Heart-to-Heart with Bihzhu
3 December | Thursday | 8pm (UTC+8)
In conjunction with my latest music video for “Dear Stalker”, I had a heart-to-heart with Bihzhu on Instagram Live on sexual harassment, and discussed about how we can all help one another.
Bihzhu’s rich soulful voice paired with genuine songcraft transcends pain and heartache to celebrate life, and love. Her “heart music” has left audiences finger-snapping, foot-tapping, and dancing all over Asia and Australia. Beyond her professionalism and talents, she inspires me most with her courage and outspokenness.
. . .
Quick notes I took from the sharing:
- First step to recovery:
- Accept and acknowledge that whatever happened was not your fault.
- Healing journey:
- Everyone’s journey is different, take it at your own pace
- Speak up only when you’re comfortable and if it helps with your own healing.
- To have a voice is a privilege. Use it for good, it may have a ripple effect.
- Take care of yourself first.
- How to be a better ally:
- Always ask what the survivor needs first. Then, seek for ways to meet their needs.
- Listen without judgement.
- Be empathetic.
- Don’t merely help in order to boost our own egos.
- Both men and women are victims of toxic masculinity and victim blaming.
- Sexual harassment do not discriminate, it can happen to anyone regardless of circumstance.
- Educating kids as young as 3-5 years old about good touch and bad touch.
- When people around you failed to help, seek professional’s support.
- Abusers and predators need to work hard on changing their behaviour with professional help.
. . .
Click on “Read more” for the transcript of the highlights.
For those who didn’t have the time to watch the full video, which is still up on my IGTV, I’ve transcribed the highlights from our conversation for you below:
Straw (S): Why are you passionate about speaking up and why do you think it’s important to do so?
Bihzhu (B): Speaking up can be a really important part of that healing. For those of us who can do it in a public way is a privilege and honour. But if you’ve experienced trauma and you feel like you can’t speak up, there’s nothing to be ashamed of either, because we all heal at different paces and we all need different things in that healing. If you’re able to, good, if you’re not, that’s also completely ok, and the last thing I want is for people to feel like, oh, that person spoke up, I didn’t, now I feel bad. No, that doesn’t apply, like I said earlier, we’re all different, we all need different things, the most important thing is always take care of yourself first. So, whatever is best for your healing, you do that, whether it’s speaking up, whether it’s therapy, whether it’s telling one person, whatever you need, there’s no one solution for everyone.
Why I’m passionate about it is because I feel like I’m able to. Like, hearing you talk about how you felt watching me share, like, you didn’t tell me I wouldn’t know right, in fact you didn’t tell me until you invited me to do this things, so I literally have no idea that you felt that way. That’s the kind of unseen impact that speaking up has, whether or not you see the results of your speaking up it doesn’t matter. Sometimes speaking up also doesn’t need to be this altruistic reason, oh you know I want to speak up because I want to inspire other people. Sometimes speaking up just so you feel better with no ripple effect is also perfectly fine.
S: What’s your experience, how do you overcome that trauma, and how has your healing journey been?
B: The first time I got molested, I was 13 or 14 (full story on IGTV). Now that I’m older, I realised that even though there was an opportunity to tell my mom, I didn’t take it because no-one has ever sat me down and talked about these things with me. No-one spoke about sex education, we only had them when we were 15, I was only 14 then. No-one ever talked about what you should do if someone touches you inappropriately. No-one taught me that in school, family didn’t have that possibly. I think you and every survivor of sexual harassment will know that when things like that happen to you, even though it’s never your fault, you always feel dirty. You always feel like you did something wrong, especially if it happens to you at a young age. At 14, I didn’t know how to process that, I just knew that I felt like I did something wrong. So when my mom asked me is everything ok, I said ya everything is ok, and I just forgot about it.
And then, the second incident that happened which actually inspired a song that I wrote when I was 22. See, at 22 and 14 is 8-year difference, I was older, I was wiser, I knew the right thing to do at that age, but when it happened… I guess this is why I get really upset at victim blamers – those people who always say “oh, why you didn’t say no”, “oh, why you didn’t fight”, “why you didn’t shout”, “why didn’t you do anything”, “why did you follow that person here”, “why you just laid there” and all that, because people react so differently when things like that happen. I am the kind of person who goes to the shock. So here I am at 22, what I would describe myself as a strong, smart, independent woman at that age. (Full story on IGTV). I was completely in shock, I went and work, took another taxi home, and this is 2 hours later after it happened, only I’m starting to process what happened.
