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Sexual harassment and assault

Sports associations urged to take action against sexual abuse after Vera Lui’s ‘Me Too’ claims

Sports Federation and Olympic Committee and Equal Opportunities Commission will provide training over the next three months

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 December, 2017, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 December, 2017, 10:37pm

The city’s leading sports federation and equality watchdog are to roll out measures to tackle sexual abuse after Hong Kong star hurdler Vera Lui Lai-yiu claimed she was assaulted by her former coach 10 years ago.

The Sports Federation and Olympic Committee and the Equal Opportunities Commission, which met on Wednesday, have agreed to provide training on anti-sexual-harassment policymaking and complaint handling for local sports associations in the next three months.

A follow-up survey in March or April will measure the extent of the problem and the effectiveness of the training.

Lui, 23, posted on her Facebook page last month that she had been sexually assaulted by her former coach when she was 13 years old, making her the first high-profile figure in Hong Kong to join the global “Me Too” campaign.

The movement, which aims to encourage victims to break their silence and raise public awareness of sexual violence, started more than 10 years ago and became an online rallying cry after a series of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in October.

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Lui’s claims sparked an outcry among local athletes and prompted the commission to ask the federation to cooperate on a new survey on sexual abuse problems in the sports sector – which the watchdog had previously criticised for failing to take the first poll seriously in 2015.

The first survey found that 50 of the 57 responding associations had no written polices against sexual harassment.

Research and education director of the commission, Ferrick Chu Chung-man, said they would explore new methods of training, other than traditional seminars, to equip the 75 sports associations under the federation with the knowledge and skills to compile their own policies on preventing and handling sexual offences.

The two organisations would also approach the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to reach out to more sports groups, Chu added.

Specialists in handling sexual harassment cases urged the sporting sector to create a system that would make complainants feel safe and hold offenders accountable.

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Francis Kong Po-cheung, founding director of Caritas’ rehabilitation project for sexual offenders, said: “Every offender who came to us said they knew they were doing something wrong but carried on partly because they thought consequences [would be unlikely].”

He said some offenders were themselves victims of exploitation and sought to compensate by abusing others.

The rehabilitation project, named Specialised Treatment and Prevention Project Against Sexual Violence, has handled around 700 cases since 2009 – in which about 15 per cent of the offenders were never reported or convicted, according to Kong.

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Laws and rules posed a limited deterrent, Kong said, and victims were usually silenced by a social taboo and worries that filing complaints might backfire if they were the subordinates of the offenders.

“In the sporting sector, can the selection of competing athletes be fairer and more transparent, insteading of granting the coaches [too much] power? Can the association managers monitor more closely on how the guidelines are implemented?” Kong said.

Sara Zhong Hua, a criminology scholar and member of Chinese University’s Panel Against Sexual Harassment, stressed the importance of guaranteed consequences for offenders, especially if they were the supervisors or coaches of the victims.

“We have made it clear to all staff that they may lose their jobs over sexual offences. And we do not send a complainant away only because the individual cannot produce enough evidence,” Zhong said.