About one fifth of the sexual harassment complaints received by the Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission last year resulted in successful conciliation between the parties, government data has shown. However, it is difficult to fully interpret the figures because in many cases details of the agreement or settlement are not known.

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In a written response to a question from pro-establishment lawmaker Elizabeth Quat at the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee meeting on Thursday, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau gave statistics on sexual harassment complaints the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) received in the past two years, and the numbers for their outcomes.

Of 144 sexual harassment complaints the EOC received in 2020, 30 ended with successful conciliation by the EOC, while four cases were unsuccessful.

In 79 of the cases investigations were discontinued and 31 of are ongoing.

The EOC typically fields complaints on discrimination of all kinds, including gender, ethnicity or disability, and enforces them based on the city’s discrimination laws. Once it receives a complaint, the EOC will conduct an investigation.

The body’s complaints system is geared towards settling disputes between parties through conciliation, according to the EOC’s complaints handling procedures: “Conciliation looks for common ground to help resolve the matter to the satisfaction of both parties so that both can move beyond the dispute.”

Equal Opportunities Commission. File Photo: Inmediahk.net, via CC 2.0

Once parties reach a settlement through successful conciliation, they could sign a legally binding agreement, which may come in the form of an apology, changes of policies and practices, re-instatement or a monetary settlement.

But if the agency deems the complaint lacks substance or no unlawful act was involved, the investigation will be discontinued.

If an attempt of conciliation is not successful, however, complainants can apply to the EOC for legal assistance and pursue alternative civil legal proceedings.

Correction 12.4. 21: A previous version of this article stated that the EOC fields complaints on discrimination based on sexual orientation. It does not.

Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.