I swear it’s a trope that I’ve seen in every Korean drama and film. Like, I laugh at those memes of Boys Over Flowers where he’s calling her ugly because #same, but it’s actually such an abuse of power and a strong demonstration of the entitlement he must feel over Jan Di to insult her like that to her face and still expect her to fawn over him? The same tropes are present in Full House and that came out in 2004 so it’s really depressing to see those behaviours are still glorified as romantic in these dramas.
M: What was really horrible to watch was despite that all these kinds of violent, abusive and controlling behaviours, Geum Jan-Di still falls in love with Gu Jun Pyo and chooses him over the other guy who was just as paternalistic and annoying but who was far more respectful and caring.
H: That’s what gets me the most too, how men who are respectful and genuinely care about the protagonist are often sidelined or deemed as unattractive. Meanwhile, men who are often physically or emotionally abusive are considered the ideal love interest. Going back to It Started with a Kiss, Yuan Xiang Qin is portrayed as a naive high school girl who “falls” for Jiang Zhi Shu, the most popular and intelligent boy in the school. The series shows how she continues to be dedicated to him despite Jiang Zhi Shu constantly putting her down, humiliating her in public and controlling her actions.
M: The only drama I’ve seen that actually show domestic violence and sexual assault for what it is (instead of as love) is a Korean drama called Hello, My Twenties. It also shows the emotional and psychological trauma of experiencing violence. Dating violence and intimate partner violence are common across the world and can happen in straight and queer relationships. Maybe it’s time to romanticise actual respect and equality within in relationships, not to say, stories shouldn’t have relationship conflicts because that would unrealistic, but they can at least depict healthier and less toxic ways of dealing with conflicts.
E: I found that It’s Okay That’s Love is one of the few dramas that addresses abuse and trauma really well! The two main characters Jae Yeol and Hae Soo are complex and have problems with their mental health that stem from their childhoods. That isn’t to say they were an example of a healthy relationship, there were definitely elements of their relationship that were unhealthy, but the show didn’t glorify their relationship in a perfect and cute package, with all the abuse wrapped up in a neat bow. It showed that they were flawed people who were working on overcoming their traumas and supporting each other through it. But again, I want to stress that this show and Hello, My Twenties are literally the only two shows I’ve seen where they address violent and abusive behaviours. And even then, there are aspects in both the shows that still reinforce and glorify patriarchal values.
M: Can romance genre writers stop making assholes and abusive men the desirable romantic protagonist of every story? It’s dangerous and feeds young people toxic ideas of what love means.
This was a speech by our youth caseworker at our recent #YouthToo event for Youth Week on the 26th of May 2018.
Kia ora everyone, thank you all for being here today! I’ve been working as an advocate and caseworker in the Shakti Youth Unit for the past 6 months. Shakti provides culturally specific services to migrant & refugee women, youth & children experiencing family violence. In the short time I’ve been working in this field, the significant connection between family violence & sexual violence has been extremely prevalent. Young people are vastly represented in sexual violence statistics, yet there is still a huge lack of awareness, education and competent support services in our current system.
The #MeToo movement gave everyone a little bit of hope, because at least people are talking about it, right? But for migrant & refugee women, things are not as simple; there are multiple barriers to disclosing their experience, some of which include language barriers, being isolated from society, and cultural differences. A woman I worked with recently, when she reported her assaults to the police and asked for help, was told that her complaint could not be taken any further because she had been been silent for 3 months and never called the police before, keeping in mind that her husband sponsored her visa and if he revoked this sponsorship, she could face deportation in 48 hours. After dealing with a 3 hour video interview immediately after her assault, having to repeat her story for different officers each time, and constantly ringing them to follow up her case, she was eventually told that they could do nothing for her to feel like she achieved some sense of justice. I could name multiple cases in the short time I’ve been working here where our system punishes and silences migrant women for speaking out about the violence they have experienced, but we could be here all day so I won’t… but I think regardless, it is very clear that we still have a long, long way to go.
In another case, Shakti supported a young woman who was sexually assaulted at the age of 14. She gave birth to her first child at the age of 15, at the hospital, and no one bothered to ask her anything or investigate any further, even though people under 16 by law cannot legally consent to sex.
