Today is my birthday! Each year, I use this opportunity to talk about my experiences as a victim of childhood sexual abuse and some related thoughts. This year, unlike previous years, I wrote the Chinese first and then translated it into English - apologies if the prose seems stilted.
Between each birthday, I usually make new friends. Every year after I share my birthday post, someone will tell me about how he/she has also had similar experiences. I think sexual harassment/abuse/assault happens all around. But social taboo and misplaced feelings of shame means that these sex-related crimes are seldom exposed or discussed. Perpetrators are therefore seldom held to account. This is obviously ridiculous. I hope that I can encourage others who have had similar experience to speak out - not only for themselves, but also to prevent others from being victimized.
After all, we are not the ones in the wrong. If anyone should feel ashamed, it’s the perpetrators, not the victims.
My Personal Experience
My experience, very briefly: I immigrated to Canada when I was nine, and lived with relatives (my parents stayed in Taiwan for work-related reasons). A member of my extended family started to sexually abuse me. He was only discovered when I was about thirteen. What happened was: I had gotten really into online chatting and became friends with a guy in the UK (he was in uni at the time). I told him about the abuse and he urged me to seek help from my family or from the police. I knew that I should, but couldn’t imagine myself ever saying to anyone “my uncle is sexually abusing me”.
Some time later, my parents came to visit and I told this friend of mine that I was going shopping with my mother. He took the opportunity and called my father. That is, he called my dad, who was totally unaware of his existence, and said something like “hi you don’t know me but your daughter is being sexually abused by her uncle and I thought I’d let you know” (yeah, kind of hard to believe. But he did it, bless him). At that time my uncle was immediately removed from the house. But my parents didn’t really know how to deal with it. We cried, and then we washed up and tried to carry on as though nothing happened.
事情爆發的時候我十三歲。在十三到二十五歲之間我經過多番掙扎，終於決定要去報警（其中最重要的因素是希望能夠把這個壞人關起來免得他去加害別的孩子）。在研究所畢業之後，我一個人從英國回到了多倫多，然後某天下午自己走進了市區的一個警察局跟看門的警察說：「我小時候住在多倫多時被家裡長輩性侵，我現在想要報警，不知道應該找誰？」。在警察的協助之下，我花了幾天的時間把我所有能夠記得的細節寫成了一個 Excel 檔案，盡力提供時間（其實是很模糊的，誰會把這種事情的日期記下來？），還有當時那位英國朋友的聯絡資料。資料都準備好之後我去了警察局，在錄影機的拍攝之下接受兩位女警官（好像長達兩個小時）的訪談作為證據。警察跟我說在加拿大這種罪沒有追溯期，所以我什麼時候都可以報警，但是因為這類的罪行基本上也沒有線索可言，所以不敢保證我會勝訴。我跟兩位女警官說這個倒是沒有關係，我自己知道我說的是實話就好了，只要我有盡力，剩下的就不是我的事了。
When this happened, I was thirteen. Between thirteen and twenty-five I struggled (a lot) over what to do about it all. I decided to go to the police in the end because I felt it was my duty to lock him up so he wouldn’t be able to victimize anyone else. After grad school, I went from the UK back to Toronto and walked into a random police station downtown. I said to the policeman on duty at the door: I was sexually abused as a child and I would like to press charges - can you tell me who to speak to? The police asked me to provide as much information as I could, so one afternoon I sat down at a cafe with my laptop and organized as much as I could remember into an Excel file, chronologically (I couldn’t really give any specific dates - it’s not like I wrote these things down at the time), and the contact of my friend in the UK (the one who called my dad). After all that, I then had to go one day and be interviewed in detail by the police, and all this was recorded on camera to be used as evidence. The police told me that in Canada there’s no statute of limitations for this sort of crime, but there’s also no guarantee that I would win in court. I said I was ok with that because all I wanted was to do as much as I could.
A few weeks later the police told me that my uncle (who had caused me so much misery) was terminally ill, and they couldn’t interview him, and we’d never get him to court. Several days later he died. I was really upset because he’d made me so unhappy for so long, and when I finally work up the courage to confront him, he dies - just like that. I used to make myself sick with anxiety imagining over and over what it would be like to meet him in the court room and whether anyone would believe me and could I get a conviction etc. etc. etc. - and it was all for nothing. I think the following day was a Sunday. I wandered around downtown Toronto by myself (think meant to go to the antique market at St. Lawrence, which I used to love to do, but couldn’t work up the energy). The churches in that area had just finished their services and priests were standing on lawns shaking hands with their congregations. I kind of wanted to go buttonhole them and ask: how could this have happened? I also kind of wanted to punch someone, but there wasn’t anyone for me to punch.
