Sexual Harassment: Progress and Further Needed Action

“Since [violence against women] is rooted in discrimination, impunity and complacency, we need to change attitudes and behavior - and we need to change laws and make sure they are enforced...” – Ban Ki-moon, Eighth UN Secretary-General

We are pleased to be able to report some encouraging steps taken here in Hong Kong in one of our longstanding advocacy areas – helping to protect women and girls from sexual harassment.

Last week, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) released findings from their Report on the Formulation of Anti-Sexual Harassment Policies of National Sports Associations (NSAs) in Hong Kong 2020. The research was encouraging, showing an increase in sports associations that have adopted measures to prevent sexual harassment, for example 90% have formulated a clear anti-sexual harassment policy, up from 35% in 2018.

At the same time, the EOC launched an Anti-Sexual Harassment Hotline as part of their recently established Anti-Sexual Harassment Unit (ASHU). A welcome addition to hotlines in the city, it offers information for anyone who has been affected by sexual harassment including on relevant laws, how to make a complaint and referrals to counselling services if needed. 

More progress has been made against voyeurism and non-consensual upskirting photography, thanks to a strong consensus from the public. The government plans to bring in new laws to make these practices criminal offences this year. Currently, Hong Kong’s outdated legislation offers no redress for these specific acts, with perpetrators facing charges of loitering or public indecency for example, which do not reflect the sexual nature nor the seriousness of the offenses. The long overdue reforms will help to bring legal protections in our city into the 21st century and acknowledge the experience of victims of sexual harassment and violence, the vast majority of whom are women and girls.

The laws are being drafted as a result of responses to the public consultation, to which the overwhelming majority agreed with the need for specific laws against these sexual violations. We hope this action will be quickly followed by the adoption of the remaining critical reforms for substantive sexual offences in the Crimes Ordinance proposed by the Hong Kong Law Reform Commission (HKLRC) in December 2019. From including a statutory definition of consent and expanding the definition of what acts constitute statutory ‘sexual penetration without consent’ to ensuring stronger protections for sexual minorities, minors and other vulnerable individuals, these reforms are urgently needed to ensure stronger protections for all people against sexual violence.

At TWF, we will continue to push for the adoption of these legal reforms as part of our multi-pronged approach to engage all sectors in addressing barriers preventing a sexual violence-free city. We are also responding to the HKLRC’s most recent public consultation asking for views on Sentencing and related matters on Sexual Offences and we encourage you to make a submission. In particular, we are keen to see greater protections for minors and other vulnerable individuals through Sexual Conviction Record Check, requiring them for volunteers and self-employed people, who are currently exempt. 

Your views matter and make a difference. Join us in helping to strengthen protections, especially for young people, and address a vital area that – if improved – will contribute to creating a safer city for all.

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Written by

The Women's Foundation