Discussing Sexism, Sexual Assault and Violence in the JA Community

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The following, released Jan. 16 by the Japanese American Citizens League, is the first in a series of articles on sexual assault.

In a series of pieces, JACL will discuss the recent flow of survivors publicly sharing their stories of sexual violence. These survivors have been silenced, ignored, and victim-blamed for far too long and our society has started to take their concerns seriously.

Thanks to their bravery, we are becoming more aware of the broader rape culture and patriarchy in which we function, showing that problems like these infect all areas of our lives.

For years, survivors have been bearing the weight of advocating against sexual violence and now it is up to us to take up the reins. We have allowed these perpetrators to thrive because of our collective silence.

Now JACL intends to break the silence within our community by facilitating a discussion where we observe how women, non-binary and transgender individuals are treated in every facet of society and recognize the lack of attention this subject has received in the past.

Cultural expectations and norms are vital when analyzing the way in which a survivor seeks help and whether they talk about their experiences at all. The reporting rates for Asian Americans are notoriously low, which suggests a culture where victims don’t feel comfortable coming forward.

The culture of patriarchy reinforces a culture of rape and devalues women, girls, and LGBTQ individuals; harassment, misuse, and abuse is normalized and minimized. We reinforce this each time we tell women to watch their drinks, laugh at rape jokes, or dismiss survivors’ stories when we say “but he’s such a nice guy.” The reinforcement of this culture creates barriers for survivors to report when they are harassed.

In the Japanese American community, cultural expectations can reinforce patriarchal ideals and the fierce need to bring no shame to one’s family and community. Ideals that are inherent to the community, such as struggling forward despite adversity, keeping one’s head down and working hard until better times, can discourage survivors from speaking out. Asian Americans are less likely to report their experiences than their white counterparts.

As a sub-community within the broader American society, now is the time to join in and listen to survivors. Looking internally at how gender roles affect women in the community, and how men are affected by these norms as well, will allow for our community to address those problems and acknowledge individuals who feel invisible or silenced.

While sexual assault plagues the Asian American and Japanese American communities, we also support and uplift women and survivors of other communities where assault and victimization occurs. We want to acknowledge the epidemic of sexual abuse of Native, black, Latinx, queer, disabled, children, elderly, and men that often goes unmentioned.

Later, in another piece, we will discuss problems that affect Asian women. The objectification and fetishization of Japanese women has unique effects. As minority women in America, Japanese American women deal with the intersections of what it means to be both American and perpetually perceived as foreign, while also being sexually objectified.

The way in which sexual assault, harassment and rape affects survivors varies, potentially inciting anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The detrimental effects of these attacks would seem obvious, and the vast number of accusations surfacing should mobilize our society to educate men who can become allies in the fight for gender equality.

These perpetrators are not monsters, but are our brothers, fathers, partners and acquaintances who have been socialized to objectify and dehumanize women. We must end the sexual victimization of women in all areas of society, and this begins at home.

As a community we must educate men and women about sexual assault and the patriarchal norms that are culturally reinforced in our everyday interactions. We must talk about this taboo topic, and intervene when someone says something sexist. We must listen, believe, and support survivors. As women are being heard in the public there is hope that this change will continue into other areas of our society for survivors at all levels.

Education is vital — without it, there is no room for acknowledging the problem in the first place. We hope to provide clarity for our members on the issue that is in the news today and affects so many people that we care about.

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