April is recognised as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. An estimated 1 out of 3 women across the globe has experienced sexual violence. While women and girls are the majority of victims, we recognise that people of all genders (including men) can be subjected to sexual violence. Gender-based violence is a deeply ingrained structural and systemic issue rooted in harmful gendered social norms and unequal power dynamics that harm everyone. It is a public health issue, a human rights issue and an issue that needs urgent attention and concerted action.
In Hong Kong, sexual violence continues to be a pervasive, deeply concerning problem. The Government noted a sharp rise in reported cases of rape and indecent assault for 2021, of 23% (79 cases) and 49% (1,018) respectively. Of these, 39% and 30% involved victims under the age of 16. There was also a concerning 29% increase in victims having met their perpetrator online.
But we know this is only a small snapshot of a much larger issue. A recent survey conducted by the Hong Kong Coalition on Women’s Equal Opportunities found that 37.5% of women had experienced sexual violence in her lifetime, the majority by someone they know. The overwhelming majority of perpetrators (92%) were men and the most common form experienced was the discussion of sexual topics that caused discomfort (28.9%). Among respondents, the most serious sexual violence incident ever experienced was non-penetrative sexual assault (38.24%), followed by penetrative sexual assault (16.34%).
Three-quarters of respondents did not react when the incident occurred, many cited not knowing how to react, pretending nothing happened, or feeling forced to accept it. While many sought help later, the majority through family or friends, 40% did not report due to feeling embarrassed, not knowing where to report or simply not having the energy to deal with it. Many respondents interviewed suffered psychological stress and trauma because of stigma and shame as well as obstacles to getting the help they need, among other reasons.
These are highly worrying statistics. And action needs to be taken by all of us to tackle this complex issue.
At TWF, tackling sexual violence in all forms is an issue we prioritise and care about deeply. Our #MakePeopleCount campaign (launched in 2020, reaching over 1.7 million people) continues to serve as a foundation for our ongoing advocacy to government, businesses and the general public. To meaningfully address sexual violence, Hong Kong needs wholesale strategic reform – this includes the adoption of critical updates to the law for substantive sexual offences proposed by the Hong Kong Law Reform Commission. We need updates to our education system on how it teaches concepts like gender-based violence and consent. Technology companies, governments and other stakeholders need to work together to curb growing and increasingly insidious forms of sexual violence online. As individuals, we can work to dispel harmful social norms around victim-blaming and shaming, and educate ourselves on how to support someone who has experienced sexual violence and be knowledgeable around resources for legal and psychological help when needed.
Let’s use this month to propel us all into taking actions to build a safe city for everyone.
Get in touch at Fiona.Nott@twfhk.org.