Suicide verdict on 'molested' woman

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2012, 12:00am


A coroner's court yesterday returned a verdict of suicide on the death of a Chinese University administrator and made no ruling on her accusations she was molested by her boss.

The verdict came one day after a former administrator at the university, Jacob Leung Siu-kwong, testified that he had not sexually harassed Wong Yin-wan, who died in October 2010 at the age of 47.

The 4-1 verdict was reached by a jury of three men and two women. The cause of Wong's death was a dose of the anti-depressant amitriptyline about 50 times above the safe limit - and other pills - they ruled.

They did not refer to the question of whether Wong had been molested, after the coroner stated in his directions to the jury that the hearing was not a criminal trial.

Hours after the jury's verdict, Chinese University said it would set up a committee to review its policies on sexual harassment.

Jurors made no recommendations about the way the university should handle such cases. Top managers, including Vice-Chancellor Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, testified that Wong had complained about sexual harassment several times.

Because Wong had taken the decision not to file a written complaint, the university's panel against sexual harassment could not call a formal investigation, the coroner reminded the jury.

Wong was found dead in a hotel room near the university's main campus months after her sudden transfer from the vice chancellor's office, where she had worked for three years, to the Institute of Global Economics and Finance.

Before that, she had been an assistant secretary in the university's secretariat, where she met Leung.

Leung testified on Tuesday that in 2007 Wong invited him to a lunch, and then to a cinema. He rejected testimony by other witnesses that Wong had told them he touched and kissed while they watched a movie.

Coroner Wong Wai-kuen, in his directions, noted that Wong Yin-wan had experienced 'significant changes' after that day.

'It's an undisputed fact that, after going to the cinema, the mental state of [Ms Wong] altered significantly. She needed to receive medical [treatment] and undergo counselling,' he said.

The university issued a statement after the ruling, saying it 'has reflected on the entire case' and would set up a special committee to consider its current policy for handling complaints about sexual harassment.

The university's student union urged that the investigating committee include both student and staff representatives.

The university's Employees General Union criticised arguments made to the inquest by the university's legal representative. These had damaged the dead woman's reputation by saying that she should have known what steps to take if she was being sexually harassed, the union said.

'It constituted 'secondary harm' to the victim, to label her as earning a million dollars a year and being the former secretary of the sexual harassment panel,' said union president Emily Ng Hiu-chun.

Wong's family refused to comment on the jury's verdict, and said life must go on now that the hearing, which began in April, was over.

'I will love myself a lot. This is what I've learned,' said Wong's 79-year-old mother.

The coroner said he hoped the family members could soon 'walk out of the pain and shadow'.

Meanwhile, the Education Bureau said yesterday that 30 complaints of sexual harassment had been reported at eight local universities during the past three years, involving both staff and students.

Eleven had been substantiated, four were dismissed and the rest were either resolved by conciliation, withdrawn by complainants, or under investigation, Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung reported to the Legislative Council.

The universities are required to investigate any known case, but the Education Bureau would not make this a written requirement, as they are independent and autonomous statutory bodies, Suen said.