Hong Kong protesters have adopted the anti-sexual harassment rallying cry of the #MeToo movement after allegations emerged of police misconduct during a strip-search of a female arrestee.
Thousands wearing all-black poured into Chater Garden in Central on Wednesday under the slogan “stop Hong Kong police’s use of sexual violence.” Attendees scrawled “#ProtestToo” on their forearms using lipstick, as others handed out purple ribbons.
By 8.30pm, the venue was packed, with some scaling the park’s undercover shelters to overlook the sea of purple lights, as protesters covered their phone lights with gel filters.
Wednesday’s rally was sparked by allegations that a female police officer conducted an unnecessary, glove-less naked body search of an arrested woman, and used a pen to force her to spread her legs open. The incident was labelled as a “MeToo” case by organisers of a press conference last Friday.
Senior Superintendent (Operations) of Kowloon East Suzette Foo defended the use of full-body searches last Friday saying that it was a necessary measure and that officers must adhere to strict guidelines when carrying out such searches. She added that the force would follow up on the report seriously.
The allegation came weeks after several male police officers were criticised for exposing the crotch of a female protester in Tin Shui Wai by holding her limbs and causing her dress to ride up.
The women involved in the two incidents both appeared on-stage wearing masks at the rally.
Organisers, the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition on Equal Opportunities (WOCEO), received a letter of no objection to the rally from the police on Tuesday.
Linda Wong, spokesperson for the WOCEO, said in a statement that the force must hold the responsible officers to account.
“In the name of law enforcement, police are using sexual violence as an instrument of intimidation,” she said. “They intend to silence women through sexual shame and humiliation, violating women’s right to bodily autonomy, as well as every person’s right to lawful assembly.”
“The Coalition calls on all victim-survivors to step forward with courage, file complaints against police sexual violence and seek help,” she continued. “We shall not be intimidated by sexual violence into silence.”
A one-minute silence was held at the beginning of the rally to honour those affected by sexual misconduct.
Jeff Lin, a 22-year-old museum worker, told HKFP that the allegations of police sexual misconduct have struck a chord with the public owing to recent criticism of officers misusing their power during protests.
“We have seen a lot of very explicit images of physical police brutality before on the news, so they are more visible to us,” Lin said. “But for sexual violence — the image is less explicit and graphic, so I think it’s important to have a demonstration to draw people’s attention to it and to give a kind of support to those victims who face sexual violence.”
Two 20-year-old students, who gave their names as Ms Chan and Ms Ho, told HKFP that Wednesday’s rally was focused on instances of sexual misconduct towards both men and women: “Some officers use a forcefully grab male protesters by the crotch,” Ho said. “We don’t think this a necessary force. You shouldn’t treat them like this. It’s a violation of their human rights.”
“This is a combination of both men and women. Anyone who is taken in by the police shouldn’t be sexually abused,” Chan added.
The #MeToo movement, which gained viral traction in 2017, sparked a global cultural reckoning against sexual harassment and assault. In Hong Kong, the campaign led to a number of high profile cases including accusations against a soccer coach who was eventually acquitted.
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