Sexual harassment and assault

Unwanted kisses at the Hong Kong Sevens: how those in power can further victimise the victims of abuse 

Alice Wu says what happened to i-Cable reporter Diamond Kwok was unacceptable, and she should have had the right to decide her response – instead of having it decided for her when her boss said the company would not pursue the case 

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 6:33pm

Who knows? Without the #MeToo movement, maybe a lot more people would have – as i-Cable News executive director Ronald Chiu Ying-chun said they should – just laughed if off. 

At this year’s Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament, i-Cable reporter Diamond Kwok Hoi-yee was kissed by two men while she was doing a live telecast from the spectator stands. She carried on professionally without interrupting her live coverage, but appeared embarrassed and raised her arms to separate herself from the men. That was on display for all to see, and it immediately triggered criticism of sexual harassment.  

Instead of laughing it off, many people were outraged. In these post-Harvey-Weinstein times, things have indeed changed. 

Many have written brilliantly in this paper on the complex issues raised by the #MeToo movement. On this latest incident, the Equal Opportunities Commission is no longer joined by just the token few. The Hong Kong Journalists Association slammed the treatment of the reporter. The notion that such behaviour belonged squarely in the “laugh it off”, “get over it”, or “suck it up” category is now being met with a resounding “no way”.

Stop hiding behind your culture as an excuse for bad behaviour

Being the catalyst in turning once commonly held beliefs into openly challenged views is powerful impact indeed. The Pulitzer Prize for Public Service awarded to The New York Times and The New Yorker for their reporting on Weinstein is a testament to that. 

The irony is that the senior executive of a serious news organisation failed to see how his careless words might have caused more serious damage than the two men in the spectator stands. He pre-empted the reporter’s reaction by saying that the station would not pursue the matter, in effect leaving her with only one choice: to shrug it off. It is no wonder the reporter told the media that although she felt what the men did was unacceptable, there was not much she could do. It doesn’t take many brain cells to connect the dots: there is indeed not much Kwok can do if her boss has already decided it for her.  

Sexual harassment ‘affects more than one in 10 Hong Kong service workers’

The call to “laugh it off” is an endorsement of misbehaviour. For Kwok to feel there was not much she could do indicated the failure of her company to assure its employees of its efforts to create a hostile-free work environment, which includes protection against retaliation and victimisation.  

This illustrates perfectly how those in positions of power can easily – inadvertently or not – silence those under them. The subtext of the “laugh it off” dismissal of Kwok’s experience is the refusal of her right to choose her own course of action. It made light of what she experienced and endured. 

Why sexual harassment in the workplace goes unreported in China

Enough time has passed for us to look at this incident and turn it into a lesson for all. It is an opportunity for us to refine our understanding of the complicated process of weighing the rights and risks of victims of harassment, not limited to that of a sexual nature.

At the end of the day, victims may not feel that “unacceptable behaviour” is worth losing their jobs over. It is an opportunity for us to investigate the power imbalance that is behind unreported cases, look at how those in power can play a crucial role in further victimisation, and come to better understand why telling victims to “just report it to the police” isn’t as simple and easy a decision as we may think.  

While the i-Cable response is a lesson in what not to do, the government’s handling of an executive officer’s experience of having her phone snatched by lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung has been exemplary. Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu rightly reiterated the government’s “zero tolerance” of subjecting staff to nuisance, interference and threats.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA