By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
Improvement of awareness among local women regarding sexual abuse is needed to encourage victims to come forward and seek help despite the influences of traditional Chinese values.
Chief of Lai Yuen, a domestic violence shelter established by the Women’s General Association of Macau (AGMM) around five years ago, Yeung Suk Yin, said the facility had provided temporary accommodation and counselling services to a total of 314 women as of the end of 2010.
Nearly 25 percent said they had experienced sexual abuse. “It’s a very serious situation. And we believe that there are more cases in society not yet exposed,” Yeung told reporters.
The AGMM organised a two-day workshop to provide discussion, role play activities and crisis management training for local social workers when aiding sexual abuse victims.
Yeung said sometimes victims were not very clear of what could already be deemed as sexual abuse, and also as trust had not yet been established with their social workers, they were unable to express their experiences when first arriving at the shelter.
“For example, being forced to watch adult videos or have sexual intercourse, or other unreasonable demands such as requesting [the women] to wear a particular type of clothing at home is already a kind of sexual abuse,” she added.
Yeung admitted that in a Chinese society, it’s even harder for women involved in spousal sexual abuse to leave home and identify themselves as victims.
“There are many concerns that discourage them from seeking help, such as their financial conditions after leaving home, who takes care of the children or they’re trying to give their husbands a chance hoping that they will change,” she said.
Among the victims who had come to Lai Yuen for assistance, she said about 40 percent of them had tolerated abusive behaviour for over 10 years.
A large number of the victims La Yuen had sheltered were new immigrants from the mainland, and therefore they were “even more heavily influenced by the traditional social values and would choose to tolerate domestic violence”, she added.
The association has been pressing the Macau Government to propose a domestic violence law for years. Yeung said Lai Yuen has expressed the importance to define domestic violence as well as abusers in the draft law, which is expected to be submitted to the Legislative Assembly sometime this year.
Executive director of the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women, Linda Wong, was one of four guest speakers invited from Hong Kong to share experiences and knowledge in the workshop.
According to Wong, social workers must have ‘strong sensitivity’ towards victim’s needs when handling sexual abuse cases.
“Most of the victims deem that it’s their fault and are worried that they will be the one to be blamed. Social workers need to have empathy and convince them that they didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.
In addition, protection of victims’ privacy such as keeping their names, photos and other personal information confidential is essential, Wong stressed.
Mr Leong, a social worker in youth prevention work, attended yesterday’s workshop because information regarding sexual abuse is not widely available in Macau.
He said he has not encountered or heard of any such cases in his work but believed that “there are many hidden cases since public awareness [of domestic violence] is relatively low”.
The 24-hour hotline service to combat human trafficking, which was launched by the AGMM in 2008, received 40 victims at their shelter in total by the end of 2010.
AGMM chairwoman Chio Ngan Ieng said nearly 40 percent of those were under 18 years old and a majority of them “had been cheated to come to Macau and forced to become prostitutes”.