The aftermath of rape: a case study
The story of one young woman’s nightmare ordeal is a common occurrence in a city that has no sufficient support system in place to help victims of rape and sexual violence. By Shirley Zhao
Jackie was raped on January 1 of this year. Her mother slapped her the following day – right after she had told her what had happened – because she was too drunk to say no. Jackie, who is in her early 20s, did not go to the police until four days later. That’s what she tells us as her shaking hand tries to steady a cup of coffee.
“I really believed that it was my fault,” she says. “But now, thinking back, nobody asks to be raped. No matter how many stupid decisions that you’ve made, you can’t say it’s your fault. Nobody asks for it.”
According to the Hong Kong Police Force, there were 91 cases of sexual violence reported last year and eight in January this year.
But, as is the case in cities all across the world, these are only ‘official’ statistics.
Tan Kong-sau, who is a social worker for Rainlily, which is the only non-government organisation in Hong Kong specifically helping victims of rape and sexual violence, tells Time Out that the organisation received around 200 such cases last year. The number of victims who did not reach out for help remains unknown – and probably far, far larger. “Not many victims choose to go to the police,” says Tan. “Some of them do not look for help immediately and some do not look for help at all. They often blame themselves or feel shameful about being sexually violated – but they are not the ones to blame.”
Sitting in a café, surrounded by soothing music and amiable background chatter, Jackie (not her real name) looks visibly uneasy.
When she talks with Time Out, she will often hide her anxiety with a nervous grin and, from time to time, she will lift her huge cup of black coffee to her lips with a cautious, trembling hand.
On the night of New Year’s Day, Jackie claims she was in a bar in Lan Kwai Fong drinking with a female friend while chatting with a bartender and the bar owner, who were ‘interesting and friendly’. The men were giving the young women free drinks. “Usually when a stranger approaches you and keeps buying you drinks, you kind of know he has some purpose,” says Jackie. “But it was New Year’s night and it was the bar owner, so we weren’t suspicious at that time.”
When her friend had to leave to meet somebody else, Jackie says she was ‘having such a good time chatting with the bar owner’ that she decided to stay. The owner continued offering her drinks, one after another, and soon she became too drunk to stand.
“That was when I realised I really had to get home,” says Jackie. “But the owner didn’t allow me to leave, saying ‘you’re in no state to go home’. I was starting to get worried.”
Jackie vaguely remembers two people escorting her into a taxi. “I distinctly remember that I told the taxi driver my address,” she tells Time Out. “Then I blacked out.”
When she became conscious again, Jackie found herself in a small motel room in Wan Chai.
“The next thing I remember is when he hurt me so much that I woke up and screamed. I said no to that and ran into the bathroom. Then I felt something wet. It was blood. I was bleeding. And I remember him laughing. People ask me ‘why didn’t you run away, why didn’t you call anyone?’ but I was so shocked and disorientated that I didn’t know where I was and what was happening. I didn’t have the will to fight back. I just gave up on myself and I wanted it to be over with quickly.”
The next morning the bar owner bought her the morning-after pill, got her into a taxi and left. She didn’t think she had been raped until she was finally alone in the taxi.
“It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t just get drunk and was taken advantage of. It was against my will. I was appalled by that.”
Jackie went home, took a shower and had a brief sleep. When she woke up at dusk, she decided to knock on her mother’s door and tell her everything.
“She slapped me,” Jackie recalls bitterly. “She was really harsh. And my stepdad stood there, looked at me and said ‘Jackie I really don’t want to say this, but this is completely awful’. My brother, I thought, would come to my side and help me – but he just asked ‘why do you always put yourself in these situations?’ These are my closest family, and their first reactions were to say I was stupid to get drunk and fall into the trap – and I believed it.”
At around 10pm, Jackie went to the hospital, accompanied by her mother and her boss, who she says she trusted the most. They went first to the private St Paul’s Hospital and told a nurse about the situation, but she asked them to return in the morning, saying therewas no gynaecologist on call at the time. They then went to the public Eastern Hospital, which did not have a gynaecologist on call either, but they gave Jackie some preliminary examinations and referred her to the Rainlily centre.
The following morning, a social worker from Rainlily arranged a full set of examinations in the public United Christian Hospital. There the doctor gave her a second morning-after pill which, claims Jackie, the Eastern Hospital should have given her the night before.
Tan suggests rape victims contact social workers first, so they can help arrange everything for them. But if the victims prefer to go to hospital by themselves, it’s better they go to the emergency wards in public hospitals. “Even private hospitals will recommend the victims to go to public hospitals,” says Tan.
Lau Ping-fat, department operations manager of the emergency ward of Eastern Hospital, says public hospitals provide examinations for victims of sexual violence according to the guidelines provided by the Hospital Authority.
“Victims should look for help and get treated as soon as possible,” he says, “or it will be difficult to secure the evidence.”
The hospitals and social worker asked Jackie if she wished to report it to the police but she was not sure: “I was blaming myself, because my family said it was my fault,” she says. “Why would I go to the police if it was my fault?”
Two days after her examination in United Christian Hospital, Jackie went to Wan Chai to see the pastor of the Evangelical Community Church. “It would be very easy for the bar owner to prey on someone else, so I asked the pastor if another girl could get raped because I didn’t report it to the police,” says Jackie. “Would Jesus forgive me? He said Jesus had already forgiven me. But I didn’t just want to be forgiven. I wanted to do the right thing.”
From the pastor’s office, she went directly to the Wan Chai District Headquarters of the police.
“The first police officer I talked to was very harsh,” she claims. “She asked very detailed and personal questions in a rough way, as if I were lying. That really broke me, having to think so hard about all those disgusting details that I felt it hard to remember and didn’t want to remember.” Jackie says she was then transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department and went through the same harsh process.
From CID, she claims she was transferred to the District Crime Squad, and again went through the same process.
“I had to tell these awful things over and over again; by that time I was exhausted.” In the following days the DCS officers took statements from her, drove her to the scenes, from the bar to the motel to the drugstore where the bar owner bought her the pill, and gave her further forensic examinations, claims Jackie.
“I understand that they had to be tough to me, “ she admits. “They needed to know everything. But I was shattered.”
In early March, Jackie was eventually informed by the police that her case would be going to court later in the year, she tells Time Out.
If the bar owner pleads not guilty, she claims she will have to go to the hearings in public. “You know the local newspapers here,” she says. “They like to highlight how stupid this girl was, regardless of her vulnerability. I’m really afraid – but at the moment I can do nothing but wait.”
“Sexual violence victims often do not have enough support from people around them and in society, especially when alcohol is involved,” says Tan Kong-sau. “In Hong Kong, sexual matters are still a taboo. People don’t talk about them and the government doesn’t educate people on them. The result is that many of these victims dare not speak out and don’t know where to get help.”
“You have to listen to yourself more than you listen to others,” says Jackie. “Sometimes even your family is not on your side – but if you feel you have been sexually violated without giving consent, or you were not in the condition to give consent, you have to listen to your gut feelings.”
Rainlily Website: www.rainlily.rapecrisiscentre.org.hk
24-hour hotline: 2375 5322