When she disclosed the assault to her parents, they forced her to marry this man. Now, a lot of people don’t believe people can get away with things like forced marriage in countries like New Zealand, but it happens - Shakti has dealt with over 70 forced marriage youth cases over the past few years. In the 6 months I’ve been, here I’ve encountered 5 women between the ages of 14 and 26 that were being forced to marry. A 21 year old woman I worked with last year had come to our refuge after her parents were forcing her to go overseas to marry a family member that she had never met. The problem with her parents was not that they were “backwards” or “uneducated” as a lot of people might believe - her father had a prominent international job and was very well educated. When she first dialed 111 asking for help, no one believed her because they didn’t think you could be forced to marry as a 21 year old adult, because she "could have just said no." When her complaint was eventually taken, I sat with her and a police officer for 5 hours whilst they made her feel like she was exaggerating the whole situation. She was asked if she had mental health issues, if she was remembering the events correctly, and told that you can’t be forced to do anything if you’re legally an adult. These are the questions that marginalise women, that silence women.
The issue of forced marriage is real, and it’s happening right here, around us. Over the past few months we have been working towards building more awareness around the issue and advocate for change on a legislative level. We also have a pledge against forced marriage online. It is our responsibility as a community to stop and prevent things like this from happening - we need educational institutions, government agencies, religious organisations and leaders to make a strong commitment to ending forced marriage.
Before I finish, I’d just like to say that if you, or someone you know, or someone you have heard of is experiencing any of the things I’ve talked about today, please reach out to us. You can contact us at 0800 SHAKTI. In order for us to reach our ideal place of a world where women and young people can live a life of dignity, free of violence, we need to work together to support each other and work towards a system that actually helps vulnerable people instead of exploiting, punishing and disadvantaging them. Thank you!
A Shakti Youth member discusses her experiences of being in an emotionally abusive relationship and the importance for everyone to recognise the impact.
In an alternate universe where every victim is safe from their abuser, not questioned and able to receive support from their network. I would be confident to stand up and speak about my experiences, but unfortunately, this has not been the case and I have to remain anonymous. In a white-dominated society like New Zealand, where women of colour already face a number of barriers, it’s difficult to be heard and even more difficult to be taken seriously. Documented below is an account of what happened when I was only 19, it’s been 3 years now and I’d like to share this with you.
Since I was a teenager my mother would warn me, “be careful of boys, you never know when they’ll take advantage of you”. I always took in her words with a grain of salt. I was young and thought I was alert enough to know if something bad were to happen. Years later I was proven wrong. You never realise how being young makes you susceptible and vulnerable to a lot of things. They taught us in year 10 health classes that “abuse” was always defined by physical actions, it meant bruises on your body and to call an 0800 helpline when you felt unsafe. It seemed straightforward, always something you could pinpoint with the human eye. But they never addressed a less visible side of intimate partner violence: emotional abuse.
I was only 14 when I first met him, he was in a long term relationship at the time with another girl. We ended up going to different high schools but met again through mutual friends at a music festival, I was 19 at the time. We started messaging and arranged to have coffee. It seemed like we had a lot in common: art, music, film, politics, feminism, we were both from Chinese migrant families too and bonded over our personal conflicts with conservative Chinese culture. Honestly, Auckland is such a small community it seemed like a miracle at the time to have found someone with similar interests and was from the same diasporic background. Little did I know it would be my worst mistake to date. You know what they say, when you start dating someone everything is perfect, it’s only up till you’ve know them for longer and all the true colours come out.
It didn’t take long before the first red flag came up, it was a rainy day when he came to visit me after class. He was well known within the East Asian community at my university, we bumped into his friends who invited us to a birthday party later that night, I said I didn’t mind going. But I was confused at the words that later escaped his mouth. He pulled me aside and told me I was too socially awkward and unable to interact with people, that it was better he went alone. Sure, I was upset but I overlooked it. At that very moment I even contemplated if there was something wrong with me. This didn’t happen once but continuously through our relationship. I didn’t realise I was actively being put down, my mental health was at one of its lowest points to date. He used that against me too, he treated my anxiety like a daily conversational topic asking if he could translate my experiences into an art project he was creating.
