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Sexual harassment and violence is not your fault and you can act

HONG KONG (Mabuhay) : What is sexual harassment and what can you do about it if it occurs to you, or one of your friends, was discussed at a forum at the offices of the Philippine Consulate General in Admiralty on March 17.

Representatives from Enrich and RainLily, two non-government organisations that offer services to abused women in Hong Kong, as well as from the Hong Kong Police gave presentations on what you should know about sexual harassment and what you need to know if you want to take action.

A quick guide handed out at the gathering attended by around 150 people lists five experiences of sexual harassment that women should know about, especially those, like domestic workers, who live and labour in other people’s homes.

The handout lists uninvited sexual touches—or someone acting towards you in an unwelcome sexual manner—putting up offensive pornographic photographs or sending sexually orientated notes or messages; as well as forcing you to perform sexual acts or taking advantage of your position to request sexual favours as being sexual harassment or violence.

Sexual harassment does not have to be physical.

Speakers during the afternoon stressed that the important thing to remember if you are sexually abused is that it is not your fault, as you cannot be blamed for the actions of another person.

However, all strongly recommended that because sexual harassment is widespread in society, it is important that individuals learn to be strong, resist and learn how to say no to unwanted advances.

Self-defence is a big part of the battle.

Learn to say no, was a big part of the message, especially if approached in a menacing manner by an employer, colleague or stranger, or if you are kissed or touched in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, people tell sexual jokes in your presence or send unwelcome text messages, or show pornographic materials that embarrass you.

However, although resisting is one thing, they said that people should be pro-active as well as seek help.

Terry Lim Po-yin, an inspector with the Hong Kong police, pointed out that in two-thirds of sexual harassment cases the aggressor is a stranger, whereas in almost all rape cases, the victim is known to the perpetrator.

She stressed that writing down what happened is extremely important, as if you ever do have to take action, your written statement will be needed.

She also advised that victims share this with a trusted friend or seek help from a counselling agency.

Bethune House, Christian Action, Helpers for Domestic Workers, Mission to Migrant Workers and RainLily were all suggested places to go if you do need advice or simply just want to talk over what happened with someone trustworthy, who understands your situation and can give good advice on how to take action if need be.

A short movie entitled Rita’s Reality was screened during the afternoon, in which a female migrant domestic worker explained how her male employer approached her to massage his feet, then encouraged her to go higher and higher.

Her story illustrates the effect of power over weakness, as the terrified worker could only think of the debt that she had incurred in coming to Hong Kong, that still had to be paid off, and what would happen to her family if she lost her job.

She acquiesced to his request, but felt dreadful about it afterwards, even when he offered her $30 as a sign of good will.

Disappointed, as up until then she had thought well of her employer, she discussed the matter with friends and in a community she belonged to.

Her options were explained to her. She opted to confront her employer. He was repentant and promised not to approach her in that way again, and did not.

However, Lim said that this is rare, as although people like her male employer often make such promises, they seldom keep them.

However, she added that it had taken Rita over one month to react, which she finds is quite common, as most reports received in her office date back several weeks. “This is not a problem,” she said. “You can report such incidents at any time.”

Lim described sexual violence as a non-consensual act or threat, noting that consent cannot be given under fear, the effects of drink or drugs

She explained that because sexual harassment can be a traumatising experience for people, it is often necessary to report it. She added that the police make every effort to make reporting as easy as possible and every effort is made not to further traumatise the victim.

Also medical treatment can be arranged if necessary.

“Your report will be taken by a female officer,” she told the group, “and you will not be asked any unnecessary questions and, except for the bare minimum, your statement will not be taken until later and then not in a police station.”

She added that it takes three to four hours to take a complete statement, but you may have a friend present if you wish.

However, she stressed the importance of documenting any sexual harassment that you suffer at the time, because if police action is necessary, things like witnesses to the events, exact dates and times, as well as other such information can be vital.

Lim also explained that your account of the incident(s) is then given to the accused person, who has the opportunity to respond, and only then is a decision made on what action may be appropriate or whether charges should be laid or not.

She stressed that sexual harassment and rape are treated differently, but documents praising your work efficiency can be important, as this is often used by a boss in self-defence.

Vice consul, Joy Banagodos, explained that the consulate can also give advice on contacting the police or non-government agencies and can help with contacting relatives if necessary. 

She said that it can also assist with making a report and giving advice on how to approach the police.

However, the bottom line of the afternoon seminar is that you can stop sexual harassment and you do have legal protection in Hong Kong, even if no one saw the incident, you did not lose your job, it was not your boss who harassed you, but a co-worker of service provider, you sometimes played along with it and even submitted—but did not want to—or if it happened only once.

Also remember, help is available. RainLily runs a crisis centre for victims of sexual violence. It offers one-stop shopping for counselling, medical, legal and other services, as well as on-going support for victims. Even police statements can be taken at the refuge.

It also runs a 24-hour hotline and stresses that ultimately, the victim must decide what to do. “We provide information and space to facilitate decision-making,” the organisation says.

Lim added that cases can also be reported to the police or the Equal Opportunities Commission.

She added that as a police officer, she understands the difficulties a migrant worker has in bringing a case to the courts, but the police are prepared to help with finding other solutions that do not put the victim at risk of losing their jobs for long periods of time.