A sudden surge in crime should ring the alarm bells in any society. So when rape cases in Hong Kong are found to have jumped 60 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter, the community rightly expects the problem to be addressed with a sense of urgency. But Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok is apparently eager to teach women a lesson rather than go after the criminals. Noting that some cases involved victims being attacked after drinking, he told young ladies to drink less to avoid being raped.
Women can be excused for feeling outrage at such insensitive remarks. The outpouring of anger via social media and street protests shows how deeply women were offended. Lai's remarks even caught the attention of foreign media. The security chief might think he was giving some good advice. Criminals do take advantage of anyone who is vulnerable, be it a man or a woman. It is therefore common sense that the unconscious and defenceless are not exposed to danger.
But the remarks could easily be misinterpreted as adding insult to injury. Whether a woman drinks is no justification for rape. How she behaves or what she wears is never a justification for harassment or attack. Regrettably, Lai refused to withdraw the remarks and apologise, despite growing public pressure. He said only that he felt "uneasy" about the responses and stressed he had no intention of blaming women.
Examples of similar outbursts are plentiful. Finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah came under fire for losing touch with the public when he described himself as middle class and said he understood their situation. Education chief Eddie Ng Hak-kim defended the controversial national education curriculum by arguing that many people had not joined a protest against it. Recently, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying raised eyebrows when he brushed off a reporter's question on universal suffrage as "rubbish". Lai's gaffe adds to a long list of examples of how insensitive remarks can provoke outrage. Officials should learn their lesson and be mindful of what they say in public.