Researchers say sexual violence against women remains a serious issue in Hong Kong, with their latest survey finding that 37 percent of respondents had experienced such abuse.
Lingnan University’s department of sociology and social policy polled 1,044 women and girls aged between 15 and 64 last year and found that 27 percent had experienced violence inflicted by an intimate partner, including husbands and boyfriends.
The prevalence of sexual violence against women, according to the researchers, was similar to findings observed in a similar study conducted in 2013.
Researchers said sexual violence can range from assault to verbal abuse and upskirt photography, and many such incidents occur in schools, on public transport, or in people's homes.
Professor Annie Chan, a lead researcher, said for those who reported having experienced sexual violence, 75 percent failed to react when it occurred.
“We ran some tests to see if there’s any significant differences in the socio-demographics of those who did and not react, and we do not find any significant differences, meaning that for women who experienced sexual violence it’s in general very difficult to make any reaction at the time," she said.
Many respondents said they did not know how to react or pretended that nothing had happened, Chan said.
“Mostly they would be in shock when it happens because they did not expect it to happen… So if somebody touches you on the MTR, or somebody does something to you without you expecting that to happen, the person would be in a state of shock mostly and they would tend to blame themselves by default.”
Although more than 60 percent of the respondents had later sought help, the majority said they only turned to family and friends.
Chan said many victims are afraid of seeking help because of a “victim-blaming” culture in society, adding that it could be even harder for women to speak up against violence inflicted on them by their partners.
“If your partner is doing something to you... it is much more difficult to call it out as sexual violence.”
She said while it’s important for women to protect and empower themselves, more public education is needed to raise people’s awareness of sexual violence, so they can provide the support and understanding that victims need.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Women's Coalition on Equal Opportunities and the Zonta Club of Kowloon, which sponsored the survey, called on the government to put more resources into addressing the issue.
They said the authorities should provide emergency financial support and shelters for those who suffer sexual violence, as many of the victims live with the perpetrators.
The groups added that the government should provide better training for people working with women subjected to sexual violence, such as law enforcement staff and frontline workers, to prevent them from causing secondary trauma, and it should also increase the penalties for sex-related offences.