The mind games continued, and he would make me feel guilty about not being a “good girlfriend” and helping him. I was working a minimum wage customer service job at the time, trying to support myself and save up for future plans of going overseas. Once he found out I had weekly income, he constantly asked me to buy him food, cigarettes and alcohol, promising to pay it back, but he never did, even when we broke up. He constantly complained about not having money for daily expenses, he told me he didn’t want a part time job as it was against his “anti-capitalist”, leftist beliefs. Which I’m now relieved that I can finally say, what a load of bullshit. When I refused to help him financially he would tell me I didn’t care about him. The abuse wasn’t just through financial control, he was studying at a well known media design school at the time, and would manipulate me into helping him design his art and ghost write his essays. Telling me it was my duty to help him, claiming I was selfish if I said I had my own work to do.
I was already involved in feminist and political activism during the relationship. I was halfway through my degree and specialised in women’s issues within the Asia region. He claimed that he was interested in what I was doing, and learning more about feminism. I believed him and explained the basics of feminist philosophy. Little did I know it was another strategy used to put me down and raise his ego. He would ask about my research or an opinion on a social issue, then debate with me until he’d put me down in every single way possible. He thrived off the pleasure of “winning” a debate, later I would find out that he told a close friend of mine that I was “mentally capped” and incapable of “higher levels” of thinking. He constantly questioned my abilities of being a feminist activist, making up his own theories on feminism as he believed there was not a need to place women’s experiences first. They say never trust any man who claims to be a “feminist”, now I can safely say I am never going down that path again. Throughout all of this, I was unaware that he was eroding away my sense of self worth and security, which in turn had a significant impact on my everyday life.
It wasn’t just my politics which came under attack. In the course of our relationship we spoke about our families and how we both wanted to be reconnected to Chinese heritage. He found out that my family carried out Taoist ancestor worship whenever we visited my grandparents’ graves back home, he was really interested in it so I told him and his friends about the process. He started asking for more and more information about Chinese spiritual beliefs and values, which he had no knowledge of at the time, and coincidentally all of it turned up in his final year art project. I was sick to my stomach when I found out that my personal beliefs were stolen and aestheticised.
Towards the end of the relationship I’d picked up social smoking, drinking habits, I went out till 2am on most weekdays. I was told by him and his friends that I was boring when I didn’t show up. But now it becomes clearer and clearer that I was manipulated into all of this. He never cared about me, the relationship was a game of power and control. He took advantage of my kindness and misused my trust. He started telling me that other women were attractive and how he had feelings towards them, including one of my closest friends at the time. I wanted to leave but kept being manipulated into staying. Through the duration of our relationship he had ingrained himself into my circle of friends, making it impossible for me to escape his presence. I became helpless. I thought it all came to an halt when he cheated on me, finding out on social media that he was seeing my friend. I finally had the courage to block him. Putting a stop to what I’d had enough of.
Little did I know, he’d continue to harass me, continuously asking mutual friends about me and contacting me on other forms of social media. He’d joined the feminist group at my university for people of colour and integrated into the circle, I felt unsafe to set foot on campus knowing that a space I once felt comfortable in was taken up by my former abuser. I had no one to reach out to and no one to help hold him accountable. Friends around me never understood the seriousness and damage inflicted by this relationship, I wish they did. He reached out to me again a few months later, apologising for his mistakes, this would be the first of many. He said he still cared about me and had the audacity to ask for a second chance, but through an open relationship. At that point I’d distanced myself from everything and was lost in direction, I didn't give him a response, only to find out he’d told people he was pitying me because I was so “obsessed” him. I wasn’t. I was uncomfortable, afraid and I needed people to see that I was reaching out for help.
I tried extremely hard to move on, I found a supportive partner and was finally in a good, stable relationship. For the longest time he still tried to contact me, using my mental health and social circle as ways to manipulate and blackmail me. I would see him at parties after he had a few drinks and he would become really physical, trying to hold my hand or wrap his arm around me. At first he hid the truth, telling everyone that we just “didn’t work out” or that it was “complicated”. He even told one person he “loved me” while all of this took place. It was these types of lies which he used to build his image within the community, later using it to portray me as unreliable and even malicious. Later he started telling everyone the relationship was a two-way street, that I was somehow to blame for his abusive actions. For the longest time he made me feel like I had something to hide about my past, but in reality I knew I had nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s been two years since all of this has happened, and it still makes me anxious to bump into him at gigs or catch him with people I used to consider friends. In all honesty, I’m still trying to find closure. It was difficult to recall these events and write about them. But as time passes by it has become easier for me to speak about it. I’m grateful to have a group like Shakti Youth who have supported me through this. I can’t stress the importance for everyone out there, especially young women, to learn about the symptoms of emotional abuse and the mental trauma it can cause. It sickens me to imagine how people I may never meet will continue to buy into his philosophy. And it sickens me more that his social media continues to reflect the same superiority complex he used to police my actions. This relationship has yet again reminded me that just like white men, men of colour are equally as capable of inflicting physical and emotional harm which continues to affect women in society. I would later find out how he had inflicted similar abusive patterns towards other women of colour in the community.
