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Report all sexual offences, NGO tells migrant workers

15 June 2017

Devi Novianti, EOC equal opportunities officer, says the first thing a domestic worker should do if somebody tries to attack her is to run and seek help instead of fighting back.

By Vir B. Lumicao

One out of seven women in Hong Kong has experienced sexual violence in the form of rape and indecent assault, according to a survey carried out by Rain Lily, a support group for female victims of the crime.

The group calls the statistic “alarming.” However, other studies show a worse picture, with one saying one of five women, while another indicates one of three, has been through such an experience.

These figures were revealed during a workshop on sexual violence held on June 4 at the Equal Opportunities Commission office in Tai Koo, with about 50 foreign domestic workers, mostly Indonesians, taking part.

EOC communications officer Devi Novianti coordinated the workshop.

Even more alarming was the apparent hesitance of the victims to come forward.

Another survey by Rain Lily, done on its hotline service in Hong Kong in 2013, showed that out of 933 cases that year, only 121 were reported to the authorities.

This meant that an overwhelming 87% of the victims did not report the incidents, said Rain Lily assistant project officer Anju Ghising.

The acquiescence of a victim could be due to her fear the case would get bigger; fear of being blamed by other people for inviting the crime; shame, especially if she comes from a community with a strong religious belief, the participants believed.

“Fear that she will be stigmatized, fear of being blamed by people around her, and fear of being bullied are among the reasons a victim would rather not report an incident,” Ghising said, summarizing the participants’ answers to why cases go unreported.

For foreign maids who become victims, their main reason for keeping quiet is fear of losing their jobs, especially if the attackers are employers or members of the employers’ households.

“I think that’s the biggest issue for migrant workers: the fear of losing their jobs, because the basic need is always money for living and accommodation, and if you lose your job, you have no place to go,” said Ghising, a graduate of criminology, major in psychology from Kathmandu University.

She said if victims don’t report, “nothing would change, the government won’t change, the policy won’t change, and you’d still be given two weeks’ time for another 10 years”.

Ghising said Rain Lily originally reached out to victims of sexual violence in the local community but decided to cover the migrant workers as well when the number of foreign maids in Hong Kong grew to about 6% of the city’s population.

“We are Hong Kong’s first one-stop crisis center for female victims of sexual violence. Whoever faces some form of sexual violence can call us, seek help, seek assistance and we will try to support them accordingly, we’ll report them to the police,” Ghising said.

Ghising gave examples of sexual misconduct and asked the participants to tell which one was sexual violence to find out whether they are aware of the offenses.

She also told them what distinguishes rape from indecent assault under Hong Kong law.

Hazel, a volunteer at Rain Lily, said Hong Kong law unfortunately is a bit behind in its definition of rape. For instance, she said, a man forcing sex on another man is not rape but indecent assault, and so is a woman forcing herself on a man.

Gestures, looks, jokes and statements with sexual implications without physical contact are sexual harassment, whether it’s an invitation to sex, or a joke, Hazel said.

For example, when a man looks at a woman with sexual intent on the MTR, that’s sexual harassment, but if he approaches the woman and touches her butt, that is indecent assault.

Hazel said rape is punishable in Hong Kong with a maximum of life in prison while the penalty for indecent assault is up to10 years’ imprisonment.

Sexual harassment can take the form of a bodily touch or the verbal type and is covered by the Sex Discrimination Act, said Hazel.

“Currently, sexual harassment is not yet a crime in Hong Kong, especially the verbal type, but if you report it, then EOC will take charge of the case and the perpetrator will be required to compensate the victim,” Hazel said.

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