Showing posts with label rape. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rape. Show all posts

Monday, October 1, 2018

Two roads diverged over wood

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From Wikimedia

Since my last post about men behaving badly and the woman-haters who defend them, I've been thinking about Taiwan's specific situation vis-a-vis politics and sexual assault.

Perhaps it is too simplistic to say "America sucks, but in Taiwan, if there is even a whiff of sexual misconduct your political career is finished!" More accurately, one might say that in the US, only in recent decades are people beginning to fully understand what sexual assault means, and are slowly gaining the courage to point fingers at powerful men (the assailants are almost always male).

In Taiwan, however, it is simply less likely that sexual assault will be reported. I did a little back-of-the-envelope number crunching for 2015 (I have statistics for Taiwan 2017, but had trouble finding specific information on sexual assaults in Taiwan for 2016, the last year that data seems to be available in the US. So, 2015 it is.)

US population in 2015: 321 million
Reports of sexual assault in the US in 2015: 431,837 (male and female)
Per capita: .00134

Taiwan population in 2015: 23,485,755
Reports of sexual assault in Taiwan 2015 (gender not specified so I assume both): 10,454
Per capita: .00044

That's a huge difference - considering differences in population, the US still has a higher report rate of sexual assault than Taiwan.

I highly doubt that there is just less sexual assault in Taiwan, and that's why there are so many fewer reports. In the US it's estimated that about 2/3 of sexual assaults are not reported, or 70-some-odd percent. In Taiwan, it is estimated that the number of actual sexual assaults c.f. those reported is seven to ten times higher. We also know that domestic abuse is a massive problem in Taiwan, and dare I conjecture that domestic violence and sexual assault share enough characteristics (they are both about power and control, they both disproportionately affect women, they both generally stem from misogyny or a sense of entitlement over women's bodies) that where there's a lot of one, there is probably a fair amount of the other? I do dare - and low report rates of both likely have some connection to the way the Taiwanese judicial system is likely to treat women who report, not to mention cultural stigma surrounding reporting gender-based violence and the "defamation" lawsuits women who make allegations but don't wish to press charges may face.

Taking that further, it's hard to imagine that Taiwanese politicians somehow commit sexual assault at a lower rate than the general population (a rate that is much higher than statistics would lead one to believe), especially given the relationship between violence - including sexual assault - and power. I suppose once in office, some of them might realize that committing such a crime would ruin their career irreparably, but it would be silly to think that such selfish (because such a realization is not really about respect for women) reflection would extend back to their youth.

Considering that Lien Chan is widely believed to have committed domestic abuse (frankly, I find it more than likely that the allegations are true), and the penchant of Taiwanese politicians - or pretty much all Taiwanese men in positions of power - to visit 酒店 or hostess bars, it just seems unlikely that Taiwan's public figures have clean histories regarding women.

Rather, it seems a lot more obvious to me that sexual assault by Taiwanese public figures before or after they take office go unreported - or are shut down before fingers are publicly pointed at identifiable people - rather than that they don't happen.

What this means is that Taiwan may not, in fact, be much better than the United States in this regard. In the US, women feel increasingly willing to hold powerful men to account, publicly, for their misdeeds. The vast majority of the time, these women are telling the truth - research shows that, to the best of our knowledge, only 2-6% of sexual violence accusations are false. Culture is changing in the US, both in ways that can be felt (certainly, as a child of the 1980s, I can say that this culture shift is real), in ways that can be researched, and in ways we can document. Even looking at the Wikipedia entry for sex scandals of federal elected politicians, there has been an uptick as the years go on - almost certainly because women are more likely to step forward now.

Taiwan doesn't seem to have gone through that transformation yet. It's not that sexual assault is considered acceptable here - it's certainly not - it's that ideas of what constitutes sexual assault here sometimes (not always, but sometimes) feel like they're straight out of the 1980s, and the stigma surrounding reporting seeming more like what my mother and grandmother might have faced, rather than me. I mean, this is a country where raping a domestic employee once doesn't bar you from hiring another one after a period of time.

But, there's an entrenched feeling that those in power still just don't care. In the US, Dr. Blasey Ford's testimony against a screaming, weeping Brett Kavanaugh is considered by experts - and basically every woman who has had something like this happen to her, which is a huge number of us - to be credible, there's a fair chance he'll still make it to the Supreme Court. The same thing happened in 1991 with Anita Hill. We know that the President of the United States is unfaithful to his wife, and there are 22 sexual assault allegations against him as of today (20 as of when this was written - included here as it's a better source). Yet, he gets to be president, and his supporters either defend him, or are willing to believe that that many women are lying. (I, personally, think it's so obvious that Trump is a sexual abuser and possibly a rapist that I find it astounding someone might think otherwise.) Every few years, it's a massive battle to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

So, great, we can speak out now and someone might actually listen, but it still has ruinous effects on the women - hurting careers, exposing them to more trauma and harassment - and hasn't made much of an impact on the political machine, or sexual assault rates in general.

In Taiwan, if you manage to publicly accuse a political figure of sexual assault - overcoming all of the pressure not to do so and knowing you'll likely be torn apart in the gossip rags and forums full of angry young dudes (have you seen PTT? Jesus) - and people actually listen to you, great, his career will be over.

But good luck getting to that point.

Alright then - two roads diverged, but they're really worn about equally the same.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Taiwan has issues with sexism, but we don't put known attempted rapists in office

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An innocent golden piece of wood from the Grand Matsu Temple in Tainan



All I can say about the Blasey Ford / Kavanaugh hearings is that at this point, in 2018, if you still support the Republican Party, then you hate women and think sexual assault is okay.

I don't care if you want to identify as a 'conservative'. I don't know what that is supposed to mean anymore, but whatever. Fine. We don't all have to have the exact same values and there is room to disagree or have differing perspectives on quite a lot.  I'm talking about specifically supporting these monsters. And I mean it: at this point, doing so would lead me to seriously question your character. I can tolerate disagreement on many issues, but I cannot tolerate woman-hating attempted rape-excusers.

