In Hong Kong: Living Through Protests as a Woman
Updated: Jan 5
Trigger Warning: This piece contains material about
Written by: Denise Lee
Edited by: Anna Mohan
In the summer of 2019, the city of Hong Kong was rocked by violent protests that shook the city for over 9 months. Many of Hong Kong’s youth were enraged at the possibility of the Extradition Bill (source) being passed, which could lead to possible extraditions to Mainland China, where there has been a long history of unfair trials. There did not seem to be an end in sight for Hong Kong’s protests, until 2020, the combination of a sweeping pandemic and the passing of Article 23 put an abrupt stop to any possibility of physical protests - causing supporters of the movement to use subtler means to subvert oppression.
One significant issue that arose from the months-long protests that transpired, was the multiple cases of excessive police brutality which caused a huge uproar from the Hong Kong public. Notable cases of these include a reporter who permanently lost vision in one eye after being shot by a bean bag round, excessive use of tear gas bombs in underground train stations, and the sieges at university campuses where videos showed harrowing shots of police capturing students.
Women in particular experienced unique forms of violence. Over the course of ongoing protests allegations of sexual violence and sexual assault against members of the police force by women began to emerge. As the number of allegations came forward, more videos documenting police behaviour spread throughout social media that highlighted the disturbing behaviour of members of the police force; it became apparent, the additional risk that came with going to protests as a woman. There were several rape allegation cases, including accusations of inappropriate strip-searches conducted by female officers, sexual violence against women and young girls, and mistreatment and assault as being rife in prisons.
As these cases gained traction and attention from media coverage; these also coincided with the rise in awareness for the #metoo movement that started in the US. Awareness about the threat of potential sexual violence against a woman who chose to participate in protests grew in Hong Kong; online discourse by yellow supporters (yellow supporters are those in favour of the protest, and blue supporters are those in favour of the police) started to reflect this awareness, where people would comment strategies on social media that both male and female protestors should try to implement to lessen these risks of women being. Comments would instruct men who were attending protests to be aware of the women around them and asking the men to surround the perimeter of protests so women could stay in the centre, decreasing their chances of being arrested.
Aside from discussions of tactical strategies that could be implemented in larger group protests, a small #metoo sit-in protest was also organised in response to the sexual violence being perpetrated by members of the police force. However, although female protestors made up the majority of those who were victims of sexual violence by the HKPF, allegations of sexual assault or sexual violence were not only directed at male police officers, as reflected in one of the notable cases above. This reflects the nuanced dynamic between intersections of identity, whereby rather than only considering the factor of gender, being in a position of power and authority, whilst under the cover of anonymity (police officers seen without their numbers on their uniform on most occasions) meant that accountability and justice would be nothing short of a miracle.
1st comment: “Corrupt cops = monsters? If you have thought of living the life of a monster, don’t involve others as well.”
2nd comment: “Thank you (female) comrade, I will never forgive the HK police nor this bunch of politicians”
3rd comment: “All of the payback/karma will happen on these cops sons and daughters they’re all dead”
4th comment: “Heartache”
5th comment: “ *Slur*...How to forgive”
6th comment: “These dogs don’t even have basic humanity, this should already be considered illegal, there must be an independent investigation into every single corrupt cop case”
As familiar as we all are to double standards, it is still jarring whenever we see them play out in front of you. One such example pertained to how the female protestors were portrayed in contrast to how female police officers were treated by people who identified as yellow (i.e. anti-ELAB, pro-democracy, anti-establishment etc.). The tragic, upsetting stories of the women who came forward with their allegations of sexual assault were used to further the ACAB, anti-ELAB narrative on social media, highlighting the sacrifice and the pain that these women suffered through to express a desire for democracy; meanwhile, comments berating and sexually degrading female police officers were seen across local platforms such as LIHK, and on more globally used platforms such as Instagram.
The fact of the matter is, these protests have been heavily polarised, to the extent that any discussion of violence against women could be criticised as favouring one side over the other, or: worse, utilised, politicised and weaponised. Blanketing a protest with only one concern of either pro-police or pro-protesters is harmful to the need to curb gender-based violence, which calls for a need to actively spotlight all cases detached from the political teams, so to speak.
As we arrive closer to the end of the year, we have still not seen justice for the survivors of these cases of sexual violence, perpetrated by an institution that is supposed to protect and enforce the rule of law. There has been no acknowledgement from the Hong Kong Police Force, no progress of an independent investigation into the extreme instances of police brutality, no accountability from any front that would bring justice to the men and women who have suffered from this violence.