Sexual harassment and assault

Hong Kong coach found not guilty of sexually assaulting athlete during massage

  • Man, identified only as W.H., was accused of pulling off athlete’s underwear and touching her while they were alone at his home
  • Judge noted four points that created reasonable doubt in accuser’s evidence
PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 10:17am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 11:28pm

A Hong Kong coach accused of sexually assaulting an athlete during a massage eight years ago was found not guilty on Friday, in the first #MeToo case brought before the city’s courts.

Principal Magistrate Ernest Lin Kam-hung cleared the 77-year-old coach, identified only by his initials W.H. in Fanling Court, of one count of indecent assault after finding reasonable doubt in the athlete’s evidence.

But Lin also said his verdict may not necessarily reflect the truth, as it depended on the evidence presented in court.

He acknowledged the woman, now 23, came under great pressure after speaking up. He praised her act as a “brave and selfless” one that would make society more fair in the long run.

But the athlete, who cannot be named for legal reasons, faced a vicious attack on social media, with users calling her names, accusing her of defamation and demanding an apology. She deactivated her Facebook page following the verdict.

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W.H. did not immediately react to the verdict. But his family members and supporters, who filled the public gallery, cried and hugged one another.

When asked if justice had been served, the coach told reporters outside court: “Yes. Justice is justice. Thank you for asking.”

The case had brought fresh attention locally to an issue grabbing headlines the world over, as it had first come to light when an athlete came forward last year with her account, which she tagged “#MeToo”.

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.

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The magistrate said the court was not a platform to drive social movements. He explained that its functions were limited to cautious consideration of the evidence in court, not affected by the accuser’s motivations or the public’s opinion.

Still, he expressed hope that his verdict would not affect the movement.

The court previously heard the athlete accuse her then coach of forcibly pulling off her underwear to touch her private parts while they were alone at his home for a massage one Saturday afternoon between September 2009 and April 8, 2010.

She claimed that he had repeatedly circled his palm and fingers over her bare skin in an assault that lasted for about a minute.

But the coach countered that he had simply suggested that the athlete remove her jeans and stressed that he had never pulled off her underwear throughout the hour-long session.

His defence also highlighted that their relationship was like one between father and daughter, and that it did not change after the alleged incident.

On Friday, the magistrate concluded the athlete’s testimony was clear and organised but observed that there were four points which created reasonable doubt in her evidence.

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First, he noted that the athlete had propped herself up with her elbows when she lay on her coach’s bed for the massage, which led him to believe that most of her body weight would have fallen on her buttocks. Lin believed that without her assistance, the coach could not have removed her underwear.

Lin also questioned why the athlete did not reflexively withdraw her body or stop the alleged assault with her hand, despite acknowledging that it was possible that she had remained motionless out of fear, as she had claimed.

He further pointed out that the young woman had remained close to her coach after the alleged incident, which was inconsistent with her account online.

There were also discrepancies in her seven accounts of the incident, Lin concluded.