Yes, attempted rape. If you hold a woman down against her will and try to tear off her clothes as you stop her from screaming, you're not horsing around or copping a feel, you are attempting rape.

Of course, I could have said I felt this way after the election, when the country elected a known sexual assailant. Hell, if I had been old enough, I could have said it in 1991. I could have asked then why it was acceptable for these men to be elected or confirmed to office when no decent person would tolerate that sort of behavior - including talk - from their own sons, brothers, husbands or fathers. But I was a kid in 1991, and Trump exerted a hypnotic pull on the dumber half of the country that turned them into something more like cult members than actual rational voters.

Now, however, it is clear. We know what they do and we know what they will accept. We know they are either sex predators, or they think being a sex predator is acceptable (if you are a straight, white male). If you support that or even just accept it, there is no longer any excuse for you.

Contrast this to Taiwan. Taiwan is far from a paradise of equality - I have female students who tell me openly that they want to go abroad because their families treat them unfairly because they are daughters. More than one adult female student has told me that she won't marry because she has no intention of taking on the expected duties of a wife, and hasn't yet met a man who truly understands that. The same goes for women who have decided not to have children. There is a lot of particularly heinous crime against women by men (although the overall crime rate is dropping, including "non-negligent manslaughter" and what the government weirdly calls "forcible" rape), and the media covers it in the most sexist way possible. Domestic violence is still an issue and there's still a pay gap. I have my own stories of sexism at former jobs.

But as far as I know - and please correct me if I'm wrong - Taiwan has never knowingly elected or allowed the confirmation of someone like Kavanaugh, or Clarence Thomas, or Trump - to a position in the government.

Taiwanese politicians may often be horrible people, but if there's even a whiff of sexual predation about you, your political career is finished. In this country, if you so much as touch a boob without consent (which is also not okay, by the way), as far as any sort of public office is concerned, you're done.

That's just about how it should be: as I see it, if someone has something like that in their past, they demonstrate remorse and do attempt to be a better person, an acceptable consequence is that they may never be fit for political office. As a person, however - again, if demonstrate remorse and personal growth are demonstrated - a second chance may be warranted.

Seriously - Taiwan hasn't yet figured out how media should report on crimes against women, how to treat its wives and daughters fairly or how to close its own pay gap. But it has figured out that sexual misconduct of any kind is an immediate disqualification for political office.

Supposedly one of the most "egalitarian", "meritocratic" societies on Earth, where may credit the modern feminist movement with gaining steam, can't even figure that out. They can't wrap their heads around what a geographically small, often (though not always) parochial nation often described as "conservative", "Confucian" and "passive" (though I don't agree fully) has already figured out.

Good job, America, at demonstrating to the world what you actually think of women. Remind me to laugh in the face of the next person who tries to tell me that the US is so much 'better' when it comes to women's equality.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

It is really hard to support Taiwan (Part 1)

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Greetings from England!

You probably won't be hearing as much from me as I start the 2nd semester of my Master's program, but I'll pop in from time to time. Don't expect me to be on top of the news cycle - but then, I had always intended for Lao Ren Cha to be about commentary, not original reporting, so I'm not sure it matters.

Anyway, despite having a few postcard reminders of Taiwan on the bulletin board in my less-than-stellar dorm room, I have to say, domestic news over the past few months has not been making it easy to love the country.

I could cite many stories to make my case, but I'll stick with two. The first is reminder we seem to periodically need that the Taiwanese fishing industry goes beyond deeply unethical and straight into 'human rights abuses' and 'slavery'. Yes, slavery. To the point that I don't each much seafood in Taiwan anymore. I am sure there are other ways I consume that uphold exploitative systems which I'd be horrified to know more about, but I am now so hyper-aware of how fishing companies operate in Taiwan that I've lost my taste for seafood in particular.

The other one is the more recent news that Taiwan is essentially complicit in Australian human rights abuses, by agreeing to give medical care to refugees in detention on Nauru so as to ensure they never set foot on the Australian mainland. Of course those refugees need care, and they will be well cared-for in Taiwan, but the purpose is to make it impossible for them to access the Australian court system as refugees who do have the right to apply for asylum. This is unacceptable on the part of Australia, and Taiwan is facilitating this flagrant flouting of human rights.

And, of course, Taiwan itself talks big about caring about refugees, but in fact doesn't really accept them (there is no provision for the granting of asylum or refugee status according to that Taiwan Sentinel link, corroborated here). There are people who have refugee-like status in Taiwan, but...well, it's complicated. Although Taiwan provides some assistance to refugees abroad, this still means that President Tsai's claim that Taiwanese are 'empathetic to refugees' reads like an Asian version of "thoughts and prayers".

So not only are we not taking in refugees ourselves, we're also helping other countries avoid their obligations to consider applications for asylum by ensuring those refugees never have a chance to apply. Taiwan's actual treatment of refugees is like turd sauce on a turd burger, with the aid we do offer being a pretty okay pickle that nevertheless does not improve the giant turd entree we plop down at the international table.

The thing about advocating for Taiwanese de jure, recognized independence as Taiwan (not the Republic of China) is that a huge part of my most convincing arguments rest on what an exemplary country Taiwan is. I talk of people I know who were sent to Taiwan for work, and later found the country so much to their liking that they chose to return as retirees. I speak of a vibrant history of social movements. I speak of how Taiwan insisted on democracy for itself, and won. I speak of friendly - no, not just friendly, but kind - people I know who have become local friends, in a world where many foreign residents struggle to forge truly local connections. I speak of how, although there is room to improve, Taiwan has had, and continues to have, some of the most robust LGBT and women's rights movements in Asia. How in many ways, in the way its government is modeled, it looks to the liberal democratic West and is on the forefront of the fight against totalitarianism. I speak of how, in contrast to China, Taiwan does recognize human rights and there are mechanisms in place to ensure people can access them.

All of that is true, but I have trouble maintaining with a straight face that Taiwan is such an exemplary place, a society of kind people with profound respect for human rights within the framework of a successful democracy when, to be frank, they pull shit like this.

