Hong Kong hurdler Vera Lui’s claim that a coach sexually assaulted her when she was 13 sparks outcry, police probe
Athlete makes #MeToo post on Facebook, following footsteps of other public figures who have come forward, including US gymnast McKayla Maroney
Hong Kong hurdling champion Vera Lui Lai-yiu became the highest-profile local figure to join the global “Me Too” movement after claiming she was sexually assaulted by a coach 10 years ago.
Soon after midnight on her 23rd birthday, the athlete published a post on her Facebook page describing the incident, along with a photo of her holding a card on which “#MeToo” was written, with her initials “LLY” below, in support of a growing hashtag campaign against sexual harassment.
The movement was started by activist Tarana Burke more than 10 years ago and became an online rallying cry last month following a series of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Lui’s revelation of her personal sufferings prompted Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to ask police to follow up the case as key sports groups in the city condemned the suspect. Members of the sports community offered messages of support, while others on social media predicted that Lui’s move would galvanise more victims of sexual assault in the city to speak up.
The coach, whom Lui did not name, has been suspended from work by two of his employers: Watson’s Athletic Club, a member of the conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings, and the hurdler’s alma mater, Pui Ching Middle School, where he trained her 10 years ago.
Lui, dubbed the “queen of hurdles”, is a member of Hong Kong’s track and field youth team. In September, she won the city’s first gold medal in the Asian Indoor Games with a record-breaking performance in the women’s 60-metre hurdles event.
According to her post, Lui met the coach through extracurricular activities and was taken to his home on a Saturday because he said he would like to massage her muscles. Lui, who was 13 at the time, referred to him by initial.
Lui said the coach asked her to lie prone on a bed and suggested she take off her jeans after he pressed the back of her thighs a few times.
“I was just a secondary school pupil. I trusted him as a respectable coach,” Lui wrote. “I never thought he would do anything despicable.”
The coach went on with his “massage”. He took off her underwear and touched her private parts, she wrote.
“Even when my underpants were removed, I still wasn’t able to respond.”
After the incident, Lui remained in contact with the coach and invited him to her birthday party every year, although she resented being physically near him.
The hurdler said she had been reluctant to share her experience until US gymnast and gold medallist McKayla Maroney last month disclosed online that she had been sexually abused by her team doctor.
Lui said she was coming forward for three reasons: to increase public awareness of sexual assault against children; to encourage victims to bravely speak up; and to let the public understand that sex was not an embarrassing, shameful or taboo subject.
“It was not my fault, nor my parents’ or my school’s,” she wrote. “It was the offender’s fault. I am not ashamed as a victim. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I want you to applaud my courage.”
Lui’s post prompted Ma Fung-kwok, the legislator representing the sports sector, to reveal he had received an anonymous letter a few weeks ago accusing another coach of sexual assault. The Jockey Club, which confirmed it had received enquires from lawmaker, said it had fired a riding instructor in its Junior Equestrian Team on Friday after an investigation showed he had used “sexually explicit language in the course of his duties.”
It said it took all allegations of employee misconduct very seriously and did not and would not tolerate any employee behaviour which violated or infringed the club’s code of conduct.
Hong Kong’s leader said on Thursday she had asked the police commissioner to follow up Lui’s case and appealed to all sexual misconduct victims to seek help.
“I am very sorry for what happened to Lui,” Lam said. “As chief executive, my government deals seriously with sexual assaults against children.”
Police visited the school on Thursday to try to get more information on the case.
A source said: “We have reached friends of Lui’s and her associates, hoping they could hear our message and convince her to contact us.” The source added that officers would approach Ma at a later time to look into his claim.
Lui’s school said in a statement on Thursday the coach in question had been suspended from training pupils after the hurdler told them about three weeks ago of her intention to publicise the matter.
Pui Ching’s crisis response team met all track and field team members on Thursday to explain the situation and provide counselling services.
The school said it was “deeply saddened” by Lui’s experience and fully supported her coming forward. It “severely condemned” the molester and vowed to protect every pupil against sexual misconduct.
Pui Ching deputy head Cheng King-leung praised Lui for her “great courage” and promised the school’s “cooperation by all means” if she decided to take legal action.
The Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong condemned the molester and promised to punish the offender in a statement on Thursday afternoon.
It said it had worked with the International Olympic Committee to launch a tool kit on November 3 to help sporting associations around the world form policies to prevent sexual harassment and assaults against athletes.
The Amateur Athletic Association also expressed concerns, condemning the suspect’s violation of the basic integrity and ethical principles of a trainer.
Additional reporting by Danny Mok