Growing sex harassment in schools reflects sick society

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am

Therapist warns students who don't know right from wrong are unaware of legal, mental consequences

Sexual harassment in schools is becoming more frequent, reflecting the pervasiveness of a wider culture that tolerates sexual violence, warns the head of a group promoting HIV/Aids education.

At an Education and Manpower Bureau conference this week on protecting children from sexual abuse, Atty Ching Tsui-wan, director of TeenAids, said the past three to four years had seen an increasing number of pleas for help from both students and teachers.

Ms Ching, a sex therapist who also runs sex education workshops for students and teachers, said physical and verbal harassment was widespread in primary and secondary schools.

'Students consider sexual harassment as something normal because they do it everyday. They are unaware of the legal consequences and psychological impact on the person they harass,' she said.

She said acts of sexual harassment included 'touching' and 'squeezing' girls' breasts and boys' genital areas. Female teachers were verbally harassed too, she said, such as when boys asked them the colour of their panties or if they were virgins.

Sexual harassment paved the way for sexual abuse, she added.

Ms Ching criticised the media for 'irresponsibly' spreading a disturbing culture to schools. Indecent messages, including encouragement of sexual violence, were ubiquitous in television game shows, magazines and the internet.

Referring to the internet poll launched recently by Commercial Radio to ask listeners to vote for the female artist they would most like to indecently assault, she said more than 20,000 students had expressed in an online forum their support for the radio hosts.

'Students cannot tell right from wrong,' she said.

The public in male-dominated Hong Kong society was unaware of the serious nature of sexual harassment, she said.

Ms Ching urged the EMB, teachers, social workers and parents to ensure students knew that sexual harassment was illegal.

Schools should deliver sex education more frequently than once a year and social workers and student guidance teams should let students know that they were always there to help, she said.

Au Fat-che, a secondary teacher at the conference, said Form One students might commit acts of sexual harassment such as touching the sensitive areas of one another. As students entered puberty they were interested in sex and were ignorant of the severity of what they were doing, he said.

Teachers in his school would explain to students the nature of their acts and that it was illegal, adding that the school had invited secondary school liaison officers from the police force to talk about sexual harassment, he said.

Ms Ching said teachers and parents should participate in seminars and workshops to understand more about concepts such as sexual equality, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and the media culture.

A spokeswoman for the EMB said a school administration guide on how to handle suspected cases of sexual harassment or abuse was available on its website.