It is really, really, really hard to fight for Taiwan when I know what the seedy underbelly of Taiwan looks like, and when it comes to fishing boat slaves and human rights abuses (and let's not forget abuse of domestic workers, sexual and otherwise).

Fighting for Taiwan isn't just about fighting for independence. What does independence even mean if the country we are trying to build is so deeply troubled? It starts to feel like empty, jingoistic nationalism. Taiwan for what exactly? Taiwan for slavers and rapists? Independence for the sake of independence, nevermind anything else? I can't accept that. We must discuss as well how to create a better Taiwan, so that an independent Taiwan will be one to continue to support.

And yet, here I am, still advocating for Taiwan in whatever way I can. I still talk to my classmates, who have no reason to care, about why Taiwan matters. And it does matter, although it can be hard to see that sometimes.

While we have to talk about building a better country at home, I am reminded that every country has flaws. I do what I can to fight for American democracy in the face of powers that would like to see it disappear (including China), despite knowing full well that the US is a deeply problematic place - from the streets not being safe for women and people of color all the way to the selfishness of our foreign policy and all the nutters and religious freaks and sexists and racists and exploitative rich business jerks in between. I'll still stand up for making the US a better place, and I won't say it's not worthwhile. I'll help friends in trouble and refrain from judgement, even if I know their own flaws helped create the situation in which they needed a hand, because we're all imperfect.

I suppose I hope they judge Taiwan fairly, as they would their own country. Americans don't generally read about, say, how communities of color are afraid of the police because their men and women are disproportionately killed and then say "oh well we should just let China and Russia turn us into a dictatorship captained by a stupid orange puppet because nothing is worth anything", so I would ask them to apply the same level of complexity to thoughts on Taiwan, because it's easy to make sweeping generalizations and form poor judgments from them when you don't really know a place.

Taiwan is imperfect too - that doesn't mean it's not worth fighting for. But we might sometimes have to incorporate this plea for complex judgments into the arguments we put forward.

But, damn, it's sure hard to make the case sometimes, when you're discussing the country you call home with people, and not knowing if you should be frank that it is indeed rife with problems just like everywhere else, or hope they never come across the relevant reading material and in light of that information, dismiss everything you've said (I've seen it happen). Or, if they do, that they weigh it against the case you made and understand that every country is flawed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Book Review: Lord of Formosa

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It is a pleasure for a work of historical fiction to come out on an area of history I am particularly interested in (Taiwan, obviously). It is an even greater pleasure when that work of historical fiction is not only engaging, but generally accurate. Joyce Bergvelt's Lord of Formosa has earned both of these adjectives.

Lord of Formosa is essentially a biography of Koxinga (國姓爺 or 鄭成功), the 17th-century scholar/pirate/businessman/military leader/talented crazy dude, from his early life on the Japanese island of Hirado (off Nagasaki) with his Japanese mother, Tagawa Matsu to his upbringing at his father Zheng Zhilong's (鄭芝龍) estate in Fujian, followed by his rise as one of the most talented loyalist military leaders resisting the encroaching Manchu (Qing) conquerers to his conquest of the Dutch colony on Taiwan. It's interspersed with viewpoint chapters from the Dutch colonial officers as well as Koxinga's parents.

It tells the story, in short, of a man given the Imperial Surname (國姓爺) by a dying empire, a man given the title 'Success' (成功) who was, in the end, not all that successful.

The story itself is somewhat tragic: Koxinga fulfills what the novel depicts as his 'destiny' but pays for it dearly. He has to choose between remaining loyal to the collapsing Ming dynasty or to his father, and watches the devastation of his family at the hands of the Qing.

"He literally died of a broken heart," an acquaintance of mine noted.

But no, to hear historians tell it, he probably died of syphilis.

In this way, the thick novel is cinematic in scope, at times reading like a biopic. It would make an excellent film, and I can only hope someone will pick up the rights and do just that (as long as it's not a Chinese company hoping to use it as a propaganda vehicle for their government's aggressive territorial expansionism).

From the beginning, I was interested in how accurate Lord of Formosa really was. So, just after reading it, I picked up Tonio Andrade's Lost Colony, figuring it would be a good nonfiction counterpoint. I'm partway through that book now, and am surprised more by how much is accurate than the small details which are spun with more artistic license.

However, this isn't even the highlight of the book: the best part is simply how much fun it is to read. Despite being extremely busy, I read Lord of Formosa in three days, staying up late one evening to finish it. You know a book is good when it's 3am and you know you aren't going to get enough rest that night, but you just keep going because sleep won't happen anyway.

I also appreciated how forthright Bergvelt is with her characters' flaws. Zheng Zhilong is, to be frank, a total douchehole both in terms of his defection to the Qing and his treatment of his first wife. If his son Koxinga was any kind of hero, he was a deeply flawed one: often cruel and despotic, suffering from fits of uncontrollable rage which might have been brought about by the aforementioned syphilis. Of course, the syphilis would have been brought about by all the mostly-nonconsensual sex he was having.

What I'm trying to say is that Koxinga might have been brilliant, but he was also super rapey.

His regretting it later (in the novel's telling) doesn't change that. Oh, and like father, like son.

In fact, that Bergvelt successfully created a story that includes a variety of relevant, realistic female voices - not all of them kind, pure-hearted heroic martyrs - in a story and era that is so deeply, unrepentantly penis-driven (my masts are bigger than your masts - let us do naval warfare!) is a literary feat. While she could have done more with the housekeeper, Lady Yan and Koxinga's wife Cuiying, she does enough to show that behind every story of dueling dicks, there are women who also drive the plot. And yet, she doesn't shy away from exactly how those women are treated.

The Dutch, who are portrayed not entirely unsympathetically, still come across as stupid - not really understanding Asia or the goings-on in the colonies they ruled - as well as greedy and racist. This was historically accurate: they did consider Chinese men to be 'effeminate', not a fighting force that could vanquish their (smaller) military might. That's racist. They didn't care nearly as much about the welfare of the people on Formosa, be they indigenous or Hoklo, as they did their profits. This is not only historically accurate, but also racist. 

