More men have reported experiencing sexual harassment online than women, while young female internet users were most vulnerable to such behaviour, according to Hong Kong’s equality watchdog, which carried out its first citywide survey on the issue.
More than one in six men, or 18.3 per cent, said they had experienced sexual harassment on the internet, slightly higher than the 17.3 per cent figure for women, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) said on Thursday (May 12), revealing the results of its survey of 5,027 people.
The organisation also called for the city’s stock exchange operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing to ask listed companies to disclose their anti-sexual harassment policies in their environmental, social and governance reports.
“Things that have been normalised or became a norm does not mean that they are correct,” said Dr Rizwan Ullah, convenor of the EOC’s policy, research and training committee.
“I might become a victim among the males just by them sending me a nude photo or some image that is too explicit.”
Under the city’s Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO), sexual harassment includes any behaviour which is generally regarded as offensive, humiliating or intimidating.
It is illegal under the ordinance to discriminate against a person based on sex, marital status, pregnancy or for breastfeeding, with more severe cases such as indecent assault and rape covered by criminal law.
Examples include a person asking a colleague out for a date regardless of rejection and making them feel offended, according to EOC executive director Dr Ferrick Chu Chung-man.
“In layman’s terms, making someone feel unwelcome is one of the factors considered for an incident to be regarded as an offence,” Chu said, adding that the public was often confused about the definition of sexual harassment.
“When it comes to dating, people always forget that a no means no. No is not a ‘yes’. There is an underlying risk if [he/she] says no.”
The survey, conducted between March and June 2021, found a quarter of young women aged between 18 and 34 had experienced sexual harassment online in the two years prior to the questionnaire. The figure for young women was the highest among all age groups.
Companies and organisations have the responsibility to be more preventive than being remedial to the issueDr Rizwan Ullah
Nearly 90 per cent of respondents have also experienced at least four types of sexual harassment in either the workplace or online.
The most common form of online sexual harassment involved sending indecent photos, videos or sexually aggressive messages to the victim.
The findings revealed women were significantly more likely to face sexual harassment at work than men. Two-thirds of recent incidents involved male harassers, while 25.9 per cent of male victims were harassed by women.
A greater proportion of men were sexually harassed in the workplace by colleagues of the same rank, while women were more often harassed by someone senior in rank or more powerful at work, including clients.
The problem was more prevalent in the accommodation and food services industry, as well as in the real estate, professional and business sectors.
Interns and summer job workers were also more likely to be sexually harassed at work.
The EOC pointed to a lack of public understanding about the ordinance as well as the power imbalance in the workplace as factors behind the figures.
It revealed that only 14.7 per cent of workplace victims made a formal report to either police, the EOC, or supervisors within their companies and organisations. Only 11.9 per cent of recent incidents saw interventions or were stopped by a third party.
The commission recommended the government amend the SDO and make employers legally liable for third-party harassment, unless they had no knowledge of the allegations or had taken reasonable steps to prevent the incident from occurring.
“Companies and organisations have the responsibility to be more preventive than being remedial to the issue,” Ullah said.
He also urged silent victims who had experienced harassment or were unsure whether they had been harassed to contact the commission’s anti-sexual harassment hotline.
He also suggested approaches such as social media stickers for employers to educate their staff.
The EOC received 302 complaints under the SDO in 2021, of which 60.6 per cent were related to sexual harassment. Of the 183 sexual harassment complaints, 80.9 per cent were related to employment.
Linda Wong Sau-yung, executive director of RainLily, an NGO for sexual violence victims, said they had also received requests from men for help with legal problems or taking down intimate images that were shared without consent.
“After conducting this research, the EOC should identify the number of male victims and facilitate follow-up actions to assist them other than just increasing public awareness,” she said after reading the survey.
She also called on authorities to plug legal loopholes to address online sexual harassment.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.