[Trauma warning: The following contains sexual assault/sexual violence, which may cause anxiety, please read with caution.] 】
"Child sexual assault" is a keyword with a very guaranteed click-through rate, because related news always attracts the attention of many readers, but I believe most people do not know what those appalling experiences mean to victims. Wu Haiya, president of the Hong Kong Sex Education Research and Treatment Professional Association, once asked sexual assault survivors to write a metaphor for their own physical experience: like a lion often roaring, like a dirty girl who stripped naked, like a stone pressed on the top of her head, like a tiger that is locked in a cage and buried under the sand but will break out at any time...
"Child Sexual Abuse" is part of a series of five in-depth reports
Sexual assault experiences change children's self-perception
The cunning of sexual assault is that its harm does not stop with the end of the assault, but may change the victim's self-perception. When it happens to children, the impact is more obvious - children who have been sexually assaulted may do many behaviors that are difficult for ordinary people to understand in the process of growing up, in addition to avoiding normal interactions and intimacy, some will imitate sexual intercourse, kissing actions, paint pornographic pictures, and even use sex as a means of exchanging benefits. This is because children have not yet formed a perfect self, and sexual abuse will promote children to form distorted sexual attitudes and sexual concepts, and then engage in sexual behavior that is not suitable for their age and development, distorts interpersonal relationships, and interferes with children's normal sexual development.
Wu Haiya, president of the Hong Kong Sex Education Research and Treatment Professional Association, pointed out in an exclusive interview with "Hong Kong 01" that there are many traumas of child sexual assault, and some survivors do not want to have physical contact with men, even if they have a boyfriend, they can't even hold hands, and once they find that the other party wants to have intimate communication with themselves, they will break off communication; In some cases, on the contrary, they will very casually seek out others to have relationships, because they feel that they have been sexually assaulted, their bodies are damaged, and they are not worth protecting.
In 2021, Wu Haiya published a research report on the psychological status of female survivors of childhood sexual assault, which found that compared with women who had not experienced sexual assault, sexual anxiety, depression and sexual fear of sexual assault survivors were statistically affected, but at the same time, their desire and sexual activity were also more than the average person, and their self-esteem and life satisfaction were significantly lower. This contradiction reflects the unhealthy state of their psyche.
Seventy percent of child sexual assault cases were committed by acquaintances
Sexual abuse of children can also be devastating for entire families. When sexual assault occurs, the child's mother is often blamed for failing to protect the child. When the aggressor is the father of the child victim, they often defend themselves on the grounds that "the wife cannot meet her sexual needs before she finds a daughter", and the mother becomes the loser who leads to the breakdown of family relationships. But in reality, both the child and the mother are victims, facing the double whammy of the child's injury and the husband's betrayal.
Long Di, an associate researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who has studied child sexual abuse for many years, pointed out in his academic monograph "Professional Guide to Comprehensive Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Assault" published in 2017 that family sexual assault fundamentally betrays the trust of the child victim and other family members who did not participate in the sexual assault in the sense of family safety, and also breaks the belief that the family once thought that "they live in a happy and normal family"; As for other family members who have not participated in sexual assault, they may feel that they have "always lived in lies", so they no longer trust their families, or even other people, and dare not get married.
According to the Social Welfare Department, the total number of cases involving child sexual abuse in 2021 was 459, a 320% increase from 43 cases last year. In 2021, the Police received a total of 599 reports of child sexual assault (below), with more than 432% of the child victims (12) aged between 16 and 24, nearly 143% (6) aged only 11 to 24, and 5 under the age of 31. In addition, 187% of the cases (79 people) were committed by strangers – in other words, nearly <>% of child sexual assaults were committed by acquaintances, and <> of these cases occurred between family members or relatives.
96% of cases of child sexual abuse go unreported
Judging from the cases of sexual abuse of children in the past 10 years, there are even more striking characteristics. Talk Hong Kong is a volunteer group of two women who provide support services to survivors of childhood sexual abuse in Hong Kong, and are committed to related advocacy and research work. In July last year, Talk released a study titled "Magnitude of Child Sexual Abuse in Hong Kong: Review of Evidence 7-2010," which found that the Social Welfare Department reported an average of 2021 cases per year in 2010-2021, of which 2010% were girls and 2021% The case involved penetrative sexual assault.
The report also mentioned that the Hong Kong Police Force reported an average of 2016 cases per year from 2021 to 470, but the Department of Justice had an average of only 2010 prosecutions per year from 2021 to 46, of which 89% were convicted but 25% were not incarcerated.
However, these figures are only the tip of the iceberg of child sexual abuse in Hong Kong. According to the World Health Organization, 5 in 13 women and 1 in 0 men report having been sexually abused in childhood between the ages of 17 and 70. The Curriculum Development Office of the Education Bureau pointed out in the professional development programme for kindergarten principals and teachers that at least 12% of the cases of child sexual abuse remain unreported. Through a comparative analysis of the research literature on child sexual abuse in Hong Kong and internationally, Talk estimates that the proportion of child sexual abuse cases in Hong Kong is about 15% of the total population, of which 9% are girls and 96% are boys. Comparing the number of cases released by the Social Welfare Department, Talk estimates that about 25% of child sexual abuse cases in Hong Kong go unreported, which means that only 1 in <> cases of child sexual abuse receives the attention of the Social Welfare Department.