On the other hand, Koxinga was kind of racist too - believing he had the right to take Taiwan because most residents by that time were Chinese (mostly brought over as laborers by the Dutch, who worked them like serfs) and therefore Taiwan ought to be a part of China, is just a different way to be racist. He didn't 'liberate' Taiwan from colonizers - he was just another kind of colonizer.

If I have any criticism of Lord of Formosa, it's that that point could have been made more forcefully.

Bergvelt takes a few artistic liberties. There was a fortune-teller in Japan who was more of a plot device than real character. I'm not sure how many of the Hoklo characters on Formosa were real people (though at least two - Guo Huai-yi and He [Ting]-bin certainly are). It is not clear how Tagawa Matsu died, although Bergvelt's telling of it is plausible, or even likely. Koxinga is depicted as growing less rapey over time (but still, again, super rapey) due to the effect his mother's death has on him. I'm not sure this would have played out in quite that way in real life - more likely, he was incapable of comprehending that the sex he unilaterally decided to have with women who didn't resist per se but also didn't consent is just as rapey as what Qing soldiers were doing. In other words, he didn't stop being rapey - he was just another kind of rapist.

That said, Bergvelt is a talented writer, understanding seemingly innately where to hew to historical accuracy and where to apply a bit of soft focus or streamlining. The story moves forward when it needs to (although I would have liked to have seen more of Koxinga's childhood in China) and lingers where it needs to.

Whether you are into historical fiction, want an engaging read of a period of Taiwanese history in particular, or just like a good novel, I strongly recommend it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

...that's a lot of rapists

Focus Taiwan reported yesterday that a special operation that took place from March to May resulted in the apprehension of 31 fugitive rapists.

While this ought to be good news - 31 is a lot of rapists - it raises more questions than it answers.

First of all, would a "special mission" have been necessary if the Taipei City police had paid more attention and allocated more resources to catching rapists generally? I don't think anyone knows how many people in a city the size of Taipei would, on average, be rapists, but...this just seems like a lot, no?

Assuming we should not be nervous that there even were 31 rapists to apprehend - again, I have no idea how many any given Taipei-sized city would typically have on the files - I have to wonder how they managed to catch so many in 3 months. Could it possibly be because they had some idea who these people were, and therefore once it was made a "special mission" with "extra resources", finally bothered to go out and nab them?

Could they not have apprehended any of these fugitives sooner? Because really, I cannot emphasize this enough: 31 rapists is a lot of rapists.

I know I'm supposed to be applauding the police, but I can't shake the feeling that they were sitting on their hands before, not taking rape cases seriously when it was even remotely challenging - or perhaps not even challenging - to find an accused rapist and take him (or her - but usually him) into custody.

Let's keep in mind that the rape law in Taiwan was only changed in 1999, which is a very long time to wait for a change in such a law. Until then, the old law was written to define rape as an offense against women, in which the offender used force so that she "could not resist", and was a "crime against public decency" (it is now a "crime against sexual autonomy"). Under the old law, men were not included, and not all types of coercion or non-consensual pressure or activity were covered. The 1999 change was an improvement, but I have to wonder if its being less than 20 years old has anything to do with current attitudes towards rape: not that I think the police don't care, but that they don't care enough to devote resources to finding offenders, or perhaps still think of rape as an issue of "chastity", or something that is perhaps, to them, not as much of a crime if the use of force was not as violent as they might expect.

I know that's a pretty strong accusation to make, and to be fair, every police officer is an individual, and I am sure many of them take rape reports seriously. However, if there is no truth to it, why is it that it took until May of this year to apprehend so many rapists, and how were they apprehended so quickly?

Finally, I fear that the general attitude of law enforcement is laid bare in the final paragraph of the Focus Taiwan article, and it is deeply problematic.

Although the mission has ended, police efforts to crack down on sexual assaults will continue, Taipei City Police Department Commissioner Chen Chia-chang (陳嘉昌) said. He also urged women to take precautions for their own safety, such as avoiding walking alone in remote areas and always locking their car doors after getting in. 


Ahem - excuse me?

First, this ought to cause any woman in Taipei to question the old belief that the city is completely safe for women.

Secondly, while I understand the impulse to warn women to be careful, I can assure you that more or less every woman is already well aware that the world is a more dangerous place for her than for men. By admonishing women with something we already know, Chen is not only being condescending, but drawing very close to victim-blaming.

Instead of telling women how to be safe, Commissioner Chen, how about working to make Taipei safe for women? How about continuing to spend the resources necessary to apprehend rapists in a timely manner rather than waiting for a "special mission" so that women can safely walk alone in remote areas and don't have to fear being chased into their cars? You know - so that we can walk around safely and not feel nervous whenever we get into said car?

A woman being as safe as a man on the streets of most Western cities is often considered a distant dream, but it is possible in Taipei, which is generally regarded as safer. I walk around in Taipei, alone, at all times of night. Just this past Saturday I walked from my sister's apartment to my own - Brendan had gone home early - at 2:30am and did not feel unsafe.

Taipei could be a city where women are safe in public as men are, but it won't happen if it takes a special mission to capture all of those rapists - really, let's just consider one final time how many rapists that is - and it certainly won't happen if the police themselves, rather than allocating resources to keeping women safe, admonish women that Taipei is not safe. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

My latest for Ketagalan Media: Taiwan needs to do a better job of protecting domestic workers

You may remember my post a few weeks ago about the proposed changes to regulations aimed at protecting foreign blue-collar labor, and my absolute fury over allowing employers in Taiwan who had previously sexually abused a foreign worker to hire one again after after a few years, with a lifetime ban only after repeated offenses.

A few things I've learned since then - Taiwanese women are not protected either (the vast majority of domestic workers in Taiwan are foreign women, however), and although Taiwan has a sex offender registry, it is not open to the public and therefore potential foreign employees at this time have no way of knowing if they are taking a job with a convicted sex offender.

So, I've written up a new piece for Ketagalan Media on this issue. As a foreign woman, albeit one of comparative privilege, it is important to me.

I hope you'll take a look.

