The Hong Kong protest movement held a rally on Wednesday dedicated to protesting alleged sexual assaults on pro-democracy demonstrators by police officers.
Organizers modeled the event after the #MeToo movement while participants came up with their own hashtag, #ProtestToo, and began writing it on their arms with lipstick.
The event drew thousands of black-clad participants to Hong Kong’s Charter Garden. Purple ribbons were chosen as another symbol of the protest, with many demonstrators shining purple flashlights or placing purple filters over cell phone lights.
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Reuters saw the #ProtestToo rally as an outgrowth of the Hong Kong movement’s allegations of excessive force against the police. A thorough and independent investigation of these allegations is one of the five core demands of the protesters.
According to the Hong Kong Free Press, the specific event that prompted the #ProtestToo event was a policewoman conducting an “unnecessary, gloveless naked body search” of a woman under arrest, at one point using a pen to “force her to spread her legs open.” Before that, a group of male police officers were accused of pulling up the dress of a female protester.
“In the name of law enforcement, police are using sexual violence as an instrument of intimidation. They intend to silence women through sexual shame and humiliation, violating women’s right to bodily autonomy, as well as every person’s right to lawful assembly,” charged Linda Wong of protest organizers WOCEO, the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition on Equal Opportunities, at the rally.
“The Coalition calls on all victim-survivors to step forward with courage, file complaints against police sexual violence and seek help. We shall not be intimidated by sexual violence into silence,” said Wong.
Nine different speakers described incidents of sexual violence by police at the rally, many of them involving strip searches.
Some rally attendees told the Hong Kong Free Press there have been instances of police sexual abuse directed at men as well, such as grabbing them by the crotch during street clashes.
“We don’t think this a necessary force. You shouldn’t treat them like this. It’s a violation of their human rights,” said one of the #ProtestToo demonstrators.
Hong Kong police officials defended the use of full-body searches as an important safety measure and insisted they are conducted under “strict guidelines.” A promise was made to investigate the incident that launched the #ProtestToo demonstration.
A police public relations official claimed on Tuesday the “rumors” of sexual assault against people in detention are “totally false,” and the department has not “received any formal reports or complaints.”