Over the past year, I’ve talked to a number of people, read numerous articles, comments, and listened to peoples opinions about domestic workers in HK. The public perceives domestic workers in the city in a very negative light. Examples are plentiful:
- People call domestic workers gathering in public spaces on Sundays an “eye sore.” People advise each other to avoid certain areas of the city because “its too crowded.”
- Domestic workers “exploit” their employers out of money by suing them and “lying” to the Labor Tribunal about the situation.
- Cases of abuse are “isolated incidences” and the worker “exaggerated” the situation to get more money from her employer
The idea of “isolated” cases of abuses figures prominently in this discourse. The conversation always starts “the majority of employers in HK are great, except for THIS ONE….”
I hear this concept of “isolation” in relation to abuse of women all the time, here, in the United States, all over the world. The dictionary defines isolate as “…detach or separate so AS TO BE ALONE.” Since I arrived in Hong Kong, the Bethune House shelter has handled two cases of rape, one of rape with physical assault, and one of severe physical abuse. (The shelter only houses 30 women at any given time, and I only know about some of the cases.) By definition, this series of isolated cases CANNOT be isolated because they are not alone. These examples point to systemic abuse facilitated by perceptions about domestic workers and government policies.
Of course, these ideas about “isolation” figure prominently in the United States as well. Every time the media reports a case about rape in a school or on a college campus, people blame the victim (“what was she wearing? was she drinking?”), shake their heads and say “that’s a shame but I’m sure it won’t happen again.” In reality, 1 in 4 women will experience sexual violence by the time she is 25 in the United States. 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime worldwide. Personally, I have never met a women who has not experience some form of unwanted sexual advance whether its staring, touching, comments, whistling etc.
Violence against women is NOT isolated. It’s systemic and it’s time for everyone all over the world to “own up to it.” We need to acknowledge it: we treat women as second-class citizens with discriminatory laws and policies, we try to control their bodies and sexuality to perceptions and cultures that get codified into laws, and we justify the actions of men and blame women. And we ALL perpetuate and sustain it.
So rather than rationalizing and justifying and calling these “isolated incidences,” let’s “own up to it” because only by accepting this reality can we truly began to change it.