German Swiss International School (GSIS) has been accused of “victim blaming” by the mother of a 15-year-old female student following claims the girl was discouraged from reporting to police an alleged sexual assault by a schoolmate, who has since been arrested.
Police have confirmed the boy, 16, was arrested in October over an alleged indecent assault, following an investigation by the Wan Chai District Crime Squad. He was released on bail and must report back to police in December.
In a written reply to the Post, GSIS, on The Peak, categorically denied it had told the girl not to report the case to police, saying it had in fact asked whether the girl wanted to file a report.
The mother told the South China Morning Post a school staff member informed her that because the incidents happened outside Hong Kong under a different jurisdiction, it would be difficult for police to investigate even if the family decided to lodge a report. The mother said she felt the school employee was dissuading her from taking the matter to the police.
The SCMP has withheld some details of the trip to protect the identities of those concerned, as the police investigation is ongoing.
According to the family, one night during the trip, the boy asked to enter the girl’s room. He allegedly touched her inappropriately once inside the room, leaving the girl shocked and uncertain what she should do.
She talked to a friend the next day who told her to confront the boy so he would not do it again. The boy was said to have apologised.
But on another day during the same trip, the boy again asked to go into the girl’s room. He was let in, with the girl assuming they would just listen to music.
The boy, however, was said to have sexually assaulted the girl inside the room.
After returning to Hong Kong, the girl confronted the boy outside the school cafeteria and recorded the conversation. The boy was said to have admitted what he had done was wrong.
The mother said her daughter did not tell her or the school about the incidents until about two months later, when she talked with her about the #MeToo movement – a global online campaign that encouraged victims of sexual assault to speak up.
“I told her when I was younger, I was harassed and assaulted. But I never reported it,” the mother said. “I said it was your civic duty to report any wrongdoing because that person might repeat it and you have not helped the next victim.”
Her daughter then told a member of staff at the school about the incidents, and the school informed the mother.
The mother claimed the employee told her daughter the police did not have power to investigate, because the incident happened out of Hong Kong.
The mother also said the school at first did not want to talk to the boy until after exams – which would take place soon – so as not to ruin his results.
“I said, my daughter was sitting for the exams as well and she has been disrupted since … Now what? Keeping the damage to one person?” the mother said.
The school eventually talked to the boy before the exams ended.
In one email exchange between the mother and a senior member of staff at the school, which the SCMP has seen, the employee wrote: “We do not believe [the boy is] a predator. If you have any information to contradict this judgment, please let us know.
“We found there to be a somewhat different perspective on the events of the second evening. While this does not excuse or diminish [the boy’s] actions at all, there appears to have been mutual agreement for [the boy] to be in [the girl’s] room that night after the curfew.”
The school informed the girl’s parents it intended to suspend the boy for the rest of the academic year, even though the term was about to end.
Other measures adopted by the school include the decision to run a programme on sexual consent for all pupils in Year 12.
The mother, who was outraged with the decision, filed a report to police with her daughter.
“It’s insulting. It’s diminishing the crime and it’s diminishing my daughter. It’s not acknowledging the seriousness of the incidents. It certainly doesn’t encourage other students to come forward. It’s difficult to come forward and then be stonewalled and blamed,” the mother said.
She added of the school’s response to her: “I just expected a human response. Maybe I was expecting too much.”
The mother demanded the school set up a system under which sexual assault victims could feel safe to report their encounters. The school should also take sex education seriously, she added.
She said in an interview that she wanted the boy expelled from the school.
In a written reply to the SCMP, the school said staff whom the girl first talked to “did not at any time advise the pupil not to report the matter to police”.
“To the contrary, [the employee] asked the student whether she wished to report the matter to the police, and she discussed with the student the possible consequences if the matter was reported,” the school said.
“[The employee] also advised the student she should discuss the matter with her mother.”
The school insisted detailed planning was undertaken and at no time during the trip did any student complain to the accompanying teachers, who were “very experienced” in organising out-of-school trips for pupils of all ages.
Upon receiving the complaint from the girl, the school persuaded her to discuss the matter with her legal guardian because she was under 18.
“I would however like to assure you that the school takes the safety and well-being of its students very seriously,” the school added.
“This school trip was very carefully planned, full procedures were in place and followed, and all appropriate arrangements were made.”
A request to contact the boy through the school was declined for privacy reasons.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Top school accused of ‘victim blaming’ in alleged sex assault