University of Hong Kong PostGrad student shares her sexual harassment story & calls out school for their lack of action

University of Hong Kong PostGrad student shares her sexual harassment story & calls out school for their lack of action

*As of 9 May, the HKU EOU reached out to the victim but she has yet to hear back from her faculty. She says that some of her questions have still not be addressed.

I wanted to post this for weeks now, but held back; I was afraid. Close friends kept telling me if I want to go public, I have to stand up; if I want it to be impactful, I will have to be the voice behind, so people can relate better. The fact is, I have posted some story on instagram and the response wasn’t great. For a country like Hong Kong with a reputation as a city of protest, you wonder why people are so timid and quiet when it comes to combating stigma of sexual harassment. The response was so bad (only 4 shares) that I had to DM friends who have viewed it to help share on Facebook. Deep down, I felt like a loser, embarrassed and disappointed that I had to ask people to share my story of how I was harassed.

I’m aware after posting this, many will question why I did not tell the perpetrator to stop.

There was something creepy about his presence-the way he stares at my chest, the way he grabs my shoulder, lewd jokes/remarks made (he once joked that I should find married men while raising both his eyebrows repeatedly. He is a married man..)- sending chills down my spine. I’m not prudish but something in my gut told me what he did wasn’t appropriate, especially as a teacher. My fear towards him heightened when I witnessed a time he drank alcohol in the clinic, looking intoxicated- I told my nurse not to leave me alone unattended.

Like most who have been harassed- I froze, reassured myself that I overreacted, wondered if it was my fault (self-blame is real!), questioned “why didn’t I tell him to stop?”; I was infuriated and devastated. I confided with some peers and nurses- some showed support asking me to report, while others told me to drop the issue and move on, as he is someone in a position of power; was told he has the capability to make my life a living hell if I report him. Plus, I’ll be leaving HK soon and won’t see him again. But I am still traumatized.

Perpetrator’s background: He was the first batch of dentists produced by HKU, was once the acting head of department, and taught many in the faculty (i.e. course director was once his student).

I had negative experiences with faculty staff, friends and teachers that contributed to my sense of shame, fear of not being believed, fear of being branded a troublemaker, fear of retaliation. When I reported this to my course director and told him of the inappropriate comments the perpetrator made, he giggled. When I told him of my experience, he said that it didn’t amount to harassment. The ‘me’ now would like to tell him, who is he to define what is harassment? I felt uncomfortable, period. When I shared my experience with peers and teachers- some laughed, some were indifferent and the most common question I’ve gotten was ‘where did he touch ah? Your boobs? Your waist? (from female friends). Ladies, let’s ensure we are all on the same page. Sexual harassment could include any verbal, visual, gestural or physical misconduct. It doesn’t bloody have to be your boobs or waist- are you ok with elsewhere??

Society told me this wasn’t a big deal, and it was my fault- that’s how I felt.

People are usually invested with what the perpetrator did, but so few have asked or wondered the effects of being sexually harassed. I can tell you, part of me felt like a victim, part of me felt like an idiot, and part of me wanted justice. I blamed myself, and felt responsible. Not only did I feel humiliated getting harassed, I was deeply ashamed not standing up for myself, and not having control over what happened. Because I felt helpless and powerless- I couldn’t sleep, had no appetite, cried to sleep, refused to go out on weekends, got racing heartbeat, and shortness of breath at the thought of running into him outside of school. I couldn’t concentrate. Because he was still around on Friday sessions after reporting on him, I ran into him on 4th floor once- I cried, I ran to take cover at my head nurse’s room and asked her to check if he was still around. I am grateful that they eventually removed him from teaching me, which was also why this wasn’t reported to the police. However, not once did my postgrad administrators ask how I was coping after. Not a word.

After much deliberation, I am putting this on social media, hoping to create awareness about sexual harassment be it at workplace or teaching institutions. It is not an enjoyable feeling reliving this, but I am seeking redress. I am not taking revenge (this is NOT a witchhunt) for what happened to me, but to let him back into the faculty after I have left, to jeopardize the safety of other female students, shows how lightly HKU has taken this matter.

I am shocked and I feel betrayed.

I have been told again and again by people, how this perpetrator has been touching students inappropriately since the 1990s and he scots free in 2019!

When my friend posted my story on Facebook, I was told that someone from External Affairs is looking into this matter, and might contact me- no one did. I took the initiative to contact someone else referred to me, and got put in touch with the head of HKU Equal Opportunities Unit. While my questions was not answered, I was told it had “escalated”, and discussion had taken place within the faculty. Nobody has gotten in touch with me from the faculty. How can a proper investigation or discussion be conducted without any statement from me?

It’s been a struggle getting support from my peers, HKU alumni who are mostly locals in HK. Many are understandably afraid of consequences in standing/speaking up with/for me because the “dental community is small”. But in the end, it becomes a vicious cycle of perpetrators getting away.

Dental students and fellow dentists, this is no longer about one perpetrator. You think this man will be the only one to avoid? I know many locals are saying how I am brave enough to voice out just because I am no longer in HK. That’s the point- why would I burn bridges, relive this horror and voice out when I am no longer there? I am speaking out, and choosing to pursue this issue to prevent other/future victims from suffering my fate/agony.

Your silence is helping to create a safe haven for other potential perpetrators who know that they are in a position of power and will continue to abuse it.

The university is obliged to provide a safe learning environment for students. Allowing the perpetrator to return/remain affiliated to the university, holding a respectable teaching position is a blatant abuse of power. When people in power fail to send a strong message that such behavior is unacceptable, the system (or lack of a system) to protect students is clearly flawed.

HKU Dental Faculty claims itself as a world class dentistry in Asia’s world city, and HKU esteemed itself as a world class university. Yet there is nothing world class about how this issue has been handled- how unsafe, and unsupported I was made to feel. I am so disappointed.

To aspiring students looking to study abroad, it would be wise to look into the university’s anti-sexual harassment policies and how effective its implementation. In the absence of usual family/closed network support at home, international students in a foreign country would usually count on the school to be a pivotal ‘first line support’ for any issues. If the university does not have a clear stance of zero-tolerance on sexual harassment/assault, it would be best to pursue your education elsewhere.

To friends who have been telling me to post this on my own accord, this is to show you that this too will not gain any traction in HK. This culture of silence on sexual harassment will likely prevail. But I do hope to be proven wrong, and silence will be broken because more of you will care enough to support those needing your voice.

This statement has been reproduced on TOC with permission from the author. 

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