A big part of that healing was writing the song after this experience. The song is called “Tainted Temples”, and back then I was in a pop-jazz duo called “Rhapsody” with my bandmate, Ywenna. So we wrote the song, and the first time I performed it was at the old La Bodega where they used to have singer-songwriter night, and it happened to be the International Women’s Day, so I remember performing that song for the first time, I didn’t even get through the first verse and chorus, and I started crying in the middle of the song, and after I finished singing – sobbing – singing – sobbing, I was trying to wipe my tears and my contact lens had fell out. An audience member had to go find a contact lens solution fo me, so it became kind of a funny thing. But I didn’t perform that song for many years until I recorded it. So from 2005-2006 when I performed that song for the first time, I didn’t touch it until 5-6 years later when I recorded the song for my debut album “Nightingale”, and even after recording the song, I didn’t perform it a lot, only the past 3-4 years I started performing again.
B: Sexual education is so lacking in our country, and it has really serious effect. How many children don’t know that it’s wrong, and 80% of sexual abuse cases happened with people that you know. So that whole scary nightmare of a stranger jumping out of the bushes and attacking you is only 20% of the story. A big 80% or it could be even higher are people that you know, people around you that sexually abuse you. I think it could be an asian thing as well, we consider sex such a taboo subject, and we don’t talk to our children about it, and the school don’t teach it. Anytime people wanna fight for quality sex education, everyone thinks you’re teaching young people how to have sex. Let’s be honest ok, when you’re growing up, and you’re in puberty, that’s when your hormones is rising, it’s been proven excellent sex education does not work. Teenagers are going to explore no matter what you say to them, so are you gonna equip them with the right tools, or just pretend that this problem doesn’t exist. Even kids as young as 3, 4, 5, it’s a good time to have a good touch, bad touch talk with them. There’re so many resources on the internet that you can look up. There are storybooks that come with illustrations that talk about what’s a good touch or bad touch for young children. And also this is something I strongly believe in, that we should never force young children to hug or kiss people, even if they’re your relatives. Whenever my friends tell their kids “Hey, go hug aunty Bihzhu”, I’ll say “It’s ok, only if you want to. I can do fist bumps, I can do hand shake” and give the child the choice, because they need to learn that their body is their own, and they have a say over what they’re comfortable with and who they’re comfortable touching. I know this is a bit controversial, people might say “aiyah, what kind of teaching is this? I’m the grandfather/aunty/cousin, of course I can touch my relative’s kid and all that. But again, I’ll bring it back to it happened with people you know. Your abusers always tend to be people you know. Let’s be honest, we’ve seen the statistics where it’s the father, grandfather.
I know number of male abusers are high in statistics, but there are also female abusers out there, and male victims often don’t speak up as much as female victims. Think about it, you’re a woman, you speak up about sexual harassment, you’ll definitely get victim blame, there will be a portion of people say like “why you didn’t do anything”, “why you didn’t report to the police”, “why only now you wanna say anything”. But if you’re a man and you talk about your experiences, a lot of times people will make jokes of it. Let’s think about, if you’re young kid in high school, a male student, and then your older female teacher/person grooms you, what do we end up hearing? “OMG, you’re such a slut”. You switch that around to a young female student with an older teacher or whatever, suddenly the perception is different. A lot of times male survivor of sexual abuse don’t speak up because of the kind of environment that we have and they’re not supported. There was a study of victims of war. Female victims were offered support by organisations like the United Nation. Male victims, doctors just gave them panadol and asked them to go home. So I will say sexual abuse is something that cuts across genders and ages and all that. If in the past if you’ve had this toxic thoughts yourself of not taking male victims seriously, it’s never too late to change and understand that there are male victims as well, and we need to offer them as much support as female victims, because it’s so much harder for them to speak up actually.
S: What are the best ways to support the victims?
B: I think the first thing is to ask them what they need, what they want. Some people benefit by just talking to a trusted person. Some people go further in their healing journey when they speak up about it like you and I. But it matters what the person needs. I would say the most basic and easiest thing you can do is to listen, and to listen without judgement, listen without needing to say here’s what you can do, what I can suggest. Forget all of that, just freaking listen, that’s all. Then let that person slowly tell you what they need.
S: How do we move forward in our lives without having to live in fear of being harassed?
B: I don’t even know if I have the right answer for this, because I feel like no matter what we do, we could take 10,000 steps to protect ourselves and try to prevent these things from happening, but it’s not on us, it’s not on the victim, it’s not on survivors. Things happen because of the abuser’s action, so I think maybe the first step is creating a safe space for yourself and for the people around you.
