Hong Kong's official rape statistics vastly lower than grim reality

As much as 90 per cent of sexual assault cases go unreported, a women's group finds

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 January, 2013, 5:52pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 3:07pm

Government data on rape and sexual assaults in Hong Kong do not reflect a much bleaker reality, a survey has found.

In fact, most offenses go unreported because victims feel ashamed or fear condemnation. One-fourth of these also happen within marriage.

For several years, A-Yuk kept her marital nightmares to herself.

"My husband had an affair with another woman, and he even brought her home to sleep on our bed. He beat me, threw my clothes out of the window and forced me to leave," she said. 

Yuk is 62, has high blood pressure and has previously had a stroke. As a new immigrant from mainland China, she had no one else to depend on in Hong Kong, and she chose not to fight back. She started living at a neighbourhood park.

"I slept in the park for a week without showering. When curious park-goers asked, I just told them I was just hanging around and exercising. You simply don't go around telling people [about the abuses]. I'm old. It's too shameful," she said.

Yuk eventually sought help from social workers, got a divorce and moved to a transitory shelter home for women. But other female victims of physical and sexual abuse are largely invisible to the public eye, and often are under the radar of social policymakers.

According to Hong Kong police figures, there were 551 rape cases and 7,000 sexual assaults from 2007 to 2011. However, a survey conducted this month by the Hong Kong Women's Coalition on Equal Opportunities has found the real figures much higher.

About one in four women said they had been victims of domestic violence, but fewer than one in 10 told police.

Also, 49 per cent of the respondents said they had been sexually harassed, but less than 3 per cent of them reported it.

Out of 402 respondents, 23 per cent said they had experienced domestic violence, 14 per cent sexual abuse, and 49 per cent sexual harassment.

"Hong Kong may seem like a safe place, but we were absolutely shocked by what we found out," said Elene Lam Yee-ling, advocacy officer for Rainlily, a rape crisis centre.

Sexual assaults at the workplace and within marriage are less likely to be reported, because both contexts involve an important relationship at stake.

Said coalition spokeswoman Chan Kim-kam: "A lot of power play goes on here. If an employee accuses her boss of sexual harassment, she's likely to lose her job. If a woman presses charges against her husband, she might ruin her entire family. In both cases, the victim would feel betrayed by someone they trust and respect."