I was upset for quite a while, then I thought of Hitler. There was also only one of him and he committed suicide in a bunker, which must have felt like (almost) a clean getaway for such an evil man. Then I figured that very few of people get to personally wring the necks of those who’ve wronged them, and if that was the only sort of “justice” that would bring me peace, then I was shit out of luck. So I decided to move on and left Toronto. Incidentally I never go back there now because every time I get near there I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack. I’m proud of being Canadian though, and proud of our feminist Prime Minister. Maybe one day I’ll go back for a visit.
So that’s a brief account of what happened.
From what I recall, even when I was thirteen, I was not in a very healthy mental state (though I was doing well in school). My experiences of sexual abuse left me with a lot of emotional baggage and lead to me doing a bunch of stupid stuff that was harmful to myself and others around me (sorry). But most importantly, for a long time afterwards I treated this experience as a deep dark secret - a skeleton in the closet. I thought that no matter how “close” I got to someone, they could never “really” know me because they don’t know the “real” me. This feeling of insincerity made it tremendously difficult for me to form bonds, which made it hard to get understanding and support. Things got really bad during my first year as an undergraduate, and I was really depressed and suicidal (thankfully I got better in the end).
During high school, on a visit to Taiwan, I met the son of my mother’s best friend from uni. We became fast friends and hung out all the time. He even invited me to his house to read comic books, which was like, a totally unprecedentedly wholesome and friendly activity which was really, really not a thing that ever happened in my life at the time. Then one night, we were cycling around his campus, and stopped for a moment to rest. He observed (quite casually, as I recall) that it’s amazing how we became so close so quickly. This observation made me really uncomfortable all of a sudden because I remembered that he doesn’t know that I’d been abused as a child and it felt like I was dishonest and had never been my true self with him.
I felt really guilty and didn’t know what to say. It’s not exactly easy to jump in for the big reveal and say: yeah! By the way, did I tell you about those years when I was being sexually abused all the time??? (actually, I’ve had a lot of practice since and can now drop that bomb quite easily even when talking to strangers). In the end, I said something really lame and half-hearted, like “oh, I guess you could say we’re close… ish”. He seemed disappointed and we never talked about this again. I’m not sure he remembers this and I’m not sure if he was disappointed, or if I’m over-reading this episode in light of how I secretly felt. But what stuck with me was the feeling of being two different people - a normal person and a broken person. It felt like I only ever went out as a the normal me, and I wasn’t sure how I could put myself back together and be whole again.
後來我覺得這樣很不理性，我必須要學著面對以及討論這件事，才能漸漸地把我自己還原。所以我開始對一些我比較信賴的朋友揭發這些經驗，然後一點一點把這個信任的圈子擴大。我發現我信任的這些人並沒有因為我小時候被性侵所以厭棄我或是質疑我（每一個我告知的朋友都給予了我肯定與支持，所以我是一個很幸運的人！）。直到2012 那年，我覺得我可以跟全世界說，因為我不再恐懼了，所以我在生日的那天參加了 Project Unbreakable，然後把我的照片 po 在臉書上跟所有我認識的人分享。
Later, I began to think that this was all really irrational, and I wanted to talk about my experiences. I thought this would be the best way to be a whole person again. So I started to open up to some of my most intimate friends (I eventually learned how to make friends, but it was hard-going at first), and then I expanded that circle of trust a little bit at a time. By experimenting, I learned that the people I trusted wouldn’t hurt me with the information they had - in fact, they gave me their support and sympathy. In 2012 I heard about Project Unbreakable and took part on my birthday. I also posted the image on Facebook because I felt ready to face the world as myself again - that is, as my whole self, because I no longer feel like I have something to hide.
Since then I’ve tried to talk about this on every birthday.
