Equal Opportunities Commission


Press Releases

Press Releases

EOC and Women's Commission hold "Forum on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Universities"


Representatives of Hong Kong's tertiary education institutes and university students today ( 17 August, 2004 ) attended the first "Forum on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Universities", co-organized by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the Women's Commission (WoC).

EOC Chairperson, Mrs. Patricia Chu said, "The EOC and the WoC welcome the opportunity of cooperation and an exchange of views with Hong Kong"s universities during today's forum, to promote students' awareness and prevention of sexual harassment within the campus environment. In response to public concern over the issue, the EOC has completed a study on sexual harassment in local universities. The findings provide a basis for today's discussions on issues such as preventive measures, public education and the possibility of collaboration among organizations to address the issue."

In 2003, following intense media coverage of students' experiences of orientation camps, the EOC conducted a study on sexual harassment in local universities. The study covered:

experience of students who participated in an orientation camp in which sexual harassment allegedly occurred

university students' awareness of sexual harassment in general

extent of protection provided under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance ( SDO )

mechanisms that universities have in place to address sexual harassment on campus

The findings showed that participants at the orientation camp were not sensitized to sexual harassment and treated the event as a game. Students who were under peer pressure to shout slogans containing derogatory sexual comments were reluctant to lodge complaints, for fear that they would be considered by others as trouble-makers. Some students did not have knowledge about channels for complaint. Slogans and posters with sexual contents create a sexually hostile environment on campus. While sexually hostile environment in relation to the workplace is unlawful, there is at present no legal provision outlawing sexually hostile environment at or in relation to an educational establishment. The EOC has recommended amendment of the SDO to cover this type of sexual harassment.

Speaking at the same forum, WoC Chairperson, Mrs. Sophie Leung said, "To address sexual harassment, public education is necessary to reduce gender stereotyping and to promote equal respect for both genders."

"Research has revealed that attitudes towards sexual harassment may result from, amongst others, the gender stereotyping process. The process involves misconceptions about the roles, values, images and abilities of the two sexes, where men are socialized to be more aggressive in relationships and some may misperceive sexual harassment as an acceptable behavior."

"In this connection, the WoC has launched a series of public education and publicity programmes to promote gender sensitivity within the community, reduce gender stereotyping and raise general awareness of women-related issues," she said.

The survey results of Professor Catherine Tang, of the Chinese University, are in support of Mrs. Leung's appeal for public education. Regarding student's awareness of sexual harassment, with the approval from Professor Tang, the EOC had made reference to her study, "Survey on Sexual Harassment in Local Tertiary Institutions" (2001). 28.3 % of the respondents had experience of sexual harassment by their peers, and more than half of them (53%) reacted by passively ignoring the harasser. Professor Tang's recommendations included more education programmes on prevention of sexual harassment on campus, promotion of a sexual harassment policy and more transparent complaint handling procedures.

"All eight universities studied have in place policies to address sexual harassment on campus, and these are generally able to identify most of the major issues in dealing with sexual harassment. However, the EOC is of the view that it is difficult to rely on a document to see an end to sexual harassment. It is only through mainstreaming of equal opportunity values through public education, that the policy can become effective. Besides sharing our findings today, the participants have been able to share their views and valuable experiences and deliberate on improvement measures. The EOC and the WoC have offered assistance and input for future collaboration with the educational institutes," Mrs. Chu explained.

"Sexual harassment is a gender issue and more often then most, females in particular are targeted by this unlawful behavior. Often fear of victimization deters would-be complainants from taking action. All this underlines the need for a comprehensive sexual harassment policy, for education and training which would encourage a more gender friendly environment, and respect for both sexes," Mrs. Chu said.

"It is in everyone's interest that sexual harassment issues and complaints be dealt with by the universities, and through their own procedures. Whilst steps are being taken to amend the SDO to include sexually hostile study environment within the jurisdiction of the EOC, a more proactive option is to establish preventive measures by the universities, and the cultivation of a study environment free from sexual harassment. Lodging a sexual harassment complaint to the EOC should always be the last resort," Mrs Chu added.

Lastly, Mrs. Leung concluded, "We believe that collaboration among all sectors in the community is instrumental in addressing the problem of sexual harassment. The EOC and the WoC would continue to monitor the situation and work with the universities and other women's groups closely."

Enquiry: Ms. Mariana LAW 21062226