Group seeks court shields for sex victims

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2010, 12:00am

A sex offence victims' organisation is urging courts to provide mandatory protection, especially screens, to shield victims while testifying in court.

The call by the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women comes after a study by Baptist University showed that victims found difficulty asking for screens on their own behalf.

'Many victims were told by police that unless they are celebrities, triad members, or have proof of special needs, it is very difficult to get the court's approval for a shield inside the court,' an assistant professor of social work at the university, Shirley Hung Suet-lin, said.

This was despite a statement by the Department of Justice last year suggesting use of screens to shield witnesses from the accused while testifying in court, Hung said.

Association executive director Linda Wong Sau-yung said some victims suffered great stress in court proceedings but most applications for screens were still rejected, despite assistance from police in making the applications.

'It seems there are problems with the implementation of this guideline,' Wong said.

Appearing at a press conference with Wong, Hung said Hong Kong lagged behind other countries in providing protection to sex offence witnesses in court.

In Britain, for example, through the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act in 1999, mandatory protection measures - including privacy shields - are provided to those giving evidence in court.

The department said that as prosecutor it was aware of the need to protect victims and render any necessary assistance to make it easier for victims, particularly in sexual cases, to testify in court.

'We will continue to make such applications to the court in appropriate cases,' the spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, the association complained of a lack of sensitivity by staff of the Equal Opportunities Commission in the handling of sexual harassment complaints.

It said that one complainant had been asked to demonstrate how the alleged abuser touched her hips in front of a male representative of the abuser, which made her uncomfortable and embarrassed.

Equal Opportunities Commission chairman Lam Woon-kwong said he would apologise to the complainant and would remind his staff to avoid causing any discomfort to complainants during the conciliation process.