Sexual harassment and assault

Eight in 10 victims of sexual violence know their attackers, and many are afraid to report incidents to police, Hong Kong study shows

Study carried out over 17 years finds that many victims felt too ashamed to come forward and get the help they need

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 7:00am

Eight in 10 victims of sexual offences in Hong Kong are harmed by people they know, with one-third of them being sexually violated for at least a month, according to an advocacy and support group’s data over a 17-year period.

But about half of victims did not report the cases to the police, which researchers attributed to a conservative culture where victims felt too ashamed and a system where they felt forced to choose between police assistance or seeking medical help, rather than getting both at the same time.

The study by RainLily, released on Wednesday, looked at 3,501 sexual violence cases the group worked on between 2000 and last year. The study found 82 per cent of the cases involved people the victims knew, with schoolmates and friends, current or former intimate partners, workmates and family members the most frequent offenders.

Some 1,000 cases, or 31 per cent, involved continuous sexual violence, with 34 cases lasting a decade or longer.

“It’s a great concern that so many cases involved close friends or family members,” said pathologist Dr Philip Beh of the University of Hong Kong, who helped RainLily with the research. “Even more worrying is that in so many cases, it took such a long time for the victims to seek help.”

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The research found 64 per cent of all the cases involved rape, 30 per cent involved sexual assault and 6 per cent involved sexual harassment.

About 28 per cent of cases involved the victim’s friend or schoolmate, 16 per cent a current or former partner, 15 per cent a workmate or teacher, and 14 per cent a family member.

Linda Wong Sau-yung, executive director of RainLily, said being violated by a friend or family member would affect the victim’s ability to trust others, “especially when the offenders are their family members, who are supposed to protect them and whom they trust the most”.

Beh said in about half the cases the group worked on, the victim did not call the police.

He said under Hong Kong’s medical and legal system, a victim needs to decide whether to seek emergency medical help, which might destroy evidence, or to have evidence taken right away, because neither emergency doctors nor forensic scientists would give medical help and collect evidence at the same time.

Beh said in countries such as Britain, Australia and America, a victim could ask one doctor to first take evidence before providing medical help, and the victim could decide whether to go to the police later because the evidence was always there.

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Wong added that even while the “#MeToo” movement against sexual harassment had grown across the world, it was not as prevalent in Hong Kong and victims did not feel confident speaking up.

“When you look at Hong Kong’s culture and education, you realise people are extremely unwilling to talk about sex and victims are always the ones to be shamed and blamed,” she said. “It’s this culture that has prevented the movement from taking off here.”

Kong Po-cheung, project supervisor of Caritas Community Support Project on Development on Sexual Health, said surveys consistently found few sexual violence victims called the police. He said victims generally found telling others about their plight difficult because they feared others might doubt them, look down on them or even ridicule them.

“In this culture, being violated is considered a disgrace, especially to women,” Kong said. “This is extra harm on them.”