By Kylie Knott
It has taken decades for Taura Edgar to be able to talk openly about the sexual abuse she suffered at home as a child. The group she founded, Talk Hong Kong, holds group sessions for survivors on issues such as coping skills, and lobbies for court sentencing reforms.
Taura Edgar wasn’t reminiscing about a happy childhood spent with her dad when Father’s Day rolled around on June 20.
Edgar says she was sexually abused by her father from the age of 10 to 14 and, like many survivors of childhood abuse, it took years for her to seek the help she needed from a therapist.
It is only now that the 51-year-old American is able to talk openly about her experience in the hope that it helps others.
“Unaddressed trauma is an underlying epidemic,” says Edgar,
who has struggled with anger management, depression, and trust and intimacy fears that make relationships difficult. One break-up in particular sent her back into therapy and prompted her to look for support in Hong Kong, the city she’s called home since 1998.
In 2019, WHO formally recognised the existence of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that develops in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma.
“It was tough, Googling ‘Sex abuse support Hong Kong’, especially when you’re still dealing with trauma,” says Edgar.
Finding the support she needed in English was difficult so, after hints from her therapist, Edgar established Talk Hong Kong, a support group for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. “I don’t want anybody else to be in that desperate support search situation,” she says.
The volunteer, peer-led group has recently expanded to welcome women who have been assaulted as adults. Opening the meetings to men is on her radar.
“Group sessions allow you to talk to an audience who aren’t going to judge and gasp when they hear your story,” she says. “Some want to talk but have a hard time saying the sentence ‘I was raped’ or ‘I was sexually assaulted’. It can be scary … there is no pressure,” she says.
The meetings cover the impact abuse is having on people’s lives as well as imparting healthy coping skills. Research and advocacy work, such as lobbying for legal reform, is also part of Talk Hong Kong’s mission.
The Law Reform Commission of Hong Kong says that, in 80 per cent of court cases in recent years, sexual offenders have been sentenced to less than two years’ imprisonment. Talk Hong Kong has written to the commission, calling for mandatory minimum sentences for sexual offences, in particular those against a child. It also wants Hong Kong to improve the way it collects sex-abuse statistics.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), millions of children and adolescents worldwide are subjected to sexual abuse, including sexual assault or rape, resulting in short and long-term negative consequences for mental, physical, sexual, and reproductive health and well-being.
It says boys and girls who are sexually abused face higher risks of being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders during their lifetime, and of having thoughts of suicide and self-harm. They are also more likely to engage in unsafe sex, and abuse drugs and alcohol, it says.
Many think it’s some nasty person who takes you in an alley and assaults you, when it’s probably a husband, or a good friend … Taura Edgar, Talk Hong Kong
In 2019, WHO formally recognised the existence of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), a condition that develops in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma, including childhood sexual abuse.
Edgar was raised by “hippie parents” who lived on communes in the US state of California. She says the closest her father got to an apology was in “a weird conversation” during a visit home.
“I was at my parents’ house in Seattle and he was saying how great turning 30 is, and how he remembered it being the best part of his life,” she says of her father, who died 15 years ago.
Edgar remembers a man in his mid- to late 30s who was an angry and abusive alcoholic. “My mum and I were under his thumb that whole time, stuck in the countryside without any support.
“I looked at him and said ‘How can you say that because you were the most angry, horrible person’. He looked at me with a lot of sadness, and asked me who I was dating. I said I’m not dating anyone and he replied: ‘I’m so sorry – I know I f****d things up’.”
While Edgar’s family has been very supportive and understanding, she still struggles to process the love-and-hate feelings she has for the father who was supposed to protect her.
“A common story I hear from a lot of women, and it’s also my story, is ‘This is what love is’ … if you’re a little person, what’s the one thing you want a lot of? Love from people you trust.”
Finding a good trauma-informed therapist is key to healing, says Edgar. Hearing and reading about similar experiences also helps.
She recommends Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, a book by British psychotherapist Pete Walker, which examines the lingering effects of childhood trauma by exploring the four instinctive defensive structures that develop out of our “fight, flight, freeze and fawn” responses to trauma.
Flight covers running or fleeing the situation, fight covers becoming aggressive, freeze covers becoming incapable of moving or making a choice, while the fawn response involves immediately moving to try to please a person to avoid conflict.
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis is also a must-read, Edgar says.
She believes most people are unaware of how sexual abuse unfolds.
“Many think it’s some nasty person who takes you in an alley and assaults you, when it’s probably a husband, or a good friend who has spent years making sure that you were really good friends.”
In 2019, RainLily – Hong Kong’s first sexual violence crisis centre – released a study of more than 14,000 sexual assault cases from 2000 to 2018. It found that more than 80 per cent of perpetrators are known to the victim, and include intimate partners, friends and colleagues. Forty five per cent of the cases involved a perpetrator that was a family member or relative.
In another study, “Belated Listening, Delayed Healing”, RainLily found the support of confidants helps sexual assault survivors disclose their abuse and plays a crucial role in their recovery from the trauma.
Its latest campaign is #OneinSeven – a reference to the proportion of women in Hong Kong who have experienced sexual violence.
RainLily says children and adolescents need better education and information about sexuality and sexual abuse, and believes sexuality education should be compulsory.
Edgar agrees. She grabs “teaching moments” when she can, especially with friends who have kids. “They are often surprisingly ignorant about how abuse happens. Many think a sex-ed class when their kids are 13 is adequate and that an abuser could never be a friend or family member. It’s such a difficult topic that I think it’s easier for many people to avoid thinking about.”
RainLily Sexual Violence Helpline: 2375 5322 https://rainlily.org.hk/eng/service
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST