The EOC announces findings of “Sexual Harassment – Questionnaire Survey for Social Service Sector”
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (Tuesday, 11 July 2017) announced the findings of “Sexual Harassment – Questionnaire Survey for Social Service Sector”, which explored the progress of the formulation of anti-sexual harassment policy in social service sector.
The Survey revealed that only 51% (26 NGOs) of the responding non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have developed a written anti-sexual harassment policy, whereas the remaining half has none. Similarly, about half (51%) of responding NGOs, has never provided any form of sexual harassment awareness training to their employees. It is important to note that about 33% (17) of the responding NGOs have neither adopted an anti-sexual harassment policy, nor provided any awareness training for their staff to prevent sexual harassment. The Survey was based on 51 returned questionnaires from 62 NGOs which attended at least one of the two seminars co-organized by the EOC and HKCSS in 2016.
Among the responding NGOs with anti-sexual harassment policy, only 7 NGOs (27%) included all eight essential items in their anti-sexual harassment policy. The three most common items included in the NGO’s policy are “procedures for dealing with sexual harassment complaints” (88%), “a clear statement that sexual harassment will not be tolerated (85%), “the Policy applies to all levels of staff of the NGO (85%). The implementation measures, such as contact information of the designated complaint-handling personnel, and a note about disciplinary action, have often been omitted in their anti-sexual harassment policy.
The results also suggest that there is a lack of comprehensive preventive measures on sexual harassment in the social welfare sector. Among the 51 responding NGOs, almost one-fifth (18 %) have not taken any preventive measures against sexual harassment. Most of the NGOs (41%) indicated that they have taken only one single preventive measure. The most common measures are: “Provide sexual harassment prevention training for employees” (49%) and “Requiring the prospective employee to verify nil criminal conviction records against a specified list of sexual offences under the ‘Sexual Conviction Record Check’ Scheme” (45%).
According to the Directory of Social Service Organizations in Hong Kong, social service organizations provide 90% of social services in Hong Kong, which benefit more than six million of people. There are close to 60,000 employees working in the social service sector, and 746,000 volunteers have participated in volunteer service.
Dr. Ferrick CHU, Director, Policy, Research and Training of the EOC emphasized, “NGOs play a crucial role in the provision of social services in our society. The EOC has compiled a ‘Framework for Sexual Harassment Policy in Social Service Agencies’, in order to facilitate NGOs in developing anti-sexual harassment policy of their own.”
“The Survey found that NGOs with an anti-sexual harassment policy are more likely to have provided training to their staff, member/service users and volunteers. Training is equally important in eradicating sexual harassment in the social service sector. Fostering respect for self and others in NGOs can effectively prevent different stakeholders from sexual harassment.” said Dr. CHU.
According to the Survey, it is also revealed that 4% of the responding NGOs (2 NGOs) have reported a total of four cases of sexual harassment complaint cases in the 12 months before the Survey. Of the four cases, two included inappropriate physical touching, patting and/or kissing, one related to the use of non-verbal sex cues and another involved verbal, textual and/or electronic messages related to sex.
As defined by the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO), sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature directed at the victim, in which a reasonable person would anticipate the victim to feel offended, humiliated or intimidated; or any conduct of a sexual nature creating a sexually hostile work environment such as displaying pornographic materials or telling sexual jokes in the workplace.
“Such a seemingly low prevalence rate of sexual harassment in the social service sector is alarming because the results may be concealing the real situation from us. Unfortunately, the lack of public awareness of sexual harassment and the uncertain consequences of filing a complaint may discourage victims from reporting their experiences of sexual harassment.”, Dr CHU highlighted.
The transparency of and accessibility to the anti-sexual harassment policy are essential for the successful implementation of the policy by social services agencies. NGOs are encouraged to provide not only a hard copy of the policy and procedures for filing complaints to their staff, members/service users and volunteers, but also a soft copy on their website to allow easier access to the policy.
At present, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) requires all government-subvented NGOs to submit a self-assessment report indicating their compliance to the Service Quality Standards (SQSs) each year. The SQSs requires NGOs to take all reasonable steps to protect service users from all forms of abuse, including verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
“To effectively prevent sexual harassment among subvented NGOs, the Government – as a major source of funding for the social service sector – can play a vital role in encouraging NGOs to adopt a comprehensive strategy. The current guidelines of Implementation Handbook for the SQSs and the SQSs themselves should be reviewed regularly to provide more reference material and relevant case law for NGOs to develop their own anti-sexual harassment policies,” Dr. CHU elaborated.
To conclude, Dr. CHU said, “Sexual harassment is an issue that every sector of society has to deal with, and the social service sector is no exception. The prevention of sexual harassment towards all members, service users and volunteers in this field should never be overlooked or neglected. In this regard, the EOC will continue to join hands with the Government and relevant parties to raise greater awareness on the issue of sexual harassment through training, public education and legislation review.”
For enquiries, please contact Mr. Sam HO at 2106-2187.
Equal Opportunities Commission
11 July 2017