• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Evelyn Yang writes book on sexual abuse, shares personal story

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Evelyn Yang is known to most people as the wife of former Democratic presidential candidate and current New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang. Now she's establishing herself as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse.

Video Transcript

- --talked earlier today with Evelyn Yang, wife of former presidential candidate and current New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, about a topic that is emotional, uncomfortable, but absolutely critical, sexual abuse, something she knows a lot about as a survivor. Yang has authored a new book about sexual abuse. It's the latest in the franchise "A Kid's Book About." In raising awareness, she also opened up about another incident of sexual abuse, one that happened when she was a little girl. Here is our conversation.

Thank you so much for making the time to chat with us today.

EVELYN YANG: Thank you, Kristin. Thank you so much for having me here today.

- Your book "A Kid's Book About Sexual Abuse," when did you decide this is something you wanted to do?

EVELYN YANG: Well, I started working or thinking about this book about a year ago before the pandemic hit. I was reflecting on how I had just shared this really big secret with basically everyone about how my doctor had sexually abused me and sexually assaulted me but that I had not even explained to my own children what sexual abuse means. And this is the book that I wanted to read to them as a parent and as a survivor in order to inform them and also protect them.

- Mm-hmm. Now, last year you revealed that you were assaulted by your gynecologist while pregnant. And that was when it triggered the childhood memory of the other incident of abuse. Can you talk about-- I know this is so hard, so only talk about it to the extent that you're comfortable-- what happened when you were a kid?

EVELYN YANG: Well, the situation was that I was at school. And I was alone with someone who was a stranger to me, you know. He asked-- I don't remember exactly what he said. But he basically asked to play with me. And I remember feeling like there was something off about the situation. But being sexually abused was not even in my realm of possibility.

So I remember thinking, don't be rude. Don't hurt his feelings. And I didn't have that much time to think about much because it escalated very quickly. And before I knew it, I almost reflexively realized that this was a bad situation.

But I was very lucky in that a teacher discovered us, and she intervened. But I highlight this entire situation because this was a stranger. And I felt a certain level of pressure. You can only imagine if it's someone you know or someone you trust, which is 93% of the cases with childhood sexual abuse.

- And you mentioned as a kid, you don't really know what's happening to you. So it's hard to talk about it. Was it a long time before you were able to talk to your parents? Your best friend? And after you were married, with Andrew?

EVELYN YANG: Well, this man was arrested and prosecuted. So I don't remember talking to my parents about it so much as actually talking to the prosecutor because we had to review my testimony. And I remember having to learn a bunch of things-- a bunch of new things and it being sort of my first education in sexual abuse. I learned things like the clinical name of my body parts for the first time, which I had to use on the stand. And I didn't talk to my friends about it because I was embarrassed.

And-- and it was, you know, very uncomfortable that my mind basically buried this memory. It was a repressed memory for over 30 years. So by the time I met Andrew, for example, I had no recollection of this anymore.

- So knowing how tough it is for parents to talk with their children and for the children to talk about this, how did you go about framing the topic and presenting it in the book?

EVELYN YANG: It is a very tough topic. And this is why I think a book helps. Because how do you start this conversation? I wanted to make this conversation one that wasn't going to be scary or feel overwhelming. I also didn't want it to be overly clinical or dry or boring. Because if it's boring, then it's not memorable. And if it's not memorable, then it's less useful.

So this book is not a clinical book because I'm not a clinician. I'm a survivor. And it's told in the perspective of the survivor. And I think that it's really powerful and significant to be able to say, you know, this happened to me. This is what I experienced. This is how I felt. I was scared, and this is what I did.

- With the pandemic and the lockdown, do you think this is a more important time than ever to talk about this?

EVELYN YANG: We've seen an alarming uptick in sexual violence. It's been one of the most horrendous side effects of the pandemic. Traditionally, schools are safe havens for children. This is where abuse is reported.

Right now with the pandemic, so many kids are out of school that abuse is going unreported. And teachers don't have eyes on kids the way they used to. And a lot of our kids unfortunately might be in situations where they are trapped at home with their abusers. So it's something that I think we need to acknowledge is going-- we're going to be dealing with the impact of this trauma and the aftermath long after COVID is past us or is behind us.

- I know you wanted the book to speak to boys and girls equally because it has happened to both. I'm wondering, have you had the chance to sit down and read the book yet with your own boys? When do you think they're old enough?

EVELYN YANG: I don't think that you can start too early as-- as long as kids, you know, have an understanding of, you know, their body. And I think, you know, it might even be harder for boys. Like I'm the mom of two boys. And the statistics are so alarming, you know. It's one in four girls and one in six boys will be abused before age 18. And with boys, I have a sense that that might even be underreported.

Because you know, our society makes it, I think, even harder for boys to come out with stories of sexual abuse. So I'm hoping that this book actually opens the door for that dialogue so that it's easier for girls and boys to come forward with it.

I've been really, you know, surprised in just these last few days since my book launch, so many people have been sharing their stories of their childhood abuse with me. And I want to say that almost-- that more than half of these stories are coming from men. So many people are walking around with this sexual trauma. And it just tells me that we should be having these conversations earlier rather than later.

- It sounds like you carried it around for decades. And I wonder if you feel like talking about it is empowering and a critical step in the healing process.

EVELYN YANG: Well, absolutely. I mean, this is-- one of the reasons why I wrote the book, I mean, for the-- the pragmatic reason is that, you know, I felt this overwhelming responsibility to educate my own children about it. And I didn't feel like there were enough resources.

But on a very personal level, writing this book was an emotional process and a healing process for me. Just the idea of being able to put those words on paper and channel my trauma into a way that could potentially help other people heal from their trauma is very meaningful to me.

- Ultimately, what do you hope this book will accomplish?

EVELYN YANG: Well, I really consider this book a book about empowerment. I want to empower children to, you know, to own their bodies, to trust their instincts, and to use their voices and tell someone if they ever feel abused or confused. And I also want to empower adults to start these conversations earlier with the children in their lives.

I also consider this book a book about safety. We teach our children all the time the importance of looking both ways before they cross the street, say no to drugs, car safety, using a seatbelt, what to do in the event of a house fire.

And children are actually much more likely to experience sexual abuse than they are to be in a house fire. So we need to normalize teaching kids about sexual abuse and what-- and how to recognize it so that they know what to do if they find themselves in such a situation and also the importance of talking about it and reporting it if whoever does.

- Evelyn Yang, thank you so much for talking about this with us and for your courage. The book is called "A Kid's Book About Sexual Abuse" by Evelyn Yang. Thank you so much, Evelyn.

EVELYN YANG: Thank you, Kristin.