Telling stories to alter victims' lives

Narrative therapy helps victims of sexual harassment overcome traumatic experiences through storytelling techniques.

Victims of sexual harassment are encouraged by the government to seek help and sue offenders so they will be penalised for their crimes. While many assume the pain ends after reporting such cases, most of the time it ends up prolonging the victim's nightmare instead.

During a university seminar called Telling Stories in Ways That Make Us Stronger, experienced social worker and lecturer in the Department of Social Work at Hong Kong Baptist University, Dr Shirley Hung Suet-lin, said she had seen many victims suffering second victimisation due to social discourse that encouraged doubtful and judgmental attitudes towards sexual violence case reporting.

"Being raped is never the victim's fault," said Dr Hung. Serving the disadvantaged group for more than 20 years, she said in the current community system, sexual harassment victims are required to repeatedly recall and revise their unpleasant memories.

Police authorities and the courts require victims to give specific details of such incidences as evidence, often causing psychological harm to the victim.

"They consider themselves as a useless person when they fail to give specific details required to imprison the offender," said Dr Hung.

Once they adopt "useless" as the theme of their life story, they perceptively pick incidents that support this storyline, resulting in low self-esteem and bad psychological mindsets.

To improve the situation for sexual harassment victims, Dr Hung introduced narrative therapy which places emphasis on helping victims set an alternative storyline when asked to tell stories of their experience during the narrative collective practice.

The technique aims at assisting participants to magnify positive attributes and construct a different identity by externalising the problem which has been haunting them.

"The famous narrative motto: ‘the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem,' helps victims a lot," said Dr Hung.

"Narrative therapy can be applied as a daily essence," she added. As pressure usually comes from the standards and expectations set within society, separating ourselves from attributes that are taken for granted in social discourse may help ease our psychological burden, said Dr Hung.

Reported by Amie Cheng

Edited by Jessica Lee

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