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Police cases: theft, assault and abuse

14 May 2016

In the Mission’s year-end report of 2015, it is stated that 12% of those we assisted were involved in police-related cases ranging from physical assault, sexual abuse and alleged theft.
Within just a few months of this year, there has been a marked increase in the number of police-related cases, and most of them involve accusations of theft. Since, based on our case intake, many of our clients are new arrivals - meaning that they have just been working in Hong Kong for a year or less - we decided to focus on police-related problems  encountered by migrant workers in this column.
Here are some of the cases the Mission handles and some important points for migrant workers to remember:

Theft
As is commonly known, theft is the taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent, with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. So if you were discovered to have taken, then kept, your employer’s property or any item that belongs to your employer without their permission, then you can be accused of theft.
If you found something on the street, public toilet, or any public place and kept the said item for yourself, you can be charged with theft. Usually, owners report the loss of their personal belongings to the police. If that reported item is found in your possession by the police, you may be charged with theft, even if you found it only on the street.
We have had a lot of theft cases that resulted from trumped-up charges against the worker. A trumped-up charge happens when someone accuses you of stealing money or anything and these are found in your belongings. Remember that the police will not be after whether the allegation is true or not. Their main duty is to report if there is sufficient evidence to merit the filing of a case in court, which means the item in question is found in the possession of the accused, and it has been established that the accused had put that item in her belongings.

Physical and sexual assault
At the Mission, we usually handle cases of migrant workers who were assaulted by their employer or a member of the extended family of the employer. In most of these cases, the assault had already happened before our help was sought. What we try to do is to make the incident as clear as possible for the victim so that during the statement making at the police station, she or he can clearly state the facts and produce all possible evidence to strengthen the case.

Now, what should one do in the above situations?
If you find an item or money or anything on the streets, ignore it for it is best to be safe. But because we feel concern for the person who lost a valuable item such as a passport, HKID, and the like, we can immediately report the matter to any police officer we see in the street. Let the police officer decide on what to do.
However, if you decide to pick it up, bring it immediately to a police officer or proceed to any nearby police station. If you picked up such items and kept them, you could be charged with stealing, if the item had been reported to the police as missing.
If you are accused of stealing an item belonging to your employer - assuming that the item was found in your luggage but you did not take it and put it in your luggage - do not say anything during investigation by the police. This is because anything that you say and put into writing either by you or the investigator may be used as evidence against you should the case go to court.
In such a case, it is better to ask assistance from service providers like the Mission for legal assistance. Start to recall every detail of the incident. Sometimes, a factual statement that can help raise doubts in the statement of the accuser can come out from the details. It is best to write down your recollection of the events that led to the case so you can review them later on, and would be easier for you to make an accurate narration of the incident.
On physical abuse and/or sexual abuse
You should remember that in these cases wherein you are the accuser, the burden of proof lies on you. This means that you, as the accuser, should be the one to produce the proof or evidence that could allow the police to pursue investigation or prosecution.
In cases of physical and/or sexual abuse, there are important points to remember, that is why you should seek assistance or legal advice from service providers like the Mission. But if you are already in the investigation room at the Police Station, here are some important points:
Try to calm down and remember that you are not the one being accused. Put in mind that you are the accuser and what you are saying is the truth.
If there is no sufficient evidence, the police is duty-bound to just dismiss the case. They will have to inform you officially that they will not pursue the case, and why. If you are still under stress which affects your thinking, you can ask the police if they can reset the investigation to some other day and let you rest first. If it is not granted, then you will just have to relax yourself so that your answers to questions are clear and the facts are well established.
In giving a statement, remember all the details. Details help boost the credibility of your statement. Usually, the police will ask clarificatory questions because they want to establish whether there is sufficient evidence that will be acceptable to the court.
After the police investigation you may ask for assistance, especially with counseling, to help you overcome the trauma brought about by the incident. You may seek assistance from service providers to guide you on what steps to take in connection with your case. This will help you clear your mind and prepare you, whether the case progresses or not.

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This is the monthly column from the Mission for Migrant Workers, an institution that has been serving the needs of migrant workers in Hong Kong for over 31 years. The Mission, headed by its general manager, Cynthia Tellez, assists migrant workers who are in distress, and  focuses its efforts on crisis intervention and prevention through migrant empowerment. Mission has its offices at St John’s Cathedral on Garden Road, Central, and may be reached through tel. no. 2522 8264.

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