Monday, September 4, 2017

What is one rape worth?

A harsh question, but here's the problem.

According to Focus Taiwan, new laws meant to strengthen protections for foreign workers include provisions punishing labor agents and employers (such as the people who employ home aides to care for their elderly parents) who sexually assault, abuse or traffic foreign workers:


In addition, the official said, if a labor agent is found guilty of sexually abusing, sexually harassing or engaging in the trafficking of foreign workers, a fine of NT$300,000-NT$1.5 million will be handed down and the individual banned from working as a labor agent.



That's a start, though I'm not convinced the fine is high enough. The article doesn't make it clear, there are also laws that carry prison sentences already on the books. 

But then there's this: 

If employers or care recipients are found guilty of sexually abusing or engaging in the trafficking of foreign workers, they will be ineligible to employ such workers for 2-5 years, and repeat offenders will be ineligible for life.

Which, emphasis mine, because....

...excuse me? 

There are surely also sexual assault laws that would see any one of these employers go to prison if convicted which are not mentioned in this article, but how is it that someone convicted of sexually abusing or trafficking a foreign worker might be allowed to employ another one in the future?

How is it that one assault is not enough to see them not only pay their debt to society in terms of jail time, but also be banned for life from hiring foreign workers?

How about one rape? Is it somehow more acceptable to sexually abuse than to rape, or do they face the same weak penalty?

Remember, almost - but not all - of the foreign workers whom this law would specifically protect are women who work in homes as domestic helpers and home health aides. It is already a very personal situation, to live in someone's home as their employee. Do the people drafting these new protections really think that someone who has abused such a worker should be allowed to bring another into his (or her) home?

Is there really a calculus for this? One assault isn't enough, that was just one rape you guys, five whole years ago! We should totally trust this guy to hire another worker in the same situation because come on bro, statistics surely don't show that rapists are likely to be repeat offenders, right?

Oh, they actually are?

Oops. 

But hey bro, if he assaults two women we should totally ban him from hiring domestic helpers, yah?

One woman is not enough, but two...well, two rapes means something. Authorities apparently can't do anything to prevent that second woman from being raped, because to them it's not a real problem until it happens twice.

So rapists are like children who are put in the time-out chair for stealing cookies?

Seriously, though. We obviously can't repeatedly punish the same crime - you serve your sentence, and you get another chance. That's how it works - but that doesn't mean criminals should have a totally clean slate. I support giving ex-convicts work and allowing them to live more or less normally, but I would not give a convicted thief or embezzler a job in a bank or finance company. I would not give a rapist, child abuser, child pornographer or pedophile a job in a school. I would not give an arsonist a job at a gas station and I certainly would not let a murderer work in a gun store. I wouldn't even let a Taiwanese fishing boat operator convicted of forcing his foreign employees to work without pay - which does happen - hire them to work on a fishing boat again.

It follows that a convicted rapist, especially one who likely specifically raped a woman living in his home who was under his employ, should be barred from bringing another woman into his home, under his employ.

How is it that one rape is not enough to make that official?

It's not even as difficult as when to bar an ex-convict from a certain type of work: it's barring someone from employing someone else for in-home services. This shouldn't be difficult.

I have to ask. are the women these one-time-rapists allowed to hire going to be told of their new employer's history? Will they have any way of knowing they are being hired by someone who was once convicted of raping someone just like them, under the same circumstances? I doubt it.

If only this were surprising: this is the same country where an Indonesian domestic worker taped herself being raped after none of the authorities she spoke to took action - her brokerage firm even saying "do what you want" (as though it were consensual!), "just don't get pregnant." She later tried to commit suicide - she'd been raped so often that authorities could not determine how many times it was. That same story was picked up by Liberty Times who made it all about how this was such a loss of face for Taiwan, rather than about what the woman had suffered and bringing her rapist employer to justice. Reporting elsewhere on this incident was hardly better, with much of the focus of the story being on the woman's "emotional irritability" and "extreme instability", which apparently made it hard for police to get a full statement.

Of course she'd be extremely irritable and emotional after not only having been raped repeatedly, but also treated dismissively by the brokerage firm. How many rapes did it take for her to be able to make that video and finally, slowly, start to seek justice? How bad was it, that she tried to kill herself? And yet, the press makes it all about Taiwan, almost implying that her "emotional instability" was part of the problem when the case came to light.

What if she'd been raped once, and hadn't made that video, because nobody expects to be raped by their employer?

Would that have been enough, or would one rape not be worth the currency needed to get the attention of authorities.

Would her rapist be allowed to hire another Indonesian care worker after a few years, bringing them into the same situation, if he'd only raped her once?

How can anyone think such an attitude is acceptable?

As much as I tout Taiwan as being ahead of the curve when it comes to women's rights and women's equality in Asia, we still have a long way to go, including - perhaps especially - in the way society treats foreign female labor.

Friday, May 12, 2017

To be a woman anywhere

IMG_1200
Everywhere we go, we are less than: considered more from the back than the front
I have wanted to express something about the Lin Yi-han sexual assault and subsequent suicide case, but have refrained, being unsure of exactly how to put into words my thoughts on this (you may be surprised to learn that when I am more than a little unsure, or don't think I have much to add to a topic, I actually do stay silent). I did not know Lin, nor have I read her book - though I would like to - and I don't keep up with Chinese-language news as much as I should, which kind of implies a lack of reason to comment. This is one reason why I said little, if anything (I don't recall writing any posts on the topic) about the Fu-jen University rape case and subsequent cover-up.

But something struck me about the universality of women's experiences when it came to this case - not that every woman experiences such things, but that they are experienced by women around the world, of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances.

The English-language media I have read about these tragic events have been sympathetic, non-sensationalist and taking aim at not just the recounting of personal tragedy but at the larger social issues laid bare. If one were to read only the English-language reporting on this, one might think that Taiwan was, if anything, a more progressive and thoughtful place than the US when it came to such issues.

