I did it to protect students, says Malaysian sexually harassed at HK varsity

Woman hopes university will be serious in taking steps to prevent students being harassed by staff or tutors. (File pic)

PETALING JAYA: A Malaysian woman who recently alleged sexual harassment by her former dentistry tutor at the University of Hong Kong (UHK) today hoped her expose will protect other students from such predators.

In an interview with the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, the woman hoped the university will take action, as promised, to ensure the safety of students was not jeopardised.

She said the sexual harassment happened when she was studying at HKU between 2015 and last year.

After she exposed the harassment in a Facebook posting on May 5, HKU president Professor Zhang Xiang ordered his staff holding supervisory positions to “take all necessary steps to prevent discrimination and harassment” and said supervisors who fail to act would be held accountable.

The woman, who is now working in Malaysia, said she was disappointed when the married tutor, who was teaching part-time at Prince Philip Dental Hospital, was reemployed after she finished her studies.

“To let him back into the faculty after I have left, to jeopardise the safety of other female students, shows how lightly HKU has taken this matter,” she said.

She said the tutor had on many occasions touched her back, arm and shoulder despite her brushing his hands away. He also leered at her chest.

“I felt helpless and powerless. I couldn’t sleep, had no appetite and cried myself to sleep.”

She said when she first approached her course director in February 2017 to make a complaint he giggled and said he wouldn’t classify the tutor’s behaviour as harassment.

After the Malaysian woman’s allegations surfaced on Facebook, a Hong Kong woman told the newspaper last week that a sexual harassment complaint she made against a faculty supervisor at HKU had met with “multiple obstructions”.

By her account, the entire process took more than a year and the case was passed from the Equal Opportunity Unit to Human Resources, where the staff member processing the case said it was “weak” compared to other cases where girls had been “actually touched”.

The faculty supervisor has since hired lawyers to assist him during the university investigation, she said.

She said her suggestions to prevent such sexual harassment, like her supervisor keeping his office door open during private meetings with students, had been ignored.

She said the university clearly acknowledged inappropriate behaviour by her supervisor, “yet they were perfectly willing to allow him to continue supervising other students at HKU”.

Both women felt HKU was forcing students to keep silent about being victimised.

The newspaper said in January, Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission published a survey that found almost one in four university students in the city had been sexually harassed. Despite this, fewer than 3% had filed a complaint.

The Hong Kong complainant said university education should have more “good memories than bad”.

“Sweeping problems under the rug until the voices of victims die down is not the action of a respectable institute, but acknowledging shortcomings and taking measures to improve is.”

Locally, latest statistics on sexual harassment are hard to come by. A 2011 study on sexual harassment conducted by Universiti Sains Malaysia concluded that its prevalence within the university was high, with 75% of undergraduates there having been subjected to some form of sexual harassment, a recent news report claimed.

Another study in 2013 revealed that 14.2% of undergraduates at a public university in the east coast had experienced some form of sexual harassment, it added.