Although this past relationship has showed me the difficulty of holding an abuser accountable on a communal level, for those of you having a difficult time out there, do remember there is always someone willing to believe you, give you love, security and support. If someone ever approaches you to warn you about an abuser in the community, don’t turn a blind eye. It’s not a trivial matter, it’s not gossip, nor is it a green light for you to contact the abuser to confirm what has happened. Please be mindful that you could put another person’s safety at risk. There’s consequences, and it’s not as easy as you think for someone to have the courage to open up about their experiences.
And finally to all the women reading this, please always remember that you deserve plenty. You deserve someone willing to respect you when you speak, someone willing to respect your intellect and someone that doesn’t tread on you like you’re worthless. Speak up and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise!
Dear My Beautiful Rainbow Siblings,
I am also rainbow… just like you.
I know what it is like to feel confused by your sexuality, and even question about it. Asking yourself whether you are still “normal” or it is a “sin”?
I know how stressful it is to be accused by our parents for being “too western” due to your sexuality.
I truly to understand how painful it is to be shunned, shamed, abused, hit or even disowned by your parents just because of your sexuality.
I can truly relate to how traumatising it is to be blamed or punished by our loved ones at home for the claim of your religion.
I know what it is like to feel like as if you were born “different” from other people.
I know what it is like that you have to “police” what you wear and act in order to conform with the “mainstream” gender norms, because you are afraid of your parents might shame or hit you... It’s frustrating.
I understand what it is like to feel lonely and isolated from your family, parents, friends, loved ones and community, as if you are alone in this world.
But, I’m writing this (open) letter to say you are NEVER ALONE.
You are the MOST BEAUTIFUL and BRAVE person on earth; the one who is being true to himself/herself and themselves despite what society says.
Yes, this might be the hardest time of your life, especially with your parents and family members. Some of you might have really supportive and accepting families, and that would be such a relief! For many of you, you might be struggling with how your families, religious or cultural community view sexuality and gender. But there is a community of us around you that can support you, that be your chosen family.
You are just the BRAVEST, GREATEST and most BEAUTIFUL person in just the way you are. These challenges will there but we can be there for each other and we are in this together.
Never give up. Never ever give up. Don’t forget to love yourself.
You don’t need to “come out” and “fight against” your parents and others in order to demand for the acceptance from them. It could be risky. Instead, love and accept your “beautiful rainbow” self.
Remember, you’re just like the “rainbow”, shining through the dark sky of grief.
That’s why we call ourselves “rainbow”, because we are resilient and beautiful beings.
Keep Smiling =)
Love from your Rainbow Big Sister,
For additional mental and cultural supports for LGBT migrant youth:
1. Shakti (if you Asian, Middle Eastern of African and are experiencing family violence, call 0800 SHAKTI)
2. Rainbow Youth, a charity a charity which provides advocacy and social supports for LGBT youth.
3. EquAsian (social support group for Asians)
4. OutLine (0800 OUTLINE: telephone counselling)
Draw a picture for the Asian Girl to Be among
Other portraits of the Others that don’t look wrong
To collective eyes that seek where we belong
We’re all made to be the Asian Girl™ at a point, space or headspace in time. That perspective never stemmed from our own eyes. The self-consciousness of alienation experienced by a migrant woman of colour growing up in Aotearoa has always uncomfortably blanketed our psyche, as we looked in the mirror and saw what ‘they’ would assume of us.