To come back about me not even bother whether someone is telling the truth, I would say according to statistics, people always say that, “give the person a benefit of a doubt”, “what if this is a false accusation”. I’m not denying that false accusation exists, but do you know what the statistics are? 2% of all reported cases were false, and out of all reported cases, there was at least 10 times or 100 times of things that weren’t reported. Just think about this, someone come forward and publicly name the person who sexually abused them, what do they gain from it? Name me a single person who had come forward with their sexual abuse story and had become famous, and gain tonnes of money and live a happy healthy life. What survivors experienced instead is have people attack them, attack their integrity, drag up their personal history, their romantic history, try to cast aspersions on their character, attack their family. Which person in their right mind want all that? So I would always choose to believe the survivor, and I know it’s hard sometimes, especially when it’s someone you know. It’s a tricky situation.
S: How can we be better bystanders, for example if the abuser is our friend?
B: I think it depends on a lot of things. No. 1 what’s my relationship with that person who has been accused as the predator, especially if there’s multiple victims coming forward, there’s no grey area then it’s very clear, black and white. I’m sorry to say this, but do you notice that a lot of times these predators come up with half assed apologies only after they had been caught and named, and a lot of times the apologies sound like empty cans with not even a hint of real remorse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the kind of person that is willing to give second chances, but at what cost? I must say that it’s a personal thing, there’s no right way of being an ally, but to examine what is the relationship with this person. If it’s your best friend, then maybe you’re a little bit more invested in making sure this person is getting help with the problem. And when I say getting help, I mean very specifically talking about his/her role as a predator when they’re going to therapy for example. Especially if you’re a person who is in the position of abusing, it’s very dangerous, I find, if they just go for therapy without actively stating that they abuse someone. Because I will tell you there are some people who will just pretend or say the right things, but until that person is genuinely tackling the issue then I would think twice about supporting the predator. But then again, there’s no hard and fast rules, so it’s something we really have to evaluate by yourself.
S: What are the resources available for those we seek for help?
B: (Refer to links below). Just to put into perspective, I have a friend who was raped, and it took her many years before her rapist was convicted in court. In between those years, the kind of horrible treatment that she got from the investigating officer, the police and people around her. Just want to put it out there, to those people who say “oh why didn’t you report to the police”, “why didn’t you do this and that”, you have no idea – the thing happening to you one time is traumatising, you have to repeat it multiple times to authorities figures who haven’t received proper training, re-traumatising you again. Every time when it’s brought up, imagine having to sit in the court and all that, we’re talking years. And my friend is one of the more successful ones, in a sense that her rapist actually got convicted and sent to jail. There are so many more people who, for example the case of a doctor who sexually harassed a journalist, and she went public about it. The case was completely dropped based on a technicality even though there was overwhelming evidence. So please be empathetic, and be aware that going to the police and putting the trust in the court and the justice system sometimes isn’t the thing that the survivor needs. Sometimes the entire experience re-traumatises them and prevents them from healing. So I will come back again always to this, what does the survivor need, that’s the most important. If you ever wanna be an ally, always come back to that. I say this because a lot of times when we wanna help people, we forget and we make it about us. There will be times when people wanna tell you something, you’ll be like “OMG, I feel so bad this happened to you, I dunno how can I help you”, you make it about you, you’re trying to make yourself feel better, but is that what the survivor needs? So think very carefully anytime anyone in your life feels ready to tell you about what happened, always come back to this, what does that person need, most basic again, listen without judgement, no need to say anything, just listen, be there, and then the survivor will eventually be able to tell you what he or she need.
So sorry for the audio technical issues, that I should’ve rectified on the spot, below is a summary of the Q&A.
S: How can we cope if the people who are supposed protect us, like the organisations (human rights, women rights) failed to do so?
B: I would say if you’re able to, going to see a professional might be a good step.
S: What is the first step to recovery?
B: The first step is to acknowledge and to accept that it was not your fault. There’s no circumstance that justifies a person being abused. The only cause of abuse is the abuser.
S: On toxic masculinity
B: We don’t need you to beat anyone up for us, just do the hard work – call your friends out when they make horrible remarks about others; understand and don’t take offence when women are being cautious; look out for each other.
. . .
. . .
Resources mentioned (Malaysia based):
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
- Website: wao.org.my
- Hotline: +60379563488 (24 hours)
- SMS/WhatsApp TINA: +60189888058 (24 hours)
TINA stands for Think I Need Aid
All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
- Website: awam.org.my
. . .
Other resources (stay tune for updates, feel free to share in the comments):
1. Bandcamp waives 15% revenue on the first Friday of every month for 24 hours (according to your time zones).
2. Contributions above 10USD will receive a complementary physical album. (Applicable to Straw’s music only)
3. 10% of sales will be donated to charity. (Applicable to Straw’s music only)
Support Bihzhu and Straw’s Merchandise:
♡ Forever grateful for your support.