BLOG – More Clueless Sexual Assault Comments, Now From HK’s Chief Prosecutor 4

N.B. This is not a satirical post. After Security Chief Lai Tung-Kwok aired his victim-blaming opinions on HK’s increasing rape figures last month, an even higher-ranking male official clearly fancied some time in the international spotlight…

Kevin Zervos

Kevin Zervos: Moron of the week, photo via SCMP

Australian lawyer and Director of Public Prosecutions at the HK Department of Justice, Kevin Zervos, reckons female victims of sexual assault ought extend more sympathy to their poor attackers:

“Men will actually respect women more if they see women showing compassion to them and realising they are better off without a conviction.”

Cool story, bro. Zervos shared more of his deep thoughts in an interview with SCMP’s Joanna Chiu, who asked him whether he believed HK judges were overly lenient with sex offenders:

“There’s this boy-girl thing in life… You have young men and women out there interacting socially. And when an incident happens and a man gets carried away… is it social misbehaviour or is it a crime?”

The SCMP took down the article after Zervos complained.

Kevin Zervos, Hong Kong

Hong Kong law on this matter is far from harsh. Usually fines or ‘bind overs’ are handed over to those found guilty of indecent assault. Victims are often pressured to settle for bind overs, which are ‘good behaviour’ orders allowing the original conviction to be later withdrawn. Fellow blogger, Tim Hamlett, revealed that Kevin Zervos had personally been in touch with a victim of a recent sexual assault to explain this convenient and convoluted ‘loophole’ to her. (Her attacker admitted his actions, kept his ESF teaching job and was fined HK$1000.)

Neither Lai “I would ask that young ladies not drink too much” Tung-Kwok nor Kevin Zervos had much to say about the perpetrators of rape, reports of which increased 60% to 35 incidents in the first quarter of 2013. Both could have sent a clear message to would-be rapists by condemning such acts, promising to hunt down such criminals or creating tougher penalties. Instead, their comments appear to lay blame on the victims and offer sympathy with attackers.

The Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women responded by stating that women are less likely to report sexual assault if they believe prosecutors will be lenient. Already, up to 90% of sexual assault cases go unreported according to the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition on Equal Opportunities.

Zervos’s Wikipedia entry has already been updated to ensure his support for lighter punishment for sex-offenders is remembered. He turns 60 this year and is due to step down from his current role in July or August. He will most likely become a high court judge.

Readers can drop Kev a line at [email protected] to share their thoughts.

See also: Time Out Magazine – Sexual Assault is Never OK and Security Chief Tells Women: ‘Reduce Drinking’ to Get Raped Less

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4 thoughts on “BLOG – More Clueless Sexual Assault Comments, Now From HK’s Chief Prosecutor

  • Kevin Zervos

    Concern for victims of sexual violence

    I note that you have discussed an article in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) published on 9 June 2013. This article unfortunately attributed to me certain comments which were inaccurate and out of context.

    The article came about as a result of a case involving a journalist from SCMP. She had attended a weekend sporting event in Hong Kong known as the Rugby Sevens. It has a carnival atmosphere and it is not uncommon for people to get dressed up and socialize. See the front page of the SCMP Sunday, 24 March 2013. The journalist had been hugged from behind by a young man dressed up as a lifeguard who was with a group of friends in similar dress. She complained to the police and the man was charged with indecent assault. After carefully considering all the circumstances of the cases and seeking the journalist’s confirmation that the man was not seeking sexual gratification by his act, we dealt with the case by the bind over procedure. In short, this required the young man to attend the Magistrate’s Court and admit his wrongdoing in open court. The next day the SCMP ran an article on the case with a photograph of the young man leaving court. A colleague and friend of the journalist of the SCMP then contacted me on her friend’s behalf and initially spoke to me about her case and it was in the context of this case that I discussed the matter with her.

    Before the journalist wrote the article, I also sent an e-mail to her explaining the case about her colleague and friend. She later wrote the article that was published which unfortunately did not reflect that it was in the context of this case. The relevant paragraphs of my e-mail to the journalist were as follows:

    “As to the case that we discussed, I was required to consider whether dealing with the case by way of an ONE/BO procedure. I had been supplied with background reports, character references and also copy of a letter of apology that this person had written to the victim. I then contacted the victim to seek her views and discuss the matter with her. I spent sometime explaining the case and the ONE/BO procedure and what it entailed. I was told that the victim would have not pursued the matter if she had received an apology at the time. The offender initially apologised but in an exchange with her, he swore at her and became disrespectful. This was first mentioned to me by her during the conversation, as it was not stated in any of the papers. I accepted that this had happened and I could understand the victim being upset in those circumstances. I then spoke with the lawyers representing this person to make further enquiries in order to confirm that he was both sincere and remorseful. I was satisfied that he was. I got back to the victim and informed her of my enquiries and I ascertained from her whether his hugging her from behind he was seeking sexual gratification. She told me he was not but nevertheless his behaviour was reprehensible. I explained that it would be appropriate to deal with the case by bind over in the hope that he would learn from this experience and given her attitude by accepting his apology he would respect women more as a consequence. I also provided her with a copy of a letter that I had written to the lawyers of the person stressing in clear terms that his behaviour was unacceptable.

