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Sexual harassment and assault

More than one in 10 women in Hong Kong’s service industry say they have been sexually harassed

Most common forms of workplace harassment include jokes about sex and staring, study finds, with recent migrants from mainland China more likely to push back against harasser

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 11:34pm

More than one in 10 women working in Hong Kong’s shops, bars and restaurants say they have been sexually harassed at work, according to a survey, with those who have recently moved from mainland China more likely to take action than those born in the city.

Of the women surveyed – aged between 18 and 55 – 12.1 per cent said they experienced workplace sexual harassment, from either colleagues or customers.

The study found that among those who had been harassed, 45 per cent of Hong Kong-born women took no action. Only 24.1 per cent of mainland Chinese women surveyed stayed quiet.

That was despite findings showing Hong Kong women were better at identifying inappropriate advances, according to the study.

The three most common forms of workplace sexual harassment included jokes about sex or gender, being stared at in a sexual way, or being verbally harassed.

Of the 29 mainland women who reported being sexually harassed, half said the harasser had masturbated in front of them. For the 44 Hong Kong women who reported harassment, that figure was just under half.

Professor Annie Chan Hau-nung, who led the study, said the difference in attitude might be because mainland migrants have not been in the local industry for as long as most of their Hong Kong-born colleagues, and so might feel they have less to lose by speaking up.

“Their time and efforts or investment and training they put into their career would be shorter compared to locally born women,” she said.

The study, commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), aimed to compare the experience and knowledge of sexual harassment between local and mainland Chinese women in the service industry, which includes salespeople and those in the food and beverage sector. Also included in the sector were property agents, transport workers and finance workers, among others.

The mainlanders surveyed had all been in the city less than seven years.

A research team from three universities surveyed 603 women from last March to June, and conducted focus group interviews from last September to October.

One of the respondents, a mainland woman working in catering, said: “For us women, we tend to put up with it. If it is not too out of order, never mind. If it is too out of order, then I will quit the job.”

Nearly a third of migrant women said they would or did resign having been sexually harassed at work, the study showed.

But the EOC, the city’s equality watchdog, said it was no good that migrant women speak up just because it was easier for them to switch jobs, and that victims should not have to consider their other options before standing up to harassment.

I always tell employers to put themselves into the victim’s shoes. I ask them, what if the person that was harassed was your daughter or your sister? Would you still ask them to stay quiet?
Ferrick Chu, EOC

“The one who should quit is the harasser, instead of the women ... in fact it’s a loss to the employer [if the victim leaves],” the commission’s director of policy, research and education Ferrick Chu Chung-man said.

One finding researchers highlighted was that the longer migrant women lived in Hong Kong, the less likely they were to speak up against the behaviour, suggesting that they were almost “assimilating into the culture” in Hong Kong.

Some 30 to 40 per cent of all complaints to the watchdog every year are related to the Sex Discrimination Ordinance. Last year, the EOC received 87 related complaints.

One in seven women in Hong Kong has experienced sexual violence, according to RainLily, an NGO for sexual violence victims. Last year, 4,051 cases were reported to the centre’s hotline, the number increasing 7 per cent year on year.

The study’s findings come soon after the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment swept the globe, prompting countless women to come forward with their own stories.

They also showed that women in general still tolerate such behaviour, some saying they did so for fear of ruining the relationship (60.5 per cent) and because complaint procedures are complicated (58.9 per cent).

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“[Making complaints] is considered to be something troublesome. Especially when the person doing the harassing is your boss, your co-worker, your clients ... when you try to make a complaint, you’re immediately putting that relationship at risk; it’s very different from being sexually assaulted by a stranger,” Chan, the researcher, said.

The study’s authors said the EOC should give resources to smaller companies to help them establish anti-sexual-harassment policies and give staff adequate training on the issue, as more than 80 per cent of those surveyed did not know about their company’s relevant policies, or said their company did not have any.

Chu said: “I always tell employers to put themselves into the victim’s shoes. I ask them, what if the person that was harassed was your daughter or your sister? Would you still ask them to stay quiet?”