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Sexual harassment and assault

Hong Kong equality watchdog urges sports sector leaders to comply with sexual harassment study

Survey follows a host of allegations in local sport after hurdler Vera Lui Lai-yiu revealed she had been abused by her former coach

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 10:07pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 10:38am

Hong Kong’s equality watchdog on Friday urged sports leaders to cooperate with a new sexual abuse survey it will conduct, and take it more seriously than a similar probe in 2015, after hurdling champion Vera Lui Lai-yiu revealed she had been sexually victimised by her coach.

An Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) spokesman criticised the sector for not taking a previous study seriously, even as more sexual abuse victims came forward to call hotlines to talk about how they were assaulted.

They were spurred into action by Lui, the highest-profile local figure to join the global “Me Too” movement that has received widespread support following a series of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Concern groups warned on Friday that the reports of sexual harassment and abuse were merely the “tip of the iceberg”, with many victims fearful of recounting their trauma if they reported the case to the police.

Hong Kong hurdler Vera Lui’s claim that a coach sexually assaulted her when she was 13 sparks outcry, police probe

Lui published a post on her Facebook page describing how her coach sexually assaulted her 10 years ago, along with a photo of her holding a card on which “#MeToo” was written, with her initials “LLY” below, shortly after she turned 23 years old on Thursday at midnight. But she declined to talk to the police.

In response to Lui’s revelation and the reluctance of victims to come forward, the EOC said it would carry out more “systematic work” on the problem, starting with a survey of the 75 local sports associations.

The commission’s director of policy, research and education Ferrick Chu Chung-man said: “We sent a letter to the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee on Thursday, asking for their support and assistance in carrying out the survey.”

A spokeswoman for the federation said they were considering the commission’s request.

Chu criticised the sports community of failing to take their last sexual harassment survey and related workshops in 2015 seriously.

“The sports and the business sectors often showed a none-of-my-business attitude – they would not show up to our training workshops even if we offered them great meals,” Chu said.

‘Speaking up is my birthday present to myself,’ Hong Kong hurdler says of sex abuse revelation

And the results of the survey, which 57 of the 75 sports associations took part in, showed 88 per cent of them did not have written policy against sexual harassment with many questioning its necessity or citing a lack of related training as reasons.

But Chu said it would be difficult for the commission to initiate an investigation into Lui’s case if the athlete chose not to file a formal complaint.

The police launched an investigation into Lui’s allegation but the athlete has not lodged a formal report to the police.

Linda Wong Sau-yung, executive director of RainLily, a crisis centre helping female victims of sexual violence aged 14 and above, said victims should not be pushed to report incidents to authorities, as they could choose to heal from their wounds in different ways, such as calling non-government hotlines like theirs.

“We indeed received more calls yesterday though we haven’t got time to count the number. Lui has brought a positive ripple effect to the victims,” Wong said.

She said although more victims had gone to the centre for help due to the rise in awareness, the average under-reporting rate had remained at about 50 per cent.

“The reporting victims were often asked to give accounts of the assault repeatedly. They worried that their families and friends would receive calls from the police. And they couldn’t stand saying what happened in the face of the offender and the public in court,” Wong said.

Michelle Tam, executive director of the End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation, said another reason behind victims’ reluctance to come forward was that more than 80 per cent of the them knew the perpetrator, or were even related to them.

Puja Kapai, an associate law professor specialised in women’s studies and anti-discrimination, said whether more people would come forward openly in the wake of Lui’s action depended on how much society could react in a supportive way instead of questioning and blaming the victims.

“There should be training that everyone receives so that they know how to support, and in the human resources and education context, the response should be sharp, and the questions really have to be for the perpetrators – why would you think that this type of conduct was OK?” Kapai said.