When I was 8, I’d listen to pop radio stations all day. I wanted to be a part of the same white girl choruses, melodies, words and world that my Pākehā classmates seemed to live in. This world was a place of comfort in being, where they could just be the default ‘girl’ instead of being a “_*ethnicity here*_ girl’. A sense of hyper awareness rose in my subconscious- dooming me to a future of shyness, aka unnecessary humility and silence, aka regrets of the words I wish I’d said to defend myself, affirm myself, accept myself and allow myself. Thus begins our formative years in search and struggle for the validation of being heard and visible- as a ‘token’, rejection and rebellion against their culture then our culture and a further couple years in undoing the internalised racism and sexism along the way.
I never heard a Korean (other than PSY) or any other East Asian artist on New Zealand radio stations or saw anyone looking like me on the TV screen unless they were blended into the background or only had one dimension. Our colours were absent on the sparse canvas of diversity and as a result I felt absent from opportunities to ever make and perform my own music. The vast majority of people I ever saw perform their music with a confidence that expected attention- were Pākehā and boys. Compared to the privilege of their presence, my music seemed too personal and quiet to present my voice and my words. But I came to learn that It’s unhealthy to bite your tongue in such a way that the words you hold in sprout as failed crops, withering from a lack of allowance from those around you who do not accept nor try to see the wholeness of your being.
We are Asian girls and our identities and cultures don’t have a trademark. Our own essence and experiences shouldn’t be covered by self-consciousness, but expressed in awareness and allowance. The art you make is therapeutic, validating, empowering and highly communicative in speaking your truth. In the art we allow ourselves to create and put out there are the movements of expression that links our perceived experiences, identities, culture and language as multifaceted and creatively unique women of colour to that of our sisters, mothers, aunties and grandmothers.
We can create what we want to, all by ourselves. The independent age of ‘bedroom artists’ allows us to hold total authority over the art we can make. Whether you write poems in your notebook, produce music using cracked programmes to upload to soundcloud or post your art to instagram, feel a very rightful and deserved pride in your work.
By Yery Cho
You can check out Yery's band Imugi 이무기's Vacasian EP on their Soundcloud.
Our respected parents , Uncles, Aunts and our respected teachers -
May I ask you all question?
Do the youth matter to you or does the growth and nourishment of youth matter to you in any way?
When we talk we are told to keep quiet.
When we state that we are getting bullied or we are not feeling secure in our schools, we are told to keep quiet because it is really common so JUST IGNORE it.
Have you ever thought how those words will affect us . .
These words makes us supportless, helpless.
Because we are encouraged to keep quite and tolerate it. Do you think it is a good idea to tolerate and let it go the way it is so that it can destroy our futures by affecting us mentally and physically.
Our dear adults, have you ever thought about who will look after this world, after this country, after this community, if we are not in the state that we are physically fit and healthy.
You all are at the age where you will have experienced this already in your teenage years.
You have lots of knowledge that you can help us to put an end on these activities going on around us.
We say that “Youth are the seeds of life." No one can get roots or fruits without seeds. Without the roots we cannot stand and without fruits we cannot grow.
In science you would have heard that for a seed to germinate, the seeds need a moist environment. It needs space, water and sunlight to grow.
That is all we want so that we can have a better future, so that we can have a better future for ourselves and our next generations.
All we need to germinate is space, your light of knowledge and the water of encouragement and the path that can help us to stop things like discrimination, cyber bullying, bullying so that we can have a bright future and we can get strong roots and sweet fruits.
My dear friends who are going through bullying and discrimination. The interesting thing is, we expect that someone else is going to come and fight for us to not get bullied or be discriminated against.
We are not so small that we cannot understand that we cannot expect someone else to come and stand up for us when we are not standing for ourselves because we have surrendered ourselves to our fears.
How can we expect that someone else will come and give us respect when we don't respect ourselves?
The best way to stop all this is to stand up for yourself by freeing yourself from the prison of fear.
Use DNA for that.
Now by DNA I don't mean deoxyribonucleic acid.
By DNA I mean Decide Now and Act.
Free yourself from the slavery of fear and raise your voices.
By keeping respect to time, in my conclusion our respected elders please guide us with your light of knowledge and experiences so that we can fully finish all sorts of violence and discrimination in our community and my dear friends don ́t expect that someone else will help you with your problems if you don't stand up for yourself.
“YOUTH ARE SEEDS OF LIFE YOU CANNOT GET YOUR FRUITS OR YOUR ROOTS WITHOUT THE NOURISHMENT OF THE SEEDS.”
-- This piece was written and presented by Siddhi at the 2017 Youth March in Auckland.