She said she was so distressed she even thought about taking her own life.
Cases such as Hailey’s are why RainLily, Hong Kong’s first sexual violence crisis centre, plans to launch a project with Operation Santa Claus (OSC) funding to establish a network with law firms to provide legal consultation and representation to victims of sexual attacks, so that they can get the advice they need and make well-informed decisions.
“Legal Support Project” is one of 15 charitable projects organised by worthy causes being funded this year by OSC, an annual fundraising drive held by the South China Morning Post and public broadcaster RTHK.
RainLily, set up in 2000, provides a one-stop support service to victims of sexual abuse, including immediate and follow-up medical treatment, counselling and legal referrals.
The new project is expected to help 140 victims.
“We see many victims needing legal aid, but if they find a lawyer to help them, it’s very expensive and not everyone can afford it,” Rebecca Lam Wai-men, RainLily’s senior project officer, said.
“Even hiring a lawyer to write a letter costs money. If there’s funding to help them, women who are harmed won’t feel so pressured and will have the courage to seek help and not hide.”
Funding for the programme will help RainLily staff to provide resources for victims, including finding a lawyer who will work pro bono, and give gender and trauma sensitivity training to lawyers or law firms willing to help.
They will also offer counselling and emotional support to victims in their battles for justice and compensation.
The OSC funding would also pay for workshops to educate the public about the harm caused by sexual abuse, RainLily said.
Lam said statistics showed that one in seven women in Hong Kong had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, so it was important for companies, schools and the public to learn how to deal with the problem.
“The victims are around us,” Lam said. “No matter how big the NGOs are or how many lawyers agree to help, it’s impossible to serve all of the victims, and not all victims need legal support, so every bystander can help or harm a victim.”
She said many women who asked for help from RainLily said they had first discussed their problem with a teacher or boss, but had suffered a “second trauma” instead of getting support.
“These people would challenge them, such as by asking if they were not wearing enough clothes,” Lam explained. “That brings more hurt to our clients.”
Hailey quit her job after she got help from RainLily, which found her a lawyer to file a complaint.
Her attacker later paid his share of the compensation, but she is still waiting for the company to shoulder its responsibility.
“I feel more relaxed now, but when I see news reports about sexual harassment, I still need to take a deep breath and I still have to take sleeping pills every night,” Hailey said. “If the NGO didn’t help me, I wouldn’t be here.”
Hailey also had advice for other victims and told them to hold their heads high.
“It’s not your fault,” she said. “The one who is wrong is not you; it’s the abuser.”
She added employers and bystanders should also be sensitive to the trauma endured by sex assault victims.
“Don’t pour salt on other’s wounds,” Hailey said. “Don’t keep asking what happened over and over again.
“Create a safe environment for victims by separating them from the perpetrator, temporarily suspending or transferring the perpetrator to another department.
“Don’t let the victim face the perpetrator every day.”
RainLily deals with more than 2,000 inquiries or requests for help every year and assists more than 300 victims of rape, sexual assault or harassment.
The charity said it had seen an increase in women seeking help after it was alleged a few months ago that female university students had been the victim of sex offences at campus orientations.
“It’s hard to say whether more cases are being reported due to an increase in sexual abuse or if it’s due to delayed reporting,” Lam said. “Perhaps these cases have existed in the past, but the victims didn’t speak out until now.”
But she added many women did not speak out and continued to stay in abusive situations.
OSC has raised HK$369 million since 1988 to support the Hong Kong community through 338 charitable projects.
*Name changed to protect interviewee’s identity