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Sexual harassment and assault

Abuse victims must follow brave athlete

Vera Lui deserves the highest praise for coming forward in a society that often considers sex taboo and others should do the same to end the assaults scourge

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 1:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 1:01am

Unsurprisingly, the sexual misconduct wave sweeping the world has reached Hong Kong. Athlete Vera Lui Lai-yiu is the first high-profile woman to come forward, writing on Facebook on her 23rd birthday of an incident involving a coach a decade ago. The man has been suspended from his posts and officials have praised the hurdler for her courage, while a separate case has come to light. Indeed, she is to be lauded for her actions, which have raised awareness of an issue too often swept under the carpet by cultural conservatism, although the nature of such accusations also necessitates the prompt alerting of police.

Lui, who won the gold medal in the women’s 60-metre hurdles at the last Asian Indoor Games, kept the abuse to herself until two years ago, when she confided in a friend. She said her public statement was an effort to raise awareness about child sex abuse to encourage others to speak out. As she pointed out, “in Chinese culture, sex has long been an embarrassing, shameful or taboo subject”. That may explain the low number of incidents that come to public attention, despite studies by the Equal Opportunities Commission showing one in five women experiencing harassment in the workplace and half of female school and university students being exposed to sexual misconduct.

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The athlete was inspired to speak out by star American gymnast McKayla Maroney, who is among more than 120 women and girls who have accused sports doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault. He has pleaded guilty and faces 25 years in jail. But the case that has had the most impact is that of fallen Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, which sparked an avalanche of accusations, spread through Twitter using the hash tag #MeToo, against entertainment, media, business and political circles in the United States, Europe and Australia. Among Americans who have lost their jobs are top journalist Matt Lauer, actor Kevin Spacey and television presenter Charlie Rose.

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A day after Lui’s revelation, the Hong Kong Jockey Club confirmed that it had fired a junior equestrian team instructor for using sexually explicit language. The reluctance of victims to speak out for fear it will damage their careers or bring shame is widespread on sporting fields and in workplaces elsewhere, as the Weinstein scandal has revealed. Only in recent months, empowered by a high-profile and vocal few who have seen the error of their silence, have women been coming forward to point fingers.

The athlete’s bravery and the promotion of the hashtags #MeToo and #MeTooHK are aimed at giving victims courage and making potential abusers think twice. Lui deserves the highest praise for coming forward and others should follow her lead to end the scourge.