#MeToo has become #ProtestToo for Hong Kong women.
Hong Kong’s call for independence and women’s fight against sexual harassment came together on Aug. 28 when thousands took to the streets near the Central district's Chater Garden to call police officers out for alleged sexual assault and violence.
The rally’s organisers said that approximately 30,000 protesters attended the event but police say the number is closer to 11,500.
The #MeToo/#ProtestToo rally comes on the twelfth consecutive week of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. According to the South China Morning Post, protesters flashed purple lights to show solidarity with victims. “#ProtestToo” was written across some protesters' arms in red lipstick. Others wore all-black, adorned with purple ribbons.
“In the name of law enforcement, police are using sexual violence as an instrument of intimidation,” Linda Wong, organiser of the event and spokesperson for the Women’s Coalition of Equal Opportunities, said at the rally.
An emotional protester spoke at the rally and accused a police officer of strip-searching her when she was arrested during a protest earlier this month. She alleged that she had to take her clothes off at the order of police officials who weren't wearing gloves. During the speech, the woman, who chose not to be named, broke down in tears several times.
“I will show to the government that we are not afraid,” she said. “The more you suppress us, the stronger we stand.”
Eight other protesters shared accounts of sexual violence and assault. Some spoke about similar strip-searching incidents. Another recalled how a male officer allegedly called her a prostitute, as she was dragged away by police who exposed her crotch and underwear.
The Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women conducted a survey on Aug. 21 and found that 46 out of 221 respondents reported facing sexual violence during protests since June. Half of those 46 people said this was at the hands of the police or other law enforcement officials. The police have routinely denied the allegations.
“We have looked into the records and I must emphasize that such rumors are totally false. Also, we have not received any formal reports or complaints,” John Tse Chun-Chung, chief superintendent of the Hong Kong police’s public relations department, said in a statement on Aug. 27.
The #MeToo movement came to light in October 2017, with women across the world calling out perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault using the hashtag. Meanwhile, the string of pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong has been dubbed the “Summer of Protest” since things escalated in June. It started as strong opposition to an extradition treaty that would allow suspected criminals to be tried in mainland China but has expanded to a fight for independence.