EOC Announces Findings of the Study on Students’ Sexual Attitudes and Views on Sexual Harassment
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (Tuesday, 5 March 2013) announced the findings of the “Study on Students’ Sexual Attitudes and Views on Sexual Harassment”, which was conducted from May to November 2011 by the Department of Special Education and Counseling of the Hong Kong Institute of Education. The Study was based on 5,902 questionnaires involving students of primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions, 16 focus group discussion sessions involving 131 students, teaching staff, principals and parents.
Convenor of the EOC’s Policy and Research Committee, Dr. John TSE Wing-ling, said, “Sexual harassment is a serious problem for students at all educational levels. This problem is more common than people might think because many students are scared or too embarrassed to report sexual harassment. This study has identified the students’ experience of and attitudes towards sexual harassment. We hope that it will assist us in devising effective strategies to promote concepts of gender equality and prevention of sexual harassment on campus.”
The Study revealed that 50% of the interviewed students had experienced various forms of sexual harassment such as sexual jokes, sexual propositions, indecent gestures, inappropriate touching and showing pornography. Among them, 97% of the victims expressed that the harassers were their “boy / girl friends” (referring to non consensual conduct of a sexual nature), 21% were classmates and 14% were friends. Both boys and girls had the experience of being harassed by someone of the same sex or the opposite sex. Worryingly, some students accepted sexual harassment as part of the school culture.
On encountering sexual harassment, over half of the students chose to “keep silent” (58%). Even though the harassers were mostly students, the victims rarely sought help from their teachers due to the fear of retaliation and the view that the teachers would be incapable of handling such embarrassing cases. Even fewer sought external assistance.
It was found that when being sexually harassed, both female and male students were affected psychologically and emotionally. The respondents indicated that they felt angry (40%), scared (38%) and could not relate well to others (36%).
Dr. TSE explained, “Sexual harassment in a school environment can undermine a student’s sense of personal dignity and safety, disrupt the person’s education, and interfere with his/her ability to reach full potential in life. If left unchecked, sexual harassment in the school setting has the potential to escalate to bullying and violent behaviour.”
It is disappointing to note that the schools adopted an “ostrich policy” in response to incidents of sexual harassment on campus. The findings of the focus group survey indicated that sexual harassment among students was rarely addressed. Some students, teaching staff and parents expressed that the school authorities handled sexual harassment complaints in a very subtle manner for fear that the school reputation would be adversely affected.
Dr. TSE emphasized, “Education providers have a legal duty to take steps to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. Under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, conduct of a sexual nature which creates a hostile or intimidating environment in an educational setting is unlawful.”
“Educators can prevent many cases of sexual harassment by having a clear and comprehensive anti-sexual harassment policy in place. An effective sexual harassment policy can limit harm and reduce liability. It also promotes the equity and diversity goals of educational institutions,” Dr. TSE pointed out. “Educational establishments are encouraged to provide training to staff and students to enhance their awareness, and set up an effective complaint handling mechanism to resolve sexual harassment complaints. Schools should also provide professional counseling and follow-up services to the victims and perpetrators of sexual harassment.”
“To address the issue of sexual harassment, education to reduce gender stereotyping and promote equal respect for both genders is necessary. School programmes should take care of the personal and social developmental needs of the students and aim at cultivating gender equity values and attitudes,” Dr. TSE added.
In conclusion, Dr. TSE said, “We believe that collaboration among all sectors in the community is required to tackle the problem of sexual harassment. Subsequent to the findings of the Study, the EOC will launch an anti-sexual harassment campaign by engaging the stakeholders from the educational sector in a series of promotional and educational programmes.”
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Equal Opportunities Commission
5 March 2013