    The letter in part stressed that the person’s conduct at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens clearly showed disrespect towards the victim and to women in general and that his conduct and attitude after the incident were highly inappropriate. I noted that when he was given the opportunity to apologize, he initially claimed remorse and then became disrespectful. I also noted that he had written a letter of apology which was remorseful and trusted it was sincere. I noted a telephone conversation with the person’s lawyer and that he reassured me that his client was genuinely remorseful and regretted his behaviour. I explained he had deeply offended the victim who was rightly to my mind less than impressed by his apology given his conduct on that day. However, I noted she understood the decision I had made and was keen to ensure that his client did not repeat his conduct and that in the future he would show respect towards women.”

    The published article did not convey any of this and the headlines that it invoked were completely untrue. As a result, the SCMP put in the follow correction in its paper on 13 June 2013:


    Following the publication of a front page story in the Sunday Morning Post of June 9, 2013, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kevin Zervos, has asked us to clarify that his view is that non-custodial bind-over orders should only be used in the rarest cases of the least serious indecent assaults where it is appropriate and according to the guideline. The South China Morning Post accepts Mr Zervos’ view that our headlines for both the print and online versions of the story as well as the earlier version of an online poll were misleading and we apologise for any distress caused.”

    Acknowledging that the “Correction and Clarification” did not fully address the problems caused by the article, the SCMP published my Letter to the Editor on 14 June 2013 which reads:

    “I refer to your article on 9 June 2013, “Mercy call for first-time sex offenders”. At no time was I urging compassion for sex offenders. Nor was I responding to complaints that the city’s prosecutors and judges were overly lenient with sex offenders. I was generally commenting on the use of the bind over procedure and was asked my comments about one specific case which involved a young female reporter who was hugged from behind by a man in costume at the Rugby Sevens. It appeared that the man was drunk. He later wrote a letter of apology to the woman. In that case, after anxious scrutiny, and having considered all the circumstances of the case, including the seriousness of the offence, the woman’s views and the man’s remorse, it was decided that he should be given a bind over. The woman fully understood the bind over procedure after it was explained to her. She was keen to ensure that the man did not repeat his conduct and showed respect towards women in the future. This was stressed in our letter to the man’s lawyers. My comments to the Post were made only in response to questions regarding why a bind over was considered appropriate in that particular case and cases of a minor type.

    Unfortunately, my comments were not put in the proper context. I did not and am not advocating compassion for first time sex offenders regardless of the offence and its severity. Last year, only 16 out of 646 indecent assault cases in the Magistrates’ Courts were dealt with by way of bind over. There are many sexual offence cases including the ones in the Magistrates’ Court where the penalty upon conviction was imprisonment. It is only in minor cases that a first time offender may be considered for a bind over. Offences such as rape, sexual violence cases, sexual offences on those aged under 16 are dealt with with the full force of the law. I am strongly committed to protecting victims of sexual offences, especially of sexual violence, and I have initiated a programme to address Human Exploitation cases.

    The bind over procedure itself is not a let-off. It constitutes an admonishment and record of the offender’s misconduct in open court. An offender undertakes to be of good behaviour and is liable to imprisonment for up to 6 months for breach of that undertaking. ”

    On 3 July 2013, after the publication of my letter to the editor and uploading the misleading article onto her own blog, I received an e-mail from the journalist who wrote the article entitled “I’m sorry”. She apologized and wrote that “I was shocked at what happened with the editing of my story while I was on leave”, and the editors were too busy with another story to sit down with her and do a post-mortem “of what had went so horribly wrong”.

    “We carefully looked back at what happened, and concluded that the elements of the story that you rightly criticized were introduced during the late stages of the sub-editing process”. She said that “Neither me [nor her supervisor or news editor] approved the largely problematic final version that ran in the paper. When the subeditor sent me his edits, I didn’t look at them during my friend’s wedding.”

    She went on to say “I take full responsibility for not monitoring the editing of my copy.” She said “The story that I had written was twice the length and did not include any of the problems in the final version”. She said that the version she wrote was approved by her supervisor and subeditor and she had been told “to make sure to avoid any editorializing slant, specifically telling me not to draw any correlation with the Security Secretary’s comments on rape. I thought the subeditor’s inclusion of that sentence in the story was inappropriate and completely misleading. It was mortifying to have my byline on it.”

    She admitted that she had been advised by her supervisor and news editor not to mention the indecent assault case of her colleague “as we recognize that would easily be construed as a conflict of interest.” “I admit to you that at first I was puzzled about my colleague’s case and wanted clarification from you. … and I may have come across as overly emotional to you during our first phone conversation when you encouraged me to debate with you. But after hearing your explanations and learning about the good work you’ve done I understood all your points.”

    She went on to say “I am very, very sorry about the harm the published story made to the public’s perception of your work. I hope that SCMP’s subsequent stories will correct any misunderstandings. My colleagues and I hold you in very high regard.”

    She concluded by saying “I would completely understand if you are now skeptical about my professionalism. That would be very rightly deserved.” and signed off by stating “My deepest apologies”.

    I trust this explains the matter. It has been of grave concern to me, not only for the inaccurate and misleading impression the article and the related headlines conveyed of me, but also for the impact it has had on the initiatives and work I have been doing in relation to victims of sexual violence. I have been at the forefront and a strong advocate for the introduction of appropriate measures and reforms to ensure the better treatment of victims of sexual violence and I have given numerous talks and prompted reforms on this issue over the years. For instance, in December 2011, I gave an address on the “Protection of Sexual Violence Victims” which was organized by RainLily, an organization here in Hong Kong concerned for victims of sexual violence. In 2012, I established the position within the Prosecution Service of Coordinator of Human Exploitation Cases with obvious focus on the trafficking of women for sexual services. At the same time