Child victims delayed seeking help for 12.9 years
Wu Haiya's research also found that there were few victims who had called the police. Most people don't choose to report because they're afraid to disclose it, and later they are willing to tell their experiences in the hope that others will no longer be harmed. At the beginning of the study, Wu invited relevant NGOs to refer cases that were willing to be interviewed. However, the process is very difficult, as long as the interviewee is in a bad mood and emotionally unstable, the visit must be temporarily interrupted, and the entire interview may take a year and a half to complete. Wu turned to Facebook and schools to recruit interviewees, and the response was unexpected, and she ended up finding 31 respondents, double the original estimate of 12-16 respondents. Among them was a 60-year-old who shared with Ms. Wu her experience of molesting her at the age of 9 — the first time she shared a secret that had been hidden for more than 50 years. Wu Haiya sighed: "It turns out that so many people have such experience, they are too hard to find anyone to talk about."
The phenomenon of "delayed help" is serious. Sexual Violence Crisis Support Center Fengyulan analyzed the records of its indirect requests for help from 2000 to 2018 and found that survivors of sexual violence who were under the age of 16 at the time of the incident delayed seeking help for an average of about 13.2 years, which is more than ten times longer than that of adult survivors of sexual violence. In March last year, Fengyulan released the latest data from January 3 to September 2019, in which the delay in seeking help in child sexual abuse cases was 1.2021 years, and when the aggressor was a family member or relative, the delay was even 9.12 years.
For child victims, not knowing how to define "sexual violence" is one of the reasons that prevents them from seeking help, until they grow up and receive sex education, they do not reveal their scars to the outside world. Another reason is that there is no suitable person to seek help, because not all children are aware or able to seek professional help, and family members, as the most vulnerable target for help for child victims, are often not prepared to respond, but ignore, question and blame children's complaints.
Long Di published her doctoral thesis in the Department of Social Work at the University of Chinese Hong Kong as a book entitled "Sexual Shame or Hurt", which chronicles the reactions of rural girls after they tell their families that they have been sexually assaulted by their teachers:
Eight months later, when Shen's mother told me about the scene, she still burst into tears: "At that time, as soon as the heads were combined, this child's life would be over!" I didn't expect me to give her a mouthful! I was so angry (sobbed) that I was mad. Give her a mouthful and hate her! Just don't solve hatred! The first reaction is that she did something wrong, you didn't protect Bai Ji, you did too much wrong! Who would have thought ah, you say?! (sobbing loudly) How can these children in the world let us push? What do you say we live for? You said that our kid pushed this matter, how to face others! No face to face this society, face others. No face, no face at all! I don't have the face to meet anyone!" ——Excerpt from "Sexual Shame, Pain of Hurt"
The justice system is unable to help child victims
In addition, some children are silenced for fear of the negative consequences of disclosure, such as that the perpetrator is a family member and fears that their report will harm their family; Or they have been intimidated by the other party and are worried that reporting will cause unbearable consequences. According to a 2020 rape verdict, the girl victim was sexually assaulted by her stepfather while she was in primary five, and the stepfather threatened the client to keep her mother secret on the grounds that she would not pay them a living allowance. The girl endured several abuses by her stepfather for fear of upsetting her stepfather and preventing her from living with her mother.
Such cases are common, but not all perpetrators are duly punished. Although the law is willing to admit the statements of the parties as evidence, due to the lack of evidence retained after many years, under the principle of "doubtful interests belong to the defendant", some defendants have always been acquitted. That's a secondary injury for victims who are willing to come forward.
In August 2022, the Social Welfare Department published a consultation paper on the proposed mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse cases, recommending mandatory reporting of child abuse cases, including sexual assault cases, to ensure early identification and effective intervention. However, many workers who have been exposed to sexual assault cases have reservations about this advice. Based on their past work experience, helping survivors of sexual assault regain their autonomy, let them understand the meaning of each option, and empower them to make decisions is an important strategy for handling cases. If professionals compelled to report cases against the wishes of the person, it may make sexually abused children feel that their wishes are not being respected, and further deprive them of their autonomy.
Darcy Davison-Roberts, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong, is both a consultant to Talk and a practicing lawyer well-versed in child protection law. She agrees that a mandatory reporting system may be a good solution, but it may not be a solution to the problem, because many survivors of sexual assault feel that the justice system cannot help them, or that they will experience secondary harm even after reporting, and if these obstacles cannot be addressed, the significance of mandatory reporting is very limited.
"Lately I've been wondering if the mandatory whistleblowing system will make the child victims bear too much responsibility, because they are forced to report crimes, pursue justice, deal with everything, and tell their experiences to the police and judges in shame." Lo said that in areas with Child Protection Ordinances, there are monitoring and procedures to maintain the safety of children's living environments, such as checking that someone else's background has a criminal record of child sexual abuse, rather than placing all the burden on the child victim.
So, what kind of justice system will victims who choose to report sexual assault face?
Child Sexual Abuse · A far more serious issue than we thought
Hong Kong Child Sexual Violence Helpline - Sexual Violence Victims Support Hotline: 23755322
Tung Wah Group of Hospitals - Chi Ruo Yuen Hotline: 18281
Seedling Care Fund: 2889 9933
Harmony Home - 24-hour Women's Helpline: 25220434
Hong Kong Association of Women's Centres - Women's Helpline
Po Leung Kuk - 24-hour Women's Helpline: 81001155
Social Welfare Department Hotline: 23432255
Hong Kong Family Planning Guidance Council: 25722222