Of course, as New Bloom points out, this is not the case:



And so while it is important that this case be discussed by Taiwanese society, the sensationalist attitudes of the media in their treatment of female subjects are another issue which should be discussed. Indeed, much reporting on the matter in Taiwanese media has been disgraceful, seeing as while some media outlets has skirted around reporting Lin’s name for fear of legal punishment despite Lin’s parents having already released her name, this strikes as hypocritical when they otherwise have no compunction in sensationalizing similar cases—one suspects respect for the victim or concern with addressing the social issues which led to Lin’s death is the last thing on their minds. 


And with that, it just feels like I've seen this sort of media circus play out, time and time again, in the USA - and while I don't read news from every country, I can't imagine it is unique to any one place. Whether you report it or not at the time almost feels immaterial: if the news becomes public, it will be sensationalized, the victim will not be accorded any amount of privacy or respect, and some people will search for any angle or reason they can think of to find a way to blame the victim.

That's as true in Taiwan as it is anywhere, although Taiwan's notably unprofessional press (yes, I said it: Taiwan may have a free press but it does not have a well-trained one, nor across-the-board professional journalistic tradition) might perhaps dive deeper into that particular gutter.

Leaving aside questions of how individual victims and families react in such situations, more than one of my students has questioned to what extent we can call what the teacher allegedly did "rape".

Why?

"She wasn't underage."

"It seemed she went out with him, she liked him, that means she flirted with him or maybe wanted him, so how could it be rape?"

"Sometimes in Taiwan women who want to go further don't say so. You have to figure it out in other ways. They won't tell you 'yes'."

"It happens a lot that a young woman wants to sleep with a man, maybe an older man, but she doesn't want anyone to think she's a 'bad girl' so if it gets out she'll say he raped her or 'seduced' her."


Of course, I won't bother explaining the very obvious reasons why any or all of these could be true, and a sexual encounter could still be rape. In terms of the last one, I don't know the 'false accusation' rate in Taiwan (I don't think anyone does, and I'm not sure anyone really knows it anywhere, but there is strong evidence in the US that it is quite rare indeed), but that's an old rhetorical weapon common in the US used to dismiss or explain away sexual assault statistics as well as individual victims, often trying to portray the accused or potentially-accused (usually men) as suffering so much more under the weight of false accusations than the victims (usually women). It usually holds no water.

What I will say is that in many cases (at least the first two), this sounds quite a bit like, well, the sort of comments one hears or reads when a high-profile sexual assault case hits American public discourse. We will never know if Lin Yi-han would have been treated fairly in court had her family filed a police report and pressed charges - though I don't have much faith that she would have been - but rape victims and alleged rape victims are routinely dragged through hell, with very little chance that their charges will ever amount to substantive punishment for their rapists. Even when a rapist is caught, and found guilty, he may well receive a too-light sentence (which, by those who seek to preserve privilege by painting privileged groups as 'the real victims', will be painted as a massive life-destroyed burden...unlike, apparently according to them, being raped). 

So how is this different from the public reaction to a similar story anywhere? I don't think it is, at least not substantively. In some ways Taiwan is more sexist and patriarchal than the US or other Western countries. In other ways, it's less so. I did not particularly feel that the US was a better place to be a woman than Taiwan when I was living there - though I have friends who disagree - and if a bestselling author in the US had committed suicide as a result of depression stemming from a rape in her past, I am not sure at all that the public dialogue would be all that different, from the media coverage all the way down to the Internet trolls.

The same may be said for the difficulty in seeking treatment for depression and other issues stemming from the incident, and from potential (it's not clear in this case) issues with family. Although it is not at all clear that this is what happened in Lin's case, I could just as easily see a prominent family from any other country pressuring their daughter to not report, or cover up, a rape. I could just as easily see a woman from any other country dealing with mental health fallout from that. I could see the victim in any country feeling pressure to internalize her trauma.

I could see the patriarchy working against her, no matter where she is or where she's from.

Media frenzy aside, even the circumstances are not unique to Taiwan: pretty young woman, older male teacher (though this is not limited to that gender dynamic: older female authority figures groom young men, too). Young woman does or doesn't like the teacher - in either case, the teacher goes after her. No matter where this story goes from here, it starts with women being seen mainly as sex objects, and ends with society condemning women no matter what path they take: to say yes, to say no, to report, to internalize. And it might be this way in any country.

In sort, this is what it's like to be a woman anywhere. People of all genders are at risk of sexual assault, but women are particularly so. And if that happens, you face an unrepentant media, a potentially hostile or uncaring court, entire verbal landfills of hateful comments, thoughtful (though at times self-aggrandizing) thinkpieces, aspersions cast on your character and more.

I am not at all sure that the tragedy of Lin Yi-han sheds much light on the issues of rape, depression, suicide and patriarchy in Taiwan specifically (as New Bloom also noted, while cram schools face less regulation than other educational institutions, this sort of thing is not unique to them).

I don't mean to say that Lin Yi-han's particular story is not unique: all stories are unique, but that doesn't mean they can't add up in their similarities to a universality that affects all people and places. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Of Jellyfish

A woman in Taiwan attends an event - a popular get-together inclusive of both Taiwanese and expats, billed as "family friendly". During that event, she is groped by an outgoing man who attends many such events. It is not a case of accidental brushing and not a misunderstanding. He grabs and fondles her butt, at length, and when she says something he all but admits it:

"What are you doing?"
"I'm looking for your ass. I can't find it!"

She doesn't know what to do - her first thought is that she doesn't want to 'embarrass' an older man. Only later does she begin to feel that his comfort level is neither her concern nor her priority: he deserves to be embarrassed for what he's done. She lets it stew for awhile, and finally e-mails the organizer  (insofar as this event has one - there is someone very nominally in charge).

He asks for information on what happened. Then, as the victim describes it, his response is to say he's not going to do anything about it - it's her responsibility to either avoid or confront him but he doesn't want to make anyone feel unwelcome at the event. He says the groper has a "reputation for being 'friendly'", although what this means is unclear.

She feels that this is not acceptable - that by allowing someone who fondled her roughly and didn't even act embarrassed about it to attend, she is being made to feel unwelcome, and that the event has some nominal responsibility to ensure some level of safety for its participants (whether or not the organizer agrees is unclear).

