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Sexual harassment and assault

Sex abuse reports are ‘tip of the iceberg’ as few victims go to police, Hong Kong concern groups say amid Vera Lui case

Legal expert points out it is difficult for authorities to press charges if a victim refuses to testify

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 1:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 4:20pm

Reports of sexual abuse were only the “tip of the iceberg” with many victims choosing not to go to police, concern groups said on Friday as Hong Kong remains gripped by the shocking revelations of star hurdler Vera Lui Lai-yiu, who said she was sexually assaulted by a coach 10 years ago.

A legal expert also said that while chances of a conviction in such cases would not be affected by an extended time period between the incident and the investigation, it was difficult for police to press charges if the victim refused to testify or if there was no witness.

On Thursday, authorities were looking into claims made by Lui on her Facebook page, and have reached out to her friends to convince her to contact officers.

Hong Kong hurdler Vera Lui’s claim that a coach sexually assaulted her when she was 13 sparks outcry, police probe

The athlete became the highest-profile figure in the city to join the global “Me Too” movement, a growing hashtag campaign against sexual harassment.

In a social media post on her 23rd birthday, Lui recalled that when she was 13 or 14 a coach touched her genitals at his home while giving her a massage. The post was accompanied by a photo of Lui holding a card with the handwritten words “#MeToo” and her initials below.

The hashtag movement was started by activist Tarana Burke more than 10 years ago and became an online rallying cry last month following a series of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Speaking on a radio programme on Friday morning, Linda Wong Sau-yung, executive director of RainLily, a crisis centre helping female victims of sexual violence, said Lui had already succeeded in shining a light on the issue.

“She is very brave in coming out. I think she has done what she needed to do,” Wong said.

Citing a 2013 study by the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition on Equal Opportunities, the social worker said only one in seven women who suffered sexual abuse would seek help. Even fewer took their cases to police.

“From over 800 requests of assistance we have received over the past three years, only half of them chose to report their cases to police,” Wong said.

Social worker and certified sex therapist Koo Kam-wing said he had been providing childhood trauma counselling at Caritas Family Service centre to adults.

“Most of those who seek assistance are in their 20s to 30s, but the abuse took place between the ages of eight and 12. This is a time gap of over 10 years. That means the abuse either went unnoticed, or was not followed up back then,” he said.

‘Speaking up is my birthday present to myself,’ Hong Kong hurdler says of sex abuse revelation

Michelle Tam, executive director of the End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation, said it was a common misconception that sexual abusers were complete strangers to their victims.

Tam said more than 80 per cent of victims and offenders knew each other or were even related, and this was one of the reasons the abused were hesitant to seek help.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, said it would be difficult to press charges against the culprit if the victim refused to testify, or if there were no witnesses.

Cheung added that according to past overseas cases, the length of time between the act and the prosecution would not affect chances of a conviction.

“As long as the judge – or jury – feels the victim’s testimony is credible, then this could also lead to a successful conviction.”

Since Lui posted her Facebook message on Thursday, it has attracted nearly 40,000 reactions and 3,800 messages of support.

She has since remained silent and declined media inquiries.