FAQ on Sexual Harassment
What is sexual harassment?
There are two types of sexual harassment as defined under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance. The first type is person-to-person sexual harassment: A makes an unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature to B, in circumstances where a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that B would be offended, humiliated or intimidated. Examples include inappropriate touching, sending offensive pornographic images or text messages over social media, and making unwelcome sexual advances.
The second type is a sexually hostile or intimidating environment: X, alone or together with other persons, engages in conduct of a sexual nature which creates a sexually hostile or intimidating environment for Y. Examples include: a. having sexually suggestive slogans during orientation, making some students feel humiliated; b. telling sex jokes publicly in a hall/college, making some students feel offended; c. using sexually suggestive cartoons to teach a subject that is not related to sex, making some students feel uneasy; d. pornographic posters in the office, making other colleagues feel offended.
What is not sexual harassment?
A conduct is not sexual harassment if it is not of sexual nature, or not unwelcome. For example, a professor commented a student as "stupid!" in front of a class when the latter answered a simple question wrongly. This conduct is unwelcome but is not of sexual nature. Another example is that a male student kisses a female classmate sexually. This is a conduct of sexual nature. Nevertheless, if the female student welcomes this conduct because he is her boyfriend, it is not sexual harassment.
Is sexual harassment against the law?
Yes, the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, Chapter 480 of the Laws of Hong Kong, provides that sexual harassment is unlawful.
Given sexual harassment is about unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, and “unwelcome” is a subjective feeling, who is to decide whether a conduct is sexual harassment?
In addition to the subjective test, there is an objective test in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would decide whether it would have been anticipated that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.
Is it possible for a person to be sexually harassed by someone of his/her own gender?
Yes. Sexual harassment may occur regardless of the gender of the parties.
Is it possible to commit sexual harassment unintentionally?
Yes, because the intention of the alleged harasser is irrelevant when considering whether the behaviour amounts to sexual harassment. Having no intention to harass is not a defence in sexual harassment cases. For example, a student has mistakenly sent his classmate an offensive pornographic email.
Is it true that some sexual harassment cases constitute criminal offences?
Yes. Some sexual harassment cases are also criminal offences, such as indecent assault and rape. The victim can report such cases to the police.
Who has the right to lodge a complaint?
Any current student or staff of the University may lodge a complaint against any other current student or staff of the University under the Procedures for Handling Discrimination/Harassment Complaints. Complaints made by or against any other workplace participant (such as a contractor, an intern, or a volunteer), as defined under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, may be handled by the University under the “Whistle-blowing” Procedures, where applicable.
Any person may also lodge a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission of Hong Kong, or take civil action in the District Court; and in potential criminal cases, make a report to the police.
How can one lodge a complaint?
Students and staff may refer to the University’s Procedures for Handling Discrimination/Harassment Complaints for details. They can contact the Equal Opportunity Unit to lodge a complaint.
Besides, if anyone would like to lodge a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) of Hong Kong, he or she can refer to the procedures on the EOC website.
If the aggrieved person did not tell the harasser that the behaviour was unwelcome at all, can the former complain afterwards?
Yes. A complaint of sexual harassment can be lodged even if the aggrieved person did not inform the harasser that the behaviour was unwelcome. However, raising objection explicitly is a strong evidence to show that the conduct is unwelcome.
Is there a time limit for lodging a complaint?
No time limit is imposed for lodging a sexual harassment complaint with the University. However, the complainant is recommended to take action as soon as possible.
There is a time bar for lodging a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) of Hong Kong or taking legal action. A complaint to the EOC should be made within 12 months of the incident, whereas legal proceedings should be initiated within 24 months of the incident.
Can the complaint be lodged if sexual harassment takes place outside the University campus?
Yes, it does not matter where the alleged behaviour has taken place so long as it is associated with the respondent’s capacity at the University. For example, a staff member sexually harasses a student or colleague in a karaoke restaurant. The aggrieved person may still lodge a complaint afterwards.
Can a senior staff member make a complaint of sexual harassment against a staff member in a junior position?
Yes. A sexual harassment complaint may be lodged by a staff member against another staff regardless of the rank of the parties concerned, or against a student.
Will the University keep the information provided by the complainant confidential?
Yes, the University will keep all information and documents of a complaint in strict confidence according to applicable laws on the protection of personal information. Information will only be disclosed to relevant parties on a need-to-know basis.
Are complainants and witnesses in a sexual harassment complaint protected from retaliation?
Yes, the University’s Equal Opportunity Policy prohibits victimisation discrimination against complainants and witnesses. Furthermore, retaliation, including dissemination of any information in a manner to pressure, or cause harm to the reputation of either party in a complaint, any witness, or any University staff or committee member involved in handling a case, is strictly prohibited and may result in legal and/or disciplinary action(s).