It’s Time to Talk about Abuse

(This post is written from subjective personal experience)

Culture is never an excuse for abuse.
Abuse is a violation of civil rights.

What is abuse?
Firstly, we need to understand what abuse is. There is physical abuse, which pertains to a person’s bodily harm caused intentionally by another human. There is sexual abuse, which pertains to unwarrented sexual conduct. There is emotional and psychological abuse, which pertains to the brainwashing and repeated destruction caused verbally or through repeated passive-aggressive acts of denying human dignity. All forms of abuse are a violation of a person’s fundamental civil right. (Read more from NHS)

What is a civil right?
A civil right is the freedom of movement, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of ownership. According to J.S. Mill, it is the right to life, love, and liberty. The definition provided by the United Nations Organisation can be found in the footnote or on this link.

In what ways do traditional Asian cultures perpetuate abuse?
In Psychology Today, Sam Louie writes a case study titled “Asian Shame and Honor”. In this article, Louie addresses various conundrums. In one instance, a Korean-American male sought help for problems with addiction. However, this male felt that “getting help” was a shame to his family’s honor. In this male’s culture, honor was not defined by personal achievements but rather by a society or a family’s perception of success. Though this male had a well-paid job in the I.T. field, he nonetheless suffered from an inferiority complex due to misconceptions in his childhood.

Another example Louie provides is how Chinese parents often discuss a child’s “inadequacy” publicly in order to shame the child. This played into the cultural value of collectivist shaming. Such patterns constitute a violation of civil rights because even though the parent may have freedom of expression, this freedom is abused and used to override the freedom of thought and conscience of a child. It is also regarded as degrading treatment on a psychological level because the child feels denigrated by his or her own parents.

The second conundrum that is prevalent in traditional Asian culture is the view and perception of family. Rather than encouraging independence (freedom of movement) or prohibiting torture and cruel punishment (what Asian parents classify as discipline), it is common for a traditional Asian parent to restrict a child’s freedom to visit their friends, to leave the house, and are punished either physically or emotionally when the child expresses a desire to cultivate individualism. This action generally perpetuates long after a child turns eighteen, and statistics show that over 60% of Asians (in Hong Kong and China) still live with their parents well into adulthood. Although this act is culturally acceptable in Asia and a traditional Asian calls it “saving money”, the psychological ramifications include, but are not limited to, stunted development, co-dependency, restrictions of individualism, and socio-economic dependency.

Workplace abuse
A case study of workplace abuse was that of a twenty-two year old South African-Chinese female who worked for a Hong Kong-Chinese company. She was employed as a teacher and curriculum developer but was required to work for over eighty-hours a week without compensation. On a daily basis, she would receive repeated attacks from the boss who used racial slurs such as “You’re not as Chinese as I thought you were”, “White people can’t speak Chinese”, and classist remarks such as “You went to school with rich kids, no wonder you can’t do your job”. None of these statements had any basis as firstly, the teacher was of mixed ethnicity and secondly, within two months had earned the company over USD 30,000. After twenty-seven months, the teacher had left the company. The South African-Chinese female was diagnosed with PTSD, a former colleague underwent surgery due to having developed three hernias under work stress, and another was diagnosed with clinical depression due to work stress. All teachers who have had experience outside of Asia have since left the company, the only remaining staff are from traditional Chinese cultural backgrounds.

During the period of abuse, the South African-Chinese teacher had attempted to discuss the issue with colleagues. Two colleagues who were from the U.K. had agreed that the treatment at the company constituted abuse and violated civil rights. Three colleagues who were traditional Hong Kong-Chinese had indicated that this behaviour was common and generally went unreported in society. A further look into the Hong Kong-Chinese work culture indicated that most who worked for Chinese bosses would stay at the office for a minimum of sixty hours a week, sometimes even a hundred hours, all without compensation because Hong Kong employment law does not require mandatory over-time pay. When asked “why”, these staff often replied, “I’m scared of my boss.” Rather than leaving the company, they stick through abuse because quitting a job and protecting oneself would bring shame to the family.

What now?
Abuse is prevalent in Asian society and often goes unaddressed due to cultural apathy and its normalised perception of cruelty. However, a human right is universal and applies to all human individuals. The bottom line is that “freedom from abuse is a civil right”, and if you are aware of abuse in your society, in your workplace, in your family, you have two options: to make your abuser aware of their abuse, or to walk away and save yourself.

Culture is never an excuse for abuse.

Abuse is a violation of a civil right.

True honor is respecting YOURSELF and breaking free from a cycle of honouring shame.


  1. United Nations definition of civil rights A civil right is the “freedom of movement; equality before the law; …freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of opinion and expression; peaceful assembly;… and protection of minority rights. It prohibits arbitrary deprivation of life; torture, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment; slavery and forced labour; arbitrary arrest or detention; arbitrary interference with privacy; war propaganda; discrimination; and advocacy of racial or religious hatred.”
  2. NHS — What is abuse?
  3. Stosny, S — Emotional Abuse Violates Civil Rights
  4. Louie, S — Asian Shame and Honor
  5. Bashir, R — The untold story of how a culture of shame perpetuates abuse
  6. Two in Three Asian Millenials Still Living with Their Parents
  7. Young, S — Young People Who Move in with Their Parents are More Likely to Experience Depression 
  8. Bourassa, T — Self-Development: From Bondage to Freedom
  9. Lancer, D — Symptoms of Codependency

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