Progressive Lawyers Group 法政匯思 joins dozens of individuals and organisations in an open letter calling for Hong Kong’s media to show more sensitivity when reporting on domestic violence.
By the Association Concerning the Legal Rights of Victims of Domestic Violence
A murder-suicide case shocked Hong Kong last week. Last Monday, a man allegedly killed his wife at a luxury apartment building in Yau Ma Tei before taking his own life. The police said the husband had moved out of their home on Friday after the wife discovered he had been cheating and demanded a divorce.
Domestic violence in the city remains one of Hong Kong’s most neglected problems and unfortunately, also its most hidden. Yet, the media coverage of the murder-suicide case highlights a critical lack of understanding about the issue. As the horrific news about the young couple, who were both civil servants, gripped the city, reports speculated that the act of violence was the inevitable consequence of the wife earning a higher salary than the husband.
The front-page story of Headline Daily on Tuesday, 5 September 2017, was titled: “Wife’s salary is more than double her husband’s. Wife in a higher position is a recipe for a tragedy.” News website HK01.com also linked the murder-suicide to the wife’s high salary. In a story published on 4 September, it quoted Szeto Hon-ming, a senior social worker, who said a wife shouldn’t “injure the pride” of the husband. He also advised wives who earned more than their husband not to use “terms that may undermine men’s self-esteem.”
Media ethics exact a higher standard of reporting than what is sadly on display from the headlines and stories which have emerged over the course of the week. The reports have irresponsibly showcased and perpetuated a sexist narrative which blames the victim.
Although the homicide rate in Hong Kong remains comparatively low given the size of our population, the number of domestic murder-suicides among homicides features prominently. This is no cause for comfort but rather, calls for targeted approaches for prevention by frontline personnel who need to understand that such incidents are often the breaking point in a relationship likely to have been peppered by escalating violence earlier on. The majority of the victims are women, and the perpetrators are usually their partners or former partners. Hong Kong — along with Japan — has the highest rate of female homicide victims in the world: women comprise 52.9 per cent of the total homicide victims in these two jurisdictions, followed by South Korea at 52.5 per cent.
Research shows that women are at a heightened risk of becoming victims of violence during periods of conflict in their relationship, particularly when they try to end their relationship. In a separate case also on Monday last week, a woman was raped by her estranged husband and his friend at her home in Sha Tin after she refused to reconcile with him.
Domestic homicide, murder-suicide cases and other forms of intimate partner violence don’t happen in a vacuum. Multiple incidents of abuse occur before a woman is killed or harmed and before such instances come fully to light. Leaving a relationship is the most dangerous time for domestic violence victims.
To lay blame on victims and labelling them as a “scorned wife” or “cold” for refusing to reconcile with a partner perpetuates patriarchy at the heart of which lies gender inequality and oppression. It is high time that Hong Kong acknowledges this reality as the root cause of violence against women.
The media have the responsibility to report stories about violence against women in a manner that is fair and facilitates the public’s proper understanding of the issue and educates them on the complexities of such occurrences. As Mary Barry, chief executive of Our Watch, an Australian non-profit, recently said: “There is a clear link between media reporting and community attitudes towards violence against women.”
Apart from journalists, we also call on those who work in the front line, from social workers to healthcare professionals to police, to have a deeper understanding about violence against women. This warrants regular, up-to-date training and development of skills to effectively handle complaints of violence and in particular, to offer follow-up services to prevent retaliation or escalation in the future. Sadly, these continue to be sorely lacking at this moment.
By Puja Kapai, convener of the Women’s Studies Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong; Yenni Kwok, journalist; Linda To, founder and adviser to HER Fund; and Shirley Kong, School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University, UK .
This joint letter has been signed by over 50 people and organisations
Primary signatories / 聲明發起人:
- Puja Kapai, convenor, Women’s Studies Research Centre, Hong Kong University
- Linda To Kit Lai, founder and adviser of HER Fund
- Shirley Sui-Ting Kong, School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University, UK
- Yenni Kwok, journalist
Signatories / 聯署:
- Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association /香港婦女勞工協會
- Azan Marwah, barrister at law
- Nu Tong Xue She /女同學社
- Women’s Studies Research Centre, Hong Kong University (HKU)
- Les Corner Empowerment Association /女角平權協作組
- Patricia Ho 何珮芝 , solicitor律師
- Daly & Associates / 帝理律師行
- Network for Women in Politics /婦女參政網絡
- GDotTV / G 點電視
- Sinking Mun Society /性經文社
- Elizabeth LaCouture, assistant professor of history, Hong Kong University
- Wong Shuk-wai
- Justice Centre Hong Kong
- Hong Kong Federation of Women’s Centres / 香港婦女中心協會
- Good Moaning
- Association of Women With Disabilities Hong Kong /香港女障協進會
- The Zubin Foundation
- Concerning CSSA and Low Income Alliance / 關注綜援低收入聯盟
- New Arrival Women League / 同根社
- Dirty Press HK
- The Association for the Advancement of Feminism / 新婦女協進會
- Yuen Sharon Kit Kee, Student, HKU LLBI
- Wong Shuk-wai, international NGO practitioner and qualified teacher
- Asian Human Rights Commission
- Amila Sampath, Asian Human Rights Commission
- Janice Chan Wai-sze, Rainlily
- We Stand Project, Rainlily
- Hong Kong Single Parents Association
- Shirley Hung Suet-lin, associate professor, Department of Social Work, Hong Kong Baptist University
- Ko Hillary, HeForShe Student Society, HKU
- Ma Ka Wai Kitty, HeForShe Student Society, HKU
- Tam Yuen Tung, HeForShe Student Society, HKU
- Lau Crystal, HeForShe Student Society, HKU
- Verma Rachaika, HeForShe Student Society, HKU
- Ng Qian Wen, HeForShe Student Society, HKU
- Lam Kristy, HeForShe Student Society, HKU
- Tang Christy Ho Ching, HeForShe Student Society, HKU
- Choi Heidy, HeForShe Student Society, HKU
- Aggarwal Tanya, HeForShe Student Society, HKU
- Kwan Hiu Lap, HeForShe Student Society, HKU
- Spanish Program, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, HKU
- Cynthia CA Tellez, Mission for Migrant Workers
- Jonathan Man, solicitor, Ho Tse Wai & Partners
- Progressive Lawyers Group / 法政匯思
- Angela Ho, Hong Kong Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)
- Sandy Wong, Hong Kong Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)
- Garf Chan, Hong Kong Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)
- Sarah Wong, Hong Kong Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)
- Eva Ng, Hong Kong Single Parents Association
- Farzana Aslam, legal academic
- Lindsay Ernst, legal academic
- Committee for Gender Equality and Diversity, Faculty of Arts, HKU
- Yuen Chan, journalist
- Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung 張超雄, Legislative Council member
- Kay McArdle, PathFinders
- Institute for Women’s Empowerment
If you are experiencing negative feelings, please call: The Samaritans 2896 0000 (24-hour, multilingual), Suicide Prevention Centre 2382 0000 or the Social Welfare Department 2343 2255. The Hong Kong Society of Counselling and Psychology provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese: 6218 1084. See also: HKFP’s comprehensive guide to mental health services in Hong Kong.
If you are suffering from domestic violence, regardless of your age or gender, contact the police, Harmony House (click for details) and/or the Social Welfare Department on 28948896.
Article originally appeared in Hong Kong Free Press on 14 September 2017.