Equal Opportunities Commission


Press Releases

Press Releases

The EOC Releases Findings of its Territory-wide Study on Sexual Harassment of University Students in Hong Kong


The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (21 January 2019) released findings from “Break the Silence: Territory-wide Study on Sexual Harassment of University Students in Hong Kong”. The Study found that nearly one-fourth (23%) of university students were sexually harassed within 12 months before the survey, but only 2.5% of students had lodged a complaint with the university after experiencing sexual harassment.

For this study, being the largest of its kind in Hong Kong, a total of 14,442 full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students of nine participating universities completed the online anonymous self-administrated questionnaires between 22 March and 30 April 2018, representing an overall response rate of 14.3% out of the 101,016 student population of the nine universities.  Also, in-depth interviews with 28 students who shared their experience of sexual harassment, and a focus group discussion with university representatives were conducted respectively.

Professor Alfred CHAN Cheung-ming, Chairperson of the EOC, said: “The problem of campus sexual harassment is too big to be ignored. This Study revealed that as much as 23% of university students indicated they were sexually harassed. Some cases were in fact blatant sexual assault.  The proportion of female students who were sexually harassed is even as high as 27%, and up to 18.4% of male students were sexually harassed, a percentage that is higher than what people would have expected.”

The online questionnaire asked students if they were sexually harassed in three settings respectively, i.e. on campus, off campus by fellow students or university staff, and online by anyone respectively.  Among the 2,259 students (15.6%) who said they were sexually harassed on campus, the three most common forms of sexual harassment were as follows:

Someone has made sexually suggestive comments or jokes to others in front of the student (38.0%);
Someone has made sexually suggestive comments or jokes directly to the student (34.7%); and
Some has made inappropriate physical contact with the student (20.2%).

A small but alarming 5.1% said someone had kept making sexual advances to them regardless of their rejection, whereas 2.8% said someone had offered good academic results, money or other benefits in exchange for sexual favours.

Dr Ferrick CHU Chung-man, Acting Chief Operations Officer of the EOC said at the press conference, “We should not be mistaken that suggestive comments or jokes are minor and need not be taken seriously.  From the in-depth interviews with students who had been sexually harassed, we learn that some of these verbal sexual harassments amounted to sexual advance, or request for sexual favours. Some sexual remarks even came from professors or instructors.”

Among students who said they were sexually harassed on campus, most  indicated that the perpetrators were male (80.7%) and classmates of the victims from the same university (72.7%); 4.4% (98) identified the perpetrators as tutors, lecturers or professors, while 4.4% (98) identified the perpetrators as non-academic staff of university.

Dr CHU remarked, “A small proportion, but not negligible numbers, of perpetrators were reported to be teaching staff who are supposed to be the protectors rather than perpetrators. This phenomenon of abuse of power is concerning as victims of sexual harassment would fall vulnerable to act against or report them.”

This Study also found 3.8% (545) of students were sexually harassed by university students or staff off campus.  Social media platforms are also hotbeds for sexual harassment.  Among the 1,662 (11.5%) students who were sexually harassed online, 71.5% were harassed on social media.

Although universities have been spending a lot of efforts on preventing sexual harassment, it seems that traditional promotional and training efforts of universities are not effective on students. More than half of the students (58.6%) were not aware of their universities’ anti-sexual harassment policy while more than one-fourth (26.9%) said their university’s efforts on promoting anti-sexual harassment was “Insufficient” or “Very Insufficient”.

Understanding of sexual harassment among students has room for improvement. About one-fourth (25.0%) of the responding students fail to identify four scenarios of sexual harassment or above, out of the eight scenarios listed.

“Some of the root causes of sexual harassment can be traced well before students start university life. Stereotypes of women and misconceptions about sex and relationship have taken shape in teenage years. The EOC therefore recommends the Education Bureau to thoroughly reform sex education, emphasising more on gender equality and relationship education. We also appeal to primary and secondary schools, teachers and parents for their support to put sexuality education in place,” said Mr CHONG Yiu-kwong, Deputy Convenor of the EOC’s Working Group on Anti-Sexual Harassment Campaign.

“The EOC recommended universities to demonstrate top level commitment to eliminate campus sexual harassment and staff support have to be enhanced too. We are asking to meet Presidents of all nine participating universities to discuss how universities can implement the recommendations in this Report,” concluded Professor Alfred CHAN.

The EOC has made a total of 17 recommendations in four directions: (1) university’s commitment and governance; (2) victim-centric reporting mechanism in responding to sexual harassment; (3) awareness training for attitude change; and (4) comprehensive sexuality education.

The nine participating universities in this Study are: City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University, Lingnan University, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, The Education University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, The Open University of Hong Kong and The University of Hong Kong.

For details of the Study, please click the following links:
Equal Opportunities Commission
21 January 2019