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This is my latest for Sojourners on sexual assault and the Asian American community.

Removing the Burden of Shame: Sexual Assault in Asian-American Communities

COMMENTARY

By Grace Ji-Sun Kim 10-15-2018

I grew up watching Connie Chung. It wasn’t because I liked watching the news as a young girl — it was because my mother liked to watch Connie Chung. My mother thought Connie was the most beautiful woman, and because she was the only Asian woman anchor on television in the 1980s, my mother felt it was her duty to watch her. My mother’s English wasn’t good enough to understand Connie completely but this didn’t stop her from turning on NBC and watching the news each day.

I admired Connie as much as my mother did.

As an Asian American girl growing up in the 1980’s there were few Asian American woman role models to follow. Connie became my secret role model. I wanted to be like her.

As an adult, I continued to admire Connie. I admire her even more after she penned the story, “Dear Christine Blasey Ford: I, too, was sexually assaulted — and it’s seared into my memory forever. ”

As a Chinese American, Connie understood how difficult it is to reveal her sexual assault but she did it anyway.

Connie story helps to challenge the all too common understanding that sexual assault brings shame upon the person who is assaulted — the shame should be on the person who commits the assault, not on the survivor.

Her boldness gives Asian American women like me new courage and hope that we are not alone when we share our own stories of sexual assault. We recognize that our communities are not immune from sexual assault and it happens more often than we want to acknowledge.

Connie’s story gives me the strength to say that I too was sexually assaulted by someone close to my family. It is a burden I have carried for years and into my adult life. The experience of sexual assault is always with me, and it is something I would not want any of my children to experience. Not being able to talk about it, knowing it would be perceived as me bringing shame to my family, has been a heavy yoke that I have been carrying.

Now as a mother of a young adult and two teenagers, I believe it is important to share my story so that society is aware that sexual assault occurs frequently, even in Asian American communities. Just because we do not share our experiences publicly does not mean that Asian Americans are immune to sexual violence. Just because we carry the burden for decades doesn’t make our experiences untrue. Just because we do not share our stories doesn’t mean that we need to continue to live in shame.

Statistics for sexual assault in Asian American communities are hard to come by, but a study by Asian Pacific Institute on Gender Based Violence found that anywhere from 21-55 percent of Asian American women report facing physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime. If we continue to create a culture of shame around survivors, less and less Asian American will report these incidents publically and we will not know how deeply this issue affects our communities.

We need to disrupt and transform our culture so that reporting sexual assault is not shameful. We need to raise our men and boys to respect women and know they will be held accountable for their action if they assault anyone. I want women and girls in the Asian community to live in a new time where sexual assault is unacceptable and has consequences for perpetrators. We need to disrupt culture and create an environment that allows survivors to feel safe, heard, and believed when they tell their stories.

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Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Grace Ji-Sun Kim (@Gracejisunkim) is an associate professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion. She is the author of 16 books, including Mother Daughter Speak: Lessons on Life and Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love.

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