He then agrees to post a notice and clarify that sexual harassment is not acceptable, and does, using her wording. But when pushed, he admits he can't do much to physically ban an assailant from the event as it is "public". He does, however, ask the groper not to return. He wants to use the wording "she doesn't want you to return". She feels this is not acceptable as it put it all on her, when the problem is the groper's behavior. The organizer agrees to change it.

She still feels the response is not good enough.

I happen to agree in a more general sense: women are being told they are "welcome" but sent the message that an even nominally safe environment (as much as any environment can be totally safe) is entirely their responsibility. Up to a point, if pushed, those nominally in charge will stand up for her. Beyond that point, she's on her own. This is exactly how women come to feel unwelcome.

A lengthy discussion ensues. Many, but not all, women support her. Some, but not all, men either call her claim into question, imply it may have been less serious than it was, or pull a classic "victim blame" - if you wanted an absolute guarantee of safety you shouldn't attend. People do say it's your job to protect yourself. Few people say it's society's job to make sure assailants don't get away with it. The entire burden of confronting not just the harasser but the entire culture falls on her, and a few supportive women. Many who otherwise deem themselves educated, worldly and progressive, claim they have no responsibility to do anything about the environment in general or any specific incident. It's all on the victim to take action, 100%.

The group leans very progressive, and likely thinks of themselves as kindhearted people and gentle souls who come together in neighborly love and community spirit. So kindhearted, so neighborly - until something actually happens and then it's every woman for herself.

Or as one woman in Taiwan put it:

"I think there is a definite subset of liberal/left-leaning people, men in particular but not solely, who are paradoxically *less* self aware on the topic of rape culture specifically because they believe they're already "on the right side": they call themselves feminists; they vote for leftist candidates; they support transgender rights and equal marriage; etc. and thus they do not engage in introspection when confronted with the reality that they're tacitly supporting assault. I see this phenomenon contributing to the reaction from the [event in question]."


Enough of these "progressive" people don't think a woman needs or deserves the support she's asking for - at one point saying the whole issue is "manblaming" and then "reverse sexism" when it doesn't go quietly away - that she doesn't feel comfortable attending again. Several women she's talked to agree, and also say they will not attend.

I have been invited in the past, but I too will not attend. Not because I fear being groped, but because the entire thing reeks of the sort of environment I actively avoid: pansy-ass so-called liberals who act like they care about what is right but when problems get real, their spines collapse and they blubber away like so many weak-willed jellyfish.

I want to be clear - I am not saying "this guy" or "that guy" or "the organizer" is such a person (I have my personal opinions but that is not the point). It's a general problem, endemic to many cultures, and being an otherwise openminded, progressive, liberal or even good person does not render one immune. Many people - both male and female - think of themselves in all of these positive lights, and yet when problems get real, they dive, dive, dive.

They are progressive and gender-egalitarian until a woman needs social support. They are giving and generous, until they are being asked to give by standing up to something insidious. They are exactly the sort of liberal that a liberal like me doesn't want to spend too much time with. They do not see this in themselves.

I wrote this account with the permission of the victim and purposely did not name names for two reasons: the first is because I was asked not to. Though given a choice I would name the groper, I'm not that sure it matters - while that particular ass-grab was the first I'd personally heard of blatant sexual assault in Taipei's expat-local mingling scene, talking to others revealed that there are many more. That's the second reason: my point is not "avoid this event" or "these two guys are bad". It doesn't matter - a name-and-shame won't do any good. The thing that needs to be said is that this is a generalized problem, and as safe as you think you are in Taiwan as an expat woman, there are a lot of people at a lot of events who don't have your back.

There is a creeper who runs around with probably-fake credentials  and certainly-fake humanitarian causes who pervs out on women at expat-friendly events at the first opportunity. There is a guy banned from certain parties for his behavior. There are women who say that joining protests here increases your chances of being sexually harassed or assaulted, and the protest leaders - who are almost always male - either do very little about it, or try to swoop in with some knight in shining armor "how can we protect our women" nonsense that isn't what the women asked for in the first place. Even the nice ones. Or rather, the "nice" ones. Years ago, a Western woman told me about trying to join a photography club that had events held in English. It was almost entirely Western men, and she was the only Western woman. She wasn't told she was unwelcome, per se, but while some of the Taiwanese women talked to her the men more or less ignored her, or treated her patronizingly. She got the distinct impression that she wasn't wanted, and didn't return.

There are more.

In the Taipei-expat scene, especially where it bleeds into the local scene, you will meet a lot of interesting people. You'll also meet some losers but you won't dislike them too much. They will lean very progressive - Trumpists, tea party or "YAY BREXIT" troglodytes exist, as well as some very off-putting misogynists, tinfoil hatters and straight-up jerks. So, like anywhere really, except magnified because there are not that many Western expats in Taiwan. What you also learn quickly is that it seems as though the misogynists, Trumpist types and tinfoil hatters keep to themselves, and you will generally meet the leftie, hippie, possibly interested in "Eastern religion" (whatever that means) folks who seem pretty okay at first.

You will probably think they will be more supportive - after all, they just spent like five minutes telling you how strongly they believe in women's equality, right? You think either there aren't going to be perverts in their midst, or if there are, that you'll be able to get help. That people will back you up and support you without your having to insist several times. You do not imagine that you will be treated as 'demanding' or 'annoying' (even if nobody says those words) or be made to feel unwelcome, like the broad who killed the party, for speaking out.

