A coalition of women’s groups has urged the Hong Kong government to provide more support to women who experience violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, as a study showed that close to 40 per cent of respondents said that had experienced some form of sexual violence.

The Hong Kong Women’s Coalition of Equal Opportunities released the results from the survey on Monday, which included responses from 1,044 females aged 15 to 64 in the city. Further interviews were conducted with 30 of the respondents.

Annie Chan
Professor Annie Chan from Lingnan University. Photo: Hong Kong Women’s Coalition of Equal Opportunities, via video screenshot.

The study, led by Professor Annie Chan from Lingnan University and conducted between May and December last year, showed that 37.54 per cent of the respondents said they had experienced some form of sexual violence, including discussion of sexual topics that caused discomfort and non-penetrative sexual assault, as well as unwanted sexual attention.

Among the respondents with experiences of sexual violence, close to 70 per cent said the perpetrator was someone they knew, and three quarters of respondents “did not react to the incident when it occurred.”

The survey also showed that 26.37 per cent said that they had experienced violence from an intimate partner, including former partners, or former and current spouses. Close to 90 per cent of perpetrators were men, the survey revealed.

The study also showed that close to half of respondents who reported having experienced intimate partner violence did not seek help after the incident, with some fearing that seeking help would worsen their relationship with the perpetrator, or negatively impact the perpetrator.

Case increase under Covid-19

Sisi Liu, who represented the coalition during a press conference on Monday, said that the number of requests for help received by Hong Kong Federation of Women’s Centres involving intimate partner violence had increased by around 10 per cent under the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sisi Liu
Sisi Liu, representative of the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition of Equal Opportunities. Photo: Hong Kong Women’s Coalition of Equal Opportunities, via video screenshot.

“During the pandemic, the most common limitation we face is that we won’t go out, and we will stay at home most of the time, and children are having online classes so they are staying at home as well… and many people are unemployed or underemployed,” said Liu.

“When facing some sort of pressure, such as economic pressure, when you’re staying at home for a long period of time, and your home might not have enough space… a lot of issues will surface, but you’re all in the same space, making it easy for conflicts or arguments to arise.”

Liu also said that the pandemic had made it more difficult for people to seek help, with some having more concerns over whether to move in a shelter. Court services have also been impacted and consequently divorce procedures have been delayed.

sport park social distancing covid covid-19
Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The coalition also made a series of recommendations, from improving public education, to reviewing how the police categorise cases involving domestic violence, and modernising the family court.

The study also suggested that the government should be more flexible in providing help during the pandemic. Some departments have reduced services even as the number of cases seeking help has increased.

Economic and housing assistance were also recommended by the coalition, as women who experienced violence often had to rely on the perpetrator for economic support and live under the same roof as their abuser.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.