Academic journal article Hong Kong Journal of Psychiatry

Child Sexual Abuse in Hong Kong

Academic journal article Hong Kong Journal of Psychiatry

Child Sexual Abuse in Hong Kong

Article excerpt


Child sexual abuse in Hong Kong is a relatively neglected topic. Present article attempts to address 3 related issues--the definition, reporting and recognition. some of the hotly debated issues are reviewed. Recommendations are suggested to deal with the raised questions.


The apparent rarity of child sexual abuse in local territory is in marked contrast with those reported in the west. In the United Kingdom and United States, the annual incidence have been reported as 0.3 (Mrazek et al, 1983) to 0.7 (NCCAN, 1981) per 1,000 children. The prevalence rate is 12%-62% for females and 8%-31% for males (Baker & Duncan, 1985; Peters et al, 1986). These figures are mainly restricted to white Caucasian population. Across ethnic groups, the rate has been reported to be higher among Hispanics (Kercher & McShane, 1984), same among Afro-Americans (Wyatt & Peters, 1986) and lower among Asians and Jews (Russell, 1986).

Little can be said about the prevalence of child sexual abuse among Chinese. Most publications were limited to case studies (Kok, 1984; Li, 1987; Ho & Kwok, 1991; Lau, 1992). Some were retrospective recall in an adult population suffering from mental disturbances (Kok, 1984; Li, 1987). An earlier study by Law (1979) described 183 victims of children molesters over 10-years' period. However, the focus of the article was on the description of offenders. A search of local communities dealing with child abuse revealed only 134 sexual abuse cases in 4-years' time (Ho & Lieh-Mak, 1992). The small number of cases in a 1.26 million population under 15 (Census and Statistic Dept., 1990) is far lower than the western counterparts. However, the rarity of reported cases does not necessarily mean absence of the problem. Experience-in the United Kingdom and the United States in the past 15 years have well demonstrated that true prevalence is a function of public awareness and professional attention to the problem (Kercher & McShane, 1984; Finkelhor & Baron, 1986). This article attempts to explore the issue from 3 perspectives: cultural variation of the criteria of child sexual abuse. professional reporting and recognition.


Before tackling the issue of prevalence rate, the problem of what constitute a case have to be addressed. Another thorny issue will be the cultural variation in the definition of child sexual abuse.

Early studies did not specify or only give a global description of what constitute a sexual abuse. One of the frequently quoted definition is given by Schechter and Roberge (1976) and it referred to ".... the involvement of dependent, developmentally immature children and adolescents in sexual activities that they do not fully comprehend, are unable to give informed consent to, and that violate the social taboos of family roles." It leaves too many loopholes for subjective judgement. Recent work tends to operationalize the definition which consists of at least 2 components (Mrazek, 1980). Firstly, what behaviours constitute sexual abuse and, secondly the developmental level of the victim. Wyatt (1985) has demonstrated that by varying the four areas of definition, namely upper age limit for sexual abuse; criteria to define a given sexual experience as abusive; inclusion or exclusion of peer experience; use of different criteria for incidents occuring during adolescence, a 14% difference in prevalence rate was found.

Garbarino (1980) suggested the intention of the perpetrator should be considered in the definition. It would help in discriminating between acts performed for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator or for conveying feelings of affection. While it has a clear relevance in terms of management, in practice, it may be very difficult to judge. The perpetrator may not be willing or able to tell his or her intention. It could be a mixture of both. Neither do we have empirical data to support our inference from behaviour to intention. …

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