自從 2012 年開始，在這整個公開討論我被性侵經驗的過程中，我發現我沒有醜陋破碎罪惡羞恥的那一面，因為這些感受都是害我的人所給我的包袱，在我開始坦承的那天，這些包袱就不再是我的了！我反而開始對自己感到一點點小小的驕傲。從前，我覺得不知道我的痛的人不算真的認識我，但我現在覺得這樣想是錯的，因為我的很多其他面向也一樣重要。「我小時候曾經被性侵」這件事情只能說是關於我的眾多資訊中的其中一條。比方：
The whole process of living honestly has made me realize that I never should have felt ashamed and broken. These feelings were just baggage given to me by someone who hurt me. When I started to talk honestly and openly about myself, they slowly went away. In fact, I began to feel a little proud because I felt like I had triumphed over the negative influences of my past. Before, I felt like anyone who didn’t know my pain could never really “know” me. Now I know that this is wrong, because I’m a person of many facets - each one as important as the pain that I have suffered. The fact that I was abused as a child is only one of the many facts you could know about me, and not even necessarily the most important. For instance:
我曾經拿全額獎學金去牛津讀碩士（原諒我炫耀一下）/// I studied medieval literature at Oxford on a full scholarship #oksoimbragging
我看到狗的時候會忍不住一直傻笑然後很想跟狗玩（曾經撿過一隻流浪狗現在變成德國狗）/// I love dogs (I once adopted a Taiwanese dog who now lives in Germany)
我支持台獨（不代表支持民進黨喔）/// I support Taiwanese independence (but I don’t always support the DPP)
我關心環保（忘了帶自己的水壺的時候堅持不喝手搖）/// I care about the environment and try to be environmentally responsible
I used to think you had to know that I was once abused to really know me. Now I think it’s just as important to know any of the above - because I’m more than a “victim” or a “survivor”. I’m a dancer and dog lover and a social activist (in a small way) and the sum of all that I am is greater than any of the unfortunate things that have happened to me in the past. Being sexually abused didn’t ruin my life. I try my best not to let it define who I am. I even try to think of it as something that would make me more empathetic, more understanding, and more able to help, should the need arise.
If you have experienced something similar, then I hope you are also able to think of it as only one small part of the strong and multifacted person that you are.
Sex-ed reform has been a topic of much debate in Taiwan. Last year someone asked me how they might be able to protect their children from sexual predators. Here’s my two cents:
我們需要從小學習尊重別人身體的界線。對方若有任何言語上的拒絕、或任何不舒服的神情、或任何反抗的動作，都應該立刻停止碰觸他的身體，用言語和他確認。（感謝讀者「路人」留言提供這個寶貴的建議！）/// We should learn to respect other people's physical boundaries. If someone displays any signs of discomfort (in the expression, body language, or verbally), we should stop and active seek confirmation or consent. (thanks to reader "路人" for this valuable suggestion).
我們需要從小學習怎麼替自己建立明確的「界線」：這個線的一邊是我所同意的行為，這個線的另一邊是我不容許的行為（比方說你可以拍我的頭、握我的手、但是你不能撫摸我的胸/臀/性器官）。/// We need to encourage children (from an early age) to establish clear boundaries - as in a clear division between acceptable behaviour (you can shake my hand, pat my head etc.) and unacceptable behaviour (you are not allowed to touch my genitals etc.)
我們從小學習如何直接並且明確的捍衛這個界線：不管對方是誰（男/女朋友、朋友、長輩、老師、甚至自己的父母），在性行為與身體上，唯有我們自己才掌握自主權。當有人靠近了我們的界線時，我們需要能夠直接而且果斷地警告/抗拒。如果有人越過了我們的界線，我們需要能夠馬上揭發並且求助。/// We need to teach children (from an early age) to clearly and assertively express and defend our boundaries. Regardless of who we are dealing with (teacher, parent, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend etc.), we are in sole charge of our body and our boundaries. If anyone gets close to the line we need to give clear warning, and if anyone crosses the line, we need to be able to immediately resist and seek help.
The prerequisite to being able manage 1 to 3 is being able to talk about sex - in all respects from reproductive organs, sexual orientation, to desire. Sex shouldn’t be a taboo because taboos introduce all kinds of irrationalities. When I talk about sexual “liberation” I do not mean ”promiscuity” but a informed and rational view of sex and all that it entails.
If you are on the fence about sex-ed reform in Taiwan, please consider the fact that your children are also at risk from sexual predators! Ignorance will only make them more susceptible and more defenseless. Knowledge is the most certain way to empower. I honestly do not think that sex-ed would destroy their innocence or have a corrupting influence. Rather than allowing your children to get their information from dubious sources such as the media and the internet, please give them a chance to learn about sex in an open and positive environment.
Last year my blog post generated a surprising (actually, overwhelming) amount of responses from readers in Taiwan. I received a lot of messages - some wanted to advice and some just wanted to talk. I tried my best to reply to as many as I could, but there was much more than I could handle. Furthermore, I’m not a professional therapist and I don’t want anyone to take my word for it when it comes to something as important as this. So for those of you in Taiwan, the following is a letter from a friend who is a therapist, with some useful telephone numbers and information that may be useful.
台灣省 24 小時婦女保護熱線 080-422110
台北市 24 小時婦女保護專線 02-27062495
希望這篇文章可以幫助你不再痛苦地反省自身，試圖找出在你身上不存在的錯誤，因為不是你傷害了你自己，而是那個不尊重你的人傷害了你。而我們唯一必須為自己負責的就是好好照顧好自己，好好地安撫自己，讓自己重新地找到生活的方式。你是努力讓自己好好穩定的 fighter，努力保護自己不潰散的 survivor，而除此之外，你更是美好的你自己，有著一切發光閃耀的可能。
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