Sexual violence: Need-to-know terms and definitions

We asked Rainlily, the city’s first crisis centre for survivors of sexual violence, to help us unpack commonly used terms and how they’re applied in Hong Kong.


When a person agrees to sexual activity without coercion. Communicated either verbally or through body language, consent can be given and withdrawn anytime. Those who are mentally incapacitated, or under the age of 16 can not give consent. Any sexual activity without consent is considered sexual violence. 

Sexual Violence

A violent sexual offence – whether via actions, language or attitude – with the intention to dominate, control and insult the victim. This includes rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Sexual violence is a type of ‘gender-based violence’ because it disproportionately affects women and girls. 

Sexual violence is not a legal term in Hong Kong. Rainlily uses sexual violence as an umbrella term to describe the following types of harmful acts:  

Sexual Harassment

An offensive act that’s sexual in nature and causes the victim to feel uncomfortable, humiliated, intimidated or disrespected. Sexual harassment can include unwelcomed advances, solicitation of sex, and other forms of physical or verbal harassment with sexual connotations. Sexual harassment is not a criminal offence in Hong Kong. Considered a civil offence, recourse is processed through either the Equal Opportunity Commission (within 12 months) or through civil litigation at District Court (within 24 months). 

Image-based Sexual Abuse

Any non-consensual creation or distribution of a person’s private sexual images, including ‘revenge porn’, upskirting, sexualised photoshopping, and sexual extortion. Image-based sexual abuse is currently not considered to be sexual harassment based on the Sex Discrimination Ordinance in Hong Kong.  


The act of taking a sexually intrusive photograph up someone’s skirt without their permission. At this time, Hong Kong does not have a specific law against upskirting and such conduct is not considered a sex crime, however, the perpetrator can be charged with loitering or disorderly conduct if it occurs a public place.

Sexual Assault

Unwanted sexual contact, sometimes excluding penetration. Sexual assault includes attempted rape and nonconensual kissing, groping or fondling. Female genital mutilation or cutting is also classified as sexual assault.  

Indecent Assault

Non-consensual sexual conduct ranging from unwanted groping to oral or anal penetration – neither of which are considered rape in Hong Kong. The maximum sentence for indecent assault is 10 years’ imprisonment.


Non-consensual penetration of a woman’s vagina with a penis. In Hong Kong, only women can legally be victims of rape. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

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