RainLily Submission on "An outline of the topics to be covered in the fourth report of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminat…
Submission on "An outline of the topics to be covered in the fourth report of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women"
RainLily was established in 2000 as Hong Kong's first crisis centre dedicated to assisting female victims of sexual violence and their families. Its services include immediate crisis intervention, individual counselling, medical consultation and follow-up, judicial process support, small group therapy, as well as referral services, to assist victims of sexual violence and their family members to receive appropriate support as soon as possible after experiencing sexual violence and to rebuild a stable new life. RainLily has always advocated for gender equality, cared for women threatened and harmed by sexual violence, and simultaneously worked towards raising social awareness of the often hidden but serious problem of sexual violence.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) will submit a fourth report under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (the Convention). This paper sets out RainLily’s submissions on projects related to sexual violence, and hopes that the HKSAR government will address the issue of sexual violence, and undertake to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and to improve Hong Kong’s support services for victims of sexual violence.
The HKSAR government should respond urgently to the UN Committee’s recommendation to set up a one-stop crisis centre for victims of sexual violence in Hong Kong.
In its 2006 concluding comments, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (the Committee) urged the HKSAR government to “re-establish the Hong Kong rape crisis centres so as to ensure that victims of sexual violence receive specific attention and counselling in full anonymity”.i It is therefore clear that the UN recognises the importance of crisis centres for victims of sexual violence. According to the “Guidelines for medico-legal care for victims of sexual violence” issued by the World Health Organization, basic medical support for victims is of vital importance. The Guidelines also propose that medical and legal services should be located within hospitals or clinics, and that dealing with related procedures in the same location is the best service model.ii This includes the procedures that a victim needs to undergo after reporting the incident, such as medical and forensic examinations and making a statement. Consequently, establishing a one-stop crisis centre for sexual violence victims within hospitals can provide victims with immediate medical support, whilst also allowing related procedures such as counselling, reporting the incident to the police and forensic examinations to be conducted in a secure, quiet and private environment.
Judicial, medical and social services are inextricably linked in the process of dealing with consequences of sexual violence. For many years, RainLily has designed centre facilities according to the specifications of the World Health Organization, to enable victims of sexual violence to receive immediate medical attention and to carry out relevant incident reporting procedures from within the centre. This prevents victims from dealing with different departments, thereby repeating their experience of victimization and deepening the trauma. As a coordinating mechanism for dealing with cases of sexual violence, RainLily liaises with emergency departments, gynaecological departments and the police, so that professionals from different sectors can provide smooth and timely services and support to victims of sexual violence.
At present, support services for victims of sexual violence operated by the Hong Kong government are unable to handle all procedures in the same location, and victims struggle to reach different departments. Although in a small portion of sexual violence cases forensic medical examinations are carried out at hospital accident and emergency departments, an accident and emergency department serves as an emergency relief department in which medical staff are constantly busy and attend to a lot of patients. It is difficult to provide a private environment and it is not the best place for providing a one-stop service for victims of sexual violence. Therefore, we strongly urge the government to adopt a more proactive policy to establish a sexual violence crisis centre within hospitals as soon as possible, and to provide a complete one-stop service to victims of sexual violence so that victims can complete medical, reporting, forensic and other procedures in the same place.
Urgent legal reform required for sexual offences
At present, the laws governing sexual violence in Hong Kong have been in place for more than 60 years. Many of these laws are out of date, failing to provide sufficient protection for victims of sexual violence as well as restricting sexual autonomy. In recent years, several overseas countries have reformed legislation governing sexual offences. The Review of Sexual Offences Sub-committee of the Law Reform Commission, formed in 2006, is currently consulting on the legal reform of sexual offences in Hong Kong. However, the Sub-committee members are still in the consulting stage more than ten years after the Committee was established. The Sub-committee closed its consultation exercise on rape and other non-consensual sexual offences at the end of 2012, its consultation exercise on sexual offences involving children and persons with mental impairment in early 2017, and published a consultation paper on miscellaneous sexual offences in May 2018.iii RainLily believes that the implementation of legal reforms at this pace is unacceptable. It alsoraises questions about the degree to which the Law Reform Commission attaches importance to sexual offences. RainLily hopes that the Hong Kong government will amend the relevant legislation as soon as possible to clarify the law, so that sexual autonomy is respected and victims of sexual violence will be provided with more comprehensive protection.
Monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the Equal Opportunities Commission in eliminating discrimination
The Equal Opportunities Commission (the EOC) has been established for more than two decades and only handles conciliation of various discrimination complaints, including sexual harassment. Conciliation is voluntary. In cases where respondents are unwilling to take part in early conciliation or the parties conciliate unsuccessfully at this stage, the EOC Complaint Services Division will conduct an investigation but it will not make a ruling. Formal conciliation will only be arranged under certain circumstances. However, if the respondent is still unwilling to conciliate or the conciliation is unsuccessful, the EOC will close the case without follow-up action. The aggrieved person has to apply separately for legal assistance from the EOC after the EOC Complaint Services Division closes her case. There are not many cases of successful applications. The aggrieved person must complete the entire conciliation and investigation process before applying for legal assistance. She must not obtain relevant legal advice prior to filing the complaint, or exploit the opportunity to understand her legal rights early.
According to RainLily's experience of assisting in sexual harassment cases, the procedures for dealing with complaints in the EOC are complicated, and at the conciliation stage the EOC also unreasonably demands that the complainant submits excessive information and evidence. In cases where RainLily has assisted, the length of time required for complaints ranges from months to two years. To avoid undergoing more excessively-complicated procedures and lengthy processes, some complainants choose to drop their complaints. The EOC often plays a neutral role, and there is very little support given to complainants in sexual harassment cases. There is no regard for situations where there may be an imbalance of power between the complainant and the respondent during the complaint process. Some of RainLily’s clients believe that the EOC does not try hard to fight for justice for victims of sexual harassment.
Furthermore, the appointment system of the EOC chairman and members is not transparent. The chairman and members of the EOC are all appointed by the Hong Kong government, yet the government does not have clear criteria for appointments. This not only weakens the accountability of the EOC, but also makes it difficult for the public to monitor the work of the Commission. The EOC is a public body which promotes equal opportunities and works towards the elimination of discrimination; its chairpersons and members must have in-depth knowledge of human rights work and gender awareness. Unfortunately, the government has not seriously chosen a chairperson who can serve the public, fight for justice and eliminate gender discrimination. Instead, the government has rashly appointed an individual to serve as EOC chairman who has made public speeches contrary to the EOC’s mission. Indeed, the EOC chairman Alfred Chan Cheungming’s speech at an event in celebration of International Women's Day last year was accused of propagating gender discrimination and strengthening gender stereotypes.iv Consequently, as many as 40 organisations joined forces to protest. The improper appointment of the EOC chairman by the Hong Kong government questions the credibility of the EOC and undermines the EOC’s task of promoting social equality.
RainLily considers that the EOC, as a public organisation advocating for equal opportunities and the elimination of discrimination, should effectively use public funds to fight against discrimination in society and to protect the rights and interests of those who suffer discrimination. The Government also bears responsibility for monitoring the effectiveness of the EOC in a transparent manner so that persons suffering from various forms of discrimination can receive appropriate assistance and protection.