Attempt to cover up Sharon Lam’s attempted rape should silence #MeToo’s critics forever
Alice Wu says the way that both mainland police and Hainan Airlines tried to help a Hong Kong film director’s attempted rapist dodge legal consequences shows the extent authorities will go to harass victims of sexual assault into silence
Hong Kong director Sharon Lam Suk-ching is a hero. While Hong Kong’s “queen of hurdles” Vera Lui Lai-yiu’s very public and courageous revealing of the abuse she had to endured as a child was a definitive #MeToo moment for this city, Lam’s recent horrific experience, not only during the attack, but afterwards, should shut down once and for all those who insist on victim-blaming and making victims prove their victim-worthiness by going to the police.
Backlash against the #MeToo Movement wasn’t surprising. Despite the many reports of abuse and the reasons given to explain the low reporting and conviction rates, there are many who continue to hold blind and absolute faith in due process – in the law enforcement agencies and judiciary system – to deliver justice. And this is often used as an excuse to further silence, harass and hurt victims.
Less than two weeks ago, Lam, who was working on a project in Hainan, was attacked by a Hainan Airlines trainee pilot. Her attacker climbed across an 18th floor balcony of the hotel she was staying at, broke into her room, pinned her down, groped her and tried to rape her. Lam narrowly escaped by managing to fight the man off and chase him out of her room.
Lam’s ordeal did not end there. On the same day, Lam reported what she had encountered to the police, only to be met with officers telling her to settle with her attacker as she was not familiar with mainland Chinese law. As if the pain of suffering an attack wasn’t enough, an enforcer of the law tried to gaslight Lam into silence and rationalise away her violent encounter. The indignity of what Lam went through is enough to make clear why victims do not report their ordeals to the police.
But in case one remains unconvinced, consider what Lam had to deal with a few days later when she returned to the police station to file an official police report. She was met by a representative of Hainan Airlines, her attacker’s employer, at the station and was “advised” against pursing the case as “the cost of training a pilot was very high”.
It was despicable that a law enforcement officer had tried to dissuade a victim from reporting a crime. Even worse, in this case, the law enforcement agency actually allowed a representative from a commercial organisation to have access to the victim to offer unsolicited advice. For anyone, let alone the employer of the alleged sexual predator, to suggest that training costs mattered more than a person’s well-being is beyond the pale. It is evidence of the moral turpitude of Hainan Airlines and its audit-obsessed management.
What is the value of human life, of personal safety? When the cost of pilot training is deemed to have more value than another person’s right to not be assaulted, it should stop all of us in our tracks, and reconsider the next time we fly the group’s HK Express and Hong Kong Airlines.
Watch: #MeToo campaign gains support in China, despite government efforts to quell the movement
Lam was later told by the police that if she were to insist on legal action, her attacker would file assault charges against her, because she fought him off. Just let that sit with you for a minute. Yes, it suggests that it would have been much better for Lam if she had allowed herself to be raped.
Don’t be tempted to brush this off as an “only in China” thing. Just last week, the lawyer of Brock Turner, the former Stanford student convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, argued in court during an appeal hearing that his client was seeking “outercourse”, which he said to be a “version of safe sex”, instead of rape.
While we need to take people like the Haikou police officers and Turner’s lawyer and companies like Hainan to task, we also need to stop perpetuating the blame-the-victim narratives, and understand the reasons why assault victims don’t come forward earlier, why they don’t go to the police, and why they don’t take their attackers to court.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA