LCQ5: Sexual harassment in schools


Hong Kong (HKSAR) -      Following is a question by the Hon Holden Chow and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Kevin Yeung, in the Legislative Council today (April 11):

Question:

     The Education Bureau (EDB) has pointed out that upon receipt of complaints relating to sexual harassment, schools should make reference to the principles and procedures set out in the Framework for Sexual Harassment Policies in Schools (the Framework) drawn up by the Equal Opportunities Commission, and activate their school-based procedure for handling sexual harassment complaints. The Framework stipulates that schools should put in place both formal and informal mechanisms for handling sexual harassment complaints. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows the number of sexual harassment complaints received by secondary and primary schools in the territory in each of the past five years; among such complaints, of the number of those cases which were found substantiated, together with a breakdown by the punishments imposed on the harassers concerned;

(2) whether the EDB has required schools to report the details of sexual harassment complaints handled formally and those handled informally; if not, of the reasons for that; if so, the mechanism put in place by the EDB to monitor compliance with the requirement by schools and whether it will find out those sexual harassment complaints of a more serious nature and follow up such cases; and

(3) whether the EDB has formulated new policies and measures to enhance the awareness among teaching staff and students of sexual harassment in schools; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

     The Education Bureau (EDB) has been taking various measures, including issuing circulars and guidelines, providing learning and teaching materials, arranging training courses for principals and briefing sessions for staff members, to assist schools in creating a sexual-harassment-free working and learning environment.

Schools are responsible for ensuring that all individuals, including students and staff members, are able to study or work in a safe and sexually hostile-free environment. My reply to the various parts of the question raised by the Hon Holden Chow about sexual harassment in schools is as follows:

(1) and (2) Under the spirit of school-based management, the Education Ordinance has entrusted the School Management Committees/Incorporated Management Committees with the power and responsibility to manage schools, including handling complaints received by schools and reporting complaint cases to the EDB as necessary. Working with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), the EDB has provided schools with clear guidelines on proper handling of sexual harassment complaints in schools.

According to the EOC's Framework for Sexual Harassment Policies in Schools, schools should establish both informal and formal mechanisms for handling sexual harassment complaints by taking into account factors such as the nature and seriousness of the complaints, as well as the age, education level of and the distress suffered by the complainant after the incident for handling minor and single incidents and serious and repeated acts of sexual harassment respectively. When encountering any difficulties in handling suspected cases, schools could consult the EOC or other relevant authorities (such as the Police) for advice. If children are suspected of being sexually assaulted, schools have to consult the Family and Child Protective Services Units of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) or the Child Abuse Investigation Team of the Police so that appropriate procedures could be taken.

For cases suspected to involve criminal offence, schools should report them to the Police directly. Schools may also seek advice from respective District School Development Sections or inform the EDB of the cases. After receiving such enquiries or notices from schools, the EDB will approach the schools for details about the cases to ensure that appropriate follow-up actions have been taken.

All in all, if the case is of a minor nature, schools may handle it by themselves. If it is a more serious case, schools should refer it directly to the EOC, the SWD or the Police for proper follow-up without delay. The EDB does not require schools to report sexual harassment cases (including cases handled by formal and informal complaint handling mechanisms).

However, if the case involves inappropriate behaviour, serious misconduct, or suspected sexual abuse committed by teaching staff, schools must report and submit relevant information to the EDB for consideration of whether further action is to be taken, including reviewing their teacher registration status or issuing a warning letter.

     In the past five school years (i.e. 2012/13 to 2016/17 school years), primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong reported to the EDB 40 sexual harassment cases, of which 12 were not substantiated and 2 cases are under investigation or appeal. Among the 26 substantiated cases, 16 were committed by students and the cases were referred to the SWD or the Police for follow-up.

For some cases, the delinquent students were issued a caution by a Police Superintendent or sent to a detention centre. For less serious cases, other than being subject to appropriate disciplinary actions such as issue of warning letters, record of serious demerits or suspension of classes, the delinquent students were also provided with suitable counseling and guidance by the schools. As for the offending teachers of 10 substantiated cases, the teacher registration of 7 teachers was cancelled and the remaining 3 teachers were issued warning letters by the EDB.

(3) To raise teaching staff's and students' understanding of sexual harassment in schools, the EDB has implemented the following measures:

(i) The EDB has worked with the EOC to provide schools with guidelines on formulation of measures for elimination and prevention of sexual harassment and development of procedures for handling such complaints.

The EDB has also advised schools to take reasonably practicable steps, including developing a school policy in written form, to eliminate sexual harassment and raise teaching staff's and students' awareness and understanding of sexual harassment.

(ii) In respect of school curriculum, topics such as understanding the body, identifying inappropriate physical contact, how to say no and seek help are included in the personal growth education of primary schools. The EDB has also encouraged schools to organise sex-related preventive and developmental guidance activities for students at weekly assemblies or in class teacher lessons to teach students how to protect their bodies, say no when they feel offended and seek help when necessary. The EDB has advised schools to remind parents of the need to protect their children against sexual assaults at their parent education activities.

(iii) As regards learning and teaching resources, we have also commissioned other organisations to produce web-based learning and teaching resources on topics such as prevention of sexual abuse and sexual harassment.

For example, we have commissioned the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong to produce sex education animation resources and lesson plans, covering topics such as prevention of sexual abuse and sexual harassment among peers. The EDB has also commissioned/invited tertiary institutions, relevant government departments and organisations/bodies to co-organise related courses/seminars/workshops on a range of themes such as "How to Promote Sex Education Effectively in Primary/Secondary Schools" and "Gender Equality Education and Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Dating Violence".

(iv) In respect of professional development and training of teaching staff, the EDB has included knowledge and techniques of handling and preventing sexual harassment in various training programmes for school principals, middle managers and teachers to raise their alertness on sexual harassment. The EDB co-organises with the EOC thematic talks on policy for elimination of sexual harassment in schools from time to time.

Furthermore, to raise the awareness of teachers and school social workers of protecting students from sexual assaults or harassment, the EDB holds talks or seminars on early identification, intervention and support to student victims every year.



Published on: 2018-04-11

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