Hurdles too await in trials by social media

Central Station | 5 Dec 2017

So much has been said by so many about the "sexual assault" that star hurdler Vera Lui Lai-yiu says she suffered at the hands of a former coach about 10 years ago, when she was in her early teens.

Much praise has also been heaped on the now 23-year-old Lui for the courage she's shown since breaking her silence to speak out against the alleged culprit.

Sexual assault is the toughest crime for victims to face. In a conservative society, it's even a social taboo to talk about it publicly. I'm so glad Lui has been able to overcome the hurdle to speak up over something that has troubled her for a decade.

I'm also happy society has joined in a discussion that will certainly help to break down the wall of social taboo.

Those are probably the silver linings that can come from a situation everyone knows has existed in all communities throughout history, and it's time for us to bring about changes.

I'm confident Lui's decision to speak up, and the awareness campaign that has attracted so many signatures from her peers - including Olympic medalist Lee Wai-sze - will help yield the changes we'd like to see.

As the "Me Too" campaign snowballs, with Miss Hong Kong 2015 Louisa Mak Ming-sze the latest to speak up, the impact will be felt - not only on the track and field, but also at workplaces where it's not uncommon to hear complaints about sexual harassment perpetrated by supervisors and colleagues.

Those are the encouraging aspects that can be drawn from the current outrage. However, I'm worried too. As the debate continues snowballing, I can't help asking whether social media is the right platform to use when the accusations being made involve such serious and probably criminal offenses.

Since Lui chose to speak up, there have been no investigation or prosecution, and yet her former coach is already condemned - suspended from his job and having his family members devastated. The "punishment" is so real, never hypothetical.

What we've seen so far in the case is a public kangaroo court convened by netizens and followers of Lui's online posts. There's never been a proper trial in a court of law that would be expected of a civilized society.

One of the cornerstones of our justice system is the accused's right to be presumed innocent until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Sadly, this isn't being observed in the current case, where social media serves as the courtroom, while netizens act as both judge and jury, and the accused is not defended by a lawyer. That's a troubling scenario.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor revealed she has asked the police commissioner to follow up on Lui's accusation, and the hurdler herself has said she needs the space and time to consider whether she wants to report the case to police.

Lui shouldn't hesitate since a police investigation is the only avenue that's fair to her, the coach and his family.

This would also give society a chance to see the matter in the proper perspective on a proper platform.

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