Sexual harassment and assault

Talks on sexual abuse lined up between Hong Kong Olympic Committee and equality watchdog in wake of hurdler Vera Lui’s revelation

Committee sets up meeting after Equal Opportunities Commission accused the body of not taking the issue seriously

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 2017, 10:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 December, 2017, 10:09am

Hong Kong’s Olympic Committee has set up a meeting with the city’s equality watchdog to discuss sexual abuse after the latter last week accused the sporting community of failing to take the issue seriously during a study two years ago.

The meeting between the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong and the Equal Opportunities Commission is scheduled for Wednesday and comes after star hurdler Vera Lui Lai-yiu last week said she had been assaulted by a coach 10 years ago.

Watsons Athletic Club, which formerly employed the coach in question – has said it will require all coaches to undergo a Sexual Conviction Record Check with the police before offering formal employment or renewing a contract.

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

The club has suspended Lui’s ex-coach after the hurdler joined the global “Me Too” online campaign on November 30 – her 23rd birthday – by revealing how she had been sexually assaulted when he was hired by her school to train her a decade ago.

The hashtag movement, which aims to encourage victims of abuse to speak out, has become a rallying cry online following a series of allegations made against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein in October.

Lui’s revelation prompted the commission to write to the Olympic Committee that same day, requesting its cooperation with a survey it was due to conduct on sexual harassment and assault and related policies among the city’s 75 sports associations.

More than 70 Hong Kong athletes call for better protection against sexual abuse, especially for young sportspeople

The last such survey was carried out in 2015 along with workshops, but the watchdog said many in the sporting world had failed to take it seriously. The study found that 50 out of the 57 associations that responded reported they had no written policy in place against sexual harassment.

Ferrick Chu Chung-man, the commission’s director of research, policy and education, said on Thursday that a representative of the committee had called his office on Wednesday and arranged a meeting between the two groups for December 13.

“I think they also intend to take some action, otherwise they would not call,” Chu said, declining to disclose more details.

A spokesman for the Olympic Committee, which the watchdog said had also failed to take the last survey seriously, confirmed that the next study would be discussed at the meeting.

The committee said in a statement on Monday that it was part of “a series of actions” being actively pursued which also included dissemination of guidelines to all sports associations.

Lui’s revelation prompted more than 70 local athletes to issue a joint statement on Monday calling for concrete steps to protect athletes from sexual abuse and for more victims to reach out for help.

But some social groups who have been helping sexual abuse victims for decades were also concerned that the “Me Too” campaign might backfire in a city where sex education guidelines had not been updated in more than two decades.

Brave Vera Lui brings Hong Kong into the #MeToo campaign against sexual assault

Linda Wong Sau-yung, executive director of rape crisis centre RainLily, said she was worried that local victims would not be encouraged or empowered by the campaign but instead hurt or scared by comments questioning or judging them.

“Hong Kong has a strong culture of blaming and little education about sex, which might turn the campaign sour,” Wong said.

RainLily had received more calls in the past week from victims seeking help, as well as letters from sexual abuse survivors expressing sadness about recriminations against them, Wong said.

The whirl of the campaign had uncovered many men who had no idea of what defined sexual assault or how to handle the problem, with some surmising that such allegations might become a weapon used by women, Wong added.

“The fact is that bringing a perpetrator to justice is so difficult due to unsound procedures for complaints and legal procedures, so the campaign on social media has become a precious chance for victims to speak out,” she said.

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Ho Yim-fun, a social worker with the Caritas Project for Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma, said she was pleased the campaign had encouraged victims to speak out and had drawn attention to their plight, but she suggested they seek professional advice before exposing their unhealed emotional wounds to unpredictable reactions online.

“Instead of arguing about whether their narrative is true or false or whether the victim should call the police, we would like to remind the public to care more about the victims’ inner experience and the proper remedies for them,” Ho said.