Taura Edgar created TALK Hong Kong when she couldn't find a group in English for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Fast forward two years, and the organisation is now helping to rewrite laws and sentencing in Hong Kong.
When it comes to living with trauma or illness of any type, it’s often the survivors who have the biggest ability to champion a space for others to share their stories and for changes to be made in the wider community. And that’s exactly what Taura Edgar, Founder of TALK did when she launched the project back in 2019. Two years on, and she and the team not only help people with regular meetings (in a space generously provided by The Wild Lot) and access to resources, but they’re also advising on changes to laws, sentencing, and collecting data so that the issue can be better understood in Hong Kong.
Meet Taura Edgar
Taura Edgar has an effervescent personality that comes across as soon as we meet. She’s eager to tell the story of TALK and equally asserts how important it is for us to cover the topic sensitively and correctly, quickly pointing out that she herself is not a mental health professional. But while she may not have a psychology degree, she has lived experience, putting her in the perfect position to advocate for other survivors and to help make changes in the way that criminals are prosecuted in Hong Kong.
A few definitions to be clear on below before beginning:
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): refers to a single traumatic event, or possibly similar events that happen in a short time frame.
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD): refers to the traumas the individual experienced, as being long-standing and often occurring in childhood.
Thanks so much fo chatting with us, Taura. Tell me a little about how TALK came into being?
I’ve been in therapy for years and years for all kinds of things: depression, anger management, etc. and it took till my mid forties to deal directly with my own personal abuse. At some point, my therapist–who was absolutely fantastic!, kind of winked at me and said: “I think you should go and find some kind of support group.”
And I was hoping she’d just tell me where to go. But I went back a few weeks later because I realised there were none, at least in English. And she gave me another wink and said: “Well, maybe you’ll think about doing something about that one day.”
I felt terrified. How could I possibly be the right person to do that? But I started researching the possibility and to see how I would go about it in a responsible way; I’d be inviting people into a room to say some of the most difficult things they’d ever said after-all.
Like many people starting a passion project, I just assumed there’d be an expert somewhere focussing on the area of childhood sexual abuse, but there’s really not. And that’s what I wanted to focus on as that’s my own background and where the biggest gap in education is.
How do the meetings run?
When one of my friends and I were talking about it, he said: “You should really go to a 12-step meeting” (they have open meetings), and that was a great experience; to feel what that fellowship was like. Even if you have nothing else in common with people in that room, you have one really big thing that lets you share some of the really big pains, and the big successes in a way that, maybe, only they’ll understand.
I’d say many of the people in our group are over 40 who have really taken until now to be able to meet that part of their childhood head on and to work through it a bit. We do get some really young people too, and I think that’s amazing. I sometimes think: imagine if I had worked through this earlier?! My god, how my life would have been different.
Tell me about the very first meeting
In the very beginning, I was just focussed on getting my shit together to do the monthly meetings and to make sure I could handle that on an emotional level. That was a fear. But I was fine.
Actually, for the first meeting, nobody showed up. How do you recruit sexually abused people to join you in a room they don’t know when they don’t know you? (laughs) It takes some time.
I just kind of said to myself that if I was going to do this, I had to just show up in that room every month. And people started coming one-by-one, which was also its own kind of weirdness. It’s such a painful topic to talk about out loud.
So things sort of slowly built up. It took me a year to open the Facebook page because I thought: can I handle interacting in that way? I was conscious of guarding my own mental health, but everything has turned out really well; it’s gratifying.
A large group for us is six people, but a lot of these people are talking about this for the very first time. So it’s this precious thing of being able to talk to people who understand fairly easily and can share things they’ve found helpful.
The focus of the group is: how is this affecting your life right now, and what are you doing to cope with it. We’re all about that forward movement in a really helpful way. It’s not necessarily about: tell me every single nasty detail that happened to you, though sometimes that comes out too.
It’s so nice to see people give that big sigh after sharing. It’s not that everything’s fixed, but they have some relief.
What can happen when trauma like this is not dealt with?
In my own experience, I feel like unaddressed trauma is kind of an underlying epidemic. In the medical world, they’re just starting to address the physical effects of PTSD and C-PTSD.
I think survivors of childhood sexual abuse have stories about going to therapy for depression, feeling suicidal, or anger management, but once you actually get to the main driver for all these things, there’s this sense of relief.
It’s not always the act itself that affects people the most, it’s that loss of trust. When the people who are meant to be protecting you the most don’t; how do you deal with that? But as a child, it’s your normality. So how do you know that this isn’t right? You probably know that something isn’t right, but it’s quite a process as an adult to realise maybe not everybody reacts to things that way and why is it I do.
What would you say to someone who is interested in joining a meeting but not feeling quite ready?
I’m always sure that I’m there at least a half hour before, so if people want to drop by, and just say hi, that’s totally fine. And even though it’s called TALK, we do say right at the very beginning: if today’s not your day, you can just sit and listen. You never need to say your name or share any details of what happened; you can just be, if that’s helpful to you.
Do you have any tips for friends and family who may be trying to support a survivor of childhood sexual abuse?
Trust and time. You can’t push someone to be someone they’re not. Choice is something that’s really important. Even if you’d like to drag them to a GP or therapist today, unless they’re in immediate physical danger, patience might be the better angle.
I’ve been in therapy myself, and I know that one of the most important things is finding someone who you gel with. For childhood sexual abuse survivors, I imagine that this is even more difficult. What tips would you give for people looking for a therapist?
Firstly, therapy is a choice. You need to make that decision for yourself.
Second, it’s good to find a trauma-informed therapist; someone who specialises in this kind of treatment and can support you. I’ve heard stories of people seeing therapists who had trouble dealing personally with what they’d been told and also stories about therapists almost blaming the survivor, and because in Hong Kong there’s no regulation and ongoing training, it’s even more important to find the right person.
Along with the meetings, you also work in advocacy and research. Tell us a bit more about that.
About a year ago, I realised that the Hong Kong LRC (Law Reform Committee) had been reviewing a whole host of things around sexual offences for like 14 years; everything from the types of offences that are on the law books to sentencing. And they open a period of public consultation. We ended up getting in touch with HKU Law Department and we got connected with two people there who have been absolutely fantastic and they’ve helped us formulate the legal angle to our submission.
So that was an amazing experience. And what we learned from that process also is just that, that dearth of statistics here means that LEGCO, the police department, social welfare department, educators, etc. have little idea about the prevalence of child sexual abuse here.
So if you don’t know the prevalence, what’s your motivation to do anything about it? Why as a school would you ask for more funding for education? If you think it’s one in a million, it’s not. It’s more like one in 10, maybe one in seven girls who have been sexually abused in some way.
In other jurisdictions like the UK and the US there are NGOs that focus on this a lot and work with the data to try to help all the stakeholders make sense of what’s really going on; what we know and what we don’t know. So that’s the project we’re on now.
And we’re just at the beginning of sucking in all that data. Over the course of the year, we will be releasing statistical stuff about reported versus unreported cases. It’s a complicated task, but it needs to be done, and I’m super excited to do it.
Find out more about TALK Hong Kong here