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 Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI) has reiterated its “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse, in the wake of Lui’s claims, and has “implemented international best practice standards in child protection” including a code of ethics, education for staff, and a “formal Child Protection policy and procedures."
Lui’s revelation of her personal experience prompted Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to ask police to follow up on 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 encourage more victims of sexual assault in Hong Kong to speak up.
The coach, whom Lui did not name, has been suspended from work by two of his employers, including Pui Ching Middle School, where Lui studied and where he trained her 10 years ago.
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.
“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.
After the incident, Lui remained in contact with the coach and even 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 revealed online last month 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 sexual assault is 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.”
Police visited the school on Thursday to try to get more information on the case.
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.
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.