Proof that Hongkongers are still struggling with the #MeToo movement: I groped a woman by mistake, but no one said anything

Peter Kammerer says the #MeToo movement hasn’t taken off in Hong Kong, where female accusers get little support and it is hard to get witnesses to stand up and back their claims

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 7:10pm

I grabbed a woman’s breast on the MTR the other day. A few days earlier, I had done the same in a pub. I can be excused for my transgressions; I’m blind and use a white cane. Still, I was perplexed that my actions, accompanied by an instant apology, drew not a single response from my victims or bystanders. 

Perhaps the situation is symptomatic of how the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault still has not made a meaningful mark in Hong Kong. There have been isolated cases, the most notable one being sports star Vera Lui’s allegation against her former hurdling coach, but it’s nothing like the avalanche of claims over the past year against high-profile men and women in the United States in entertainment, business, religion, the media and politics.

Barely a day goes by, it would seem, without someone pointing a finger or corroborating a claim; the list of accused people since The New York Times published its October 5, 2017 Harvey Weinstein story – which said the Hollywood mogul had paid off at least eight women and was accused of harassing many others – is as impressive as it is repugnant.

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Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexually assaulting three women, comedian Bill Cosby has been jailed for between three and 10 years, and CBS chief executive Les Moonves has been ousted. So have Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, and actors and television anchors galore. The #Metoo campaign has got so much attention that I’m surely not the only person becoming more conscious of what I say and my proximity to others in public.

Of course, those unable to see are bound to make a slip from time to time. I had just made it onto the crowded train in Causeway Bay as the doors were closing. As the train started to move, I reached out for support with my left hand and came into momentary contact with a female passenger. She said or did nothing, and nor did any of the other passengers.

The lack of response was troubling to me, just as it has been to Linda Wong, the executive director of Hong Kong’s Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women.

Wong told me that #MeToo had increased awareness, encouraging women to phone hotlines to seek advice and counselling. But for all but a rare few, there the matter ended; most avoided dealing with the police and the judiciary, which they saw as too problematic.

The greatest challenge is finding a witness to back allegations. Data has shown that 83 per cent of the abusers in Hong Kong are people the victims know, so approaching a relative, friend, teacher, boss or pastor for help might not be easy. Offenders often have a way of picking those who are most vulnerable and knowing when to strike.

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Hong Kong is not as sympathetic towards women as it should be; Wong contended they got little support if their clothes were considered revealing, or if they did not immediately confront their abusers. I once witnessed one such confrontation on a bus, a woman shouting at a man, phoning the police and forcing the driver to pull over.

But Wong said such incidents were unusual, as bystanders aren’t often willing to get involved. Without witnesses, it’s a case of the victim’s word against the accused’s and it is difficult for the authorities to prove what took place.

Wong’s organisation is trying to change that, by going to schools to help educate students and teachers about what to do when abuse takes place. But it will take time to change the way Hongkongers think. #MeToo will move on and more men and women in our city will hopefully find the courage to take on their attackers.

But bystanders who saw what happened also have to step forward. For me, that means being alerted I’m about to do something I shouldn’t. I don’t mind if someone grabs my hand or cane and, with an explanation, steers it to where it should be. When that happens, I will know #MeToo is really making a difference in Hong Kong.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post