A Philippine domestic worker who was sexually abused by her Hong Kong employer is to take the territory’s police to court over their decision not to classify her as a victim of human trafficking, her lawyers said yesterday.
Advocates have long argued that Hong Kong’s 370,000 domestic workers — mostly poor women from the Philippines and Indonesia — are acutely vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, including sexual abuse, and have backed calls for a suite of dedicated anti-trafficking laws.
Authorities have rejected those demands, but face a legal challenge after a rare successful conviction of an employer sexually abusing a domestic helper.
The woman — referred to in legal documents as “CB” — was hired to work as a domestic helper for Brian Apthorp, a British permanent resident in his 80s.
She alleged that Apthorp routinely sexually assaulted her throughout her employment in 2018 and 2019.
Apthorp was yesterday convicted of two counts of indecent assault against CB, and is to be sentenced on July 15.
CB’s lawyers said that she felt let down by the response from police and prosecutors, particularly their decision to try Apthorp in the Magistrate’s Court, which deals with the least serious offenses and where prison sentences are capped at shorter lengths.
They have launched a judicial review against the commissioner of police and the secretary for justice over their handling of the case.
News of the potentially landmark legal challenge came the same day Hong Kong’s government hit out at a decision by the US to keep it on a human trafficking watch list.
Each year the US Department of State assesses countries for whether they are adequately tackling human trafficking.
In its latest report, US officials said that Hong Kong was still not doing enough to identify trafficking victims and prosecute abusers, keeping it on its “tier two watch list,” ranking alongside countries such as Belarus, Liberia and Thailand.
“The absence of laws criminalizing all forms of trafficking impeded officials’ ability to investigate and charge suspected traffickers,” the report’s authors wrote.
In a legal briefing, CB’s lawyers said they plan to argue that Hong Kong needs “bespoke legislation” to counter forced labor.
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