What you then learn is that if you are ever harassed or assaulted at an expat gathering, none of the above is true. People will curl up in themselves like those bugs that turn into circles when you touch them. That's too bad, but it's a public event, there's really nothing we can do. Or, women basically have to protect themselves everywhere, it's not our job (wrong. It is society's job to stand up against its worse elements in solidarity with someone who has been harassed or targeted). If you are worried about being harassed, don't go (alrighty then, I'll just go back to the harem and watch everything from behind a screen). But he's really a nice guy, he probably didn't mean anything by it. Even worse, you might hear maybe she brought it on herself, maybe she was flirting with him. It's not the group's responsibility to deal with these incidents, if people exchange contact details, they can't be held responsible even if worse things happen (a real comment that was made - in Chinese though). It could be cultural differences (it wasn't, and even if it were, it's not like Taiwanese society is permissive of sexual assault, though to be fair the person who said this did so before the nature of the assault was clarified. He thought it might have been something like a kiss on the cheek - a bit weird in Taiwan but mostly permissible, perhaps even expected, in the West).

They will say quite a bit about what you can and should do to protect yourself - nothing terribly offensive in and of itself, but completely lacking in any awareness that it's a community's responsibility and society's responsibility to stand up for its members when they are treated this way. All about what you should do (which is fine) but nothing about what a group should do, or bystanders should do, to keep an event advertised as "family friendly" as truly friendly and welcoming to all (which is not fine).

Worse, that if you fear for your safety you should bring mace, or a taser, or pepper spray with you to defend yourself. Sure, I feel really super welcome and included at an event where the only way to ensure my safety is by carrying an electric shocker and mace, because I can't be assured the people around me will help me stand up against a harasser. Uh huh. Wow, the welcome-ness is astounding. Group hug!

What it adds up to is this: people talk about how safe Taiwan is. Women can walk down the street alone at all hours of day or night. The chances of being jumped, assaulted, raped or mugged are nil. This is all true, and Taiwan has a very low rate of these kinds of crimes. But it is not entirely safe for expat women, because expat men - and some women - are too gelatin-spined to come together to create a safe environment.

Again, I do not attend many big expat events, not because I fear for my safety or think I couldn't handle it if I were assaulted, but in part because I expect better of the people I spend my time with. The groper is at fault here, but to be a person of character you must also stand up to gropers. Look at the people around you. Do you think they would, if you were groped?

How is this different from basically any other country, even "progressive" or "modern" ones?

Beyond this flying in the face of people saying Taiwan is so safe (even though in many ways it is), it's also that the expat community, even as it blurs into the local one, is small. People know each other. I know the groper, the groped, and the organizer. I am upset and angry that people I thought of as friends - though not close ones - could do this (in one case) and react like this (in another). It's harder to avoid people, and it's hard to get people to stand with you against other folks they socialize with regularly. It's much easier to end up as the broad that everyone knows "killed the party", rather than just being able to move on. It is much harder to be anonymous - I don't even bother - and much harder to just find a new crowd if you find out your old one was full of gropers and rape culture apologists.

It's hard because, with an overwhelmingly male expat community - and not all of them even passing the nominal tests of being liberal and egalitarian, quite a few are straight up misogynists - often people just. do. not. get. that while, yes, people have to watch out for themselves, that there is also a responsibility of an event, a community or even a random crowd of people to work together to create a safe environment for all. That means standing up to sexual assault or harassment when you see it happening to someone else, as well as taking action when you are in any sort of position of power to do so after the fact, if you hear about it. This is important and it is the only way we are going to defeat rape culture. It is also the only way women are ever going to be able to feel as fully welcome as men at any public event.

I know how difficult it can be - I once had a party where one guest verbally assaulted another. It wasn't as blatant as, say, racial slurs but he was absolutely very angry about racial dynamics that had impacted his life in the past. While I have sympathy for that, it was no excuse to go after my friend as an individual, who had done nothing wrong, because he happened to belong to the group he maligned. I did try to stand up to him, tell him to stop, insist on changing the subject. He wouldn't. I didn't like him very much - he was my friend's boyfriend, not my friend. I felt later that I should have physically stood up and, regardless of how it might make his girlfriend (my friend) feel, tell him he must either stop immediately or leave. He did eventually stop without my having to do that, but I should have taken a firmer stand. So I get it, it's hard to do. That's why it is imperative that people of good character look back on their mistakes and missteps and consider the future, and how they might be better people with firmer spines. Even when it's uncomfortable. Even when more than one friend is involved.

It's different because there is often a language barrier. Not in this case, but getting local authorities involved can be difficult in cases where the victim doesn't speak Chinese well.

It's different because there are so few expat women compared to men: no clear numbers seem to be available but it has been estimated that the split is something like 70/30.  A lot of men I know don't know very many Western women who aren't me. A lot of women I know complain that it's hard to connect with other women. Because so often women have to push men to do the right thing in these cases, yet there are so few women and events are likely to be predominantly men, it can be harder to get that support. There is a greater chance of the women being shouted down simply because there are fewer of them, and events that are mostly men can at times take on a bit of a sausage-fest feel like the aforementioned photography club, which further alienates women from attending. Even at work, at most workplaces - because I freelance - I am one of maybe two female teachers at most. At times I have been the only one. I do not think my male coworkers are threatening in any way, but the disparity is noticeable and it does mean I have to, say, fight a bit harder for a fair, not-sexist dress code when the guys don't see what's wrong with what's already written, just to take one example.

And finally, it's different because it's so easy to default to the excuse of "cultural differences" even when it's complete nonsense. There is no "cultural difference" that allows sexual assault, both cultures understand quite well the line between silly flirting and straight-up harassment or groping. Go ahead and read up on my experience being nominally annoyed by two teenage boys at an all-night aboriginal festival here (you have to scroll to find the story) to see an example of how good, spineful people of wildly different cultures understand what needs to be done.

This guy gets it. That means it is possible to improve things.

To end on a positive note, something I have noted is that when women do turn to other women in this community, the response is overwhelmingly supportive. When we come together and talk, things do get done because we stand by each other as we fight our respective battles. This, and not "oh it's not my responsibility wah wah wah if you don't feel safe don't come but everyone is welcome and maybe it was cultural differences he's just friendly wah". I seek out supportive people.

In a general sense I need to say this: gropers and the invertebrates of poor moral fiber who don't think they need to be a part of a cohesive society that works to end sexual assault by standing the fuck up? Jellyfish who'd rather flit away, transparent, on whatever wave takes them away from discomfort when they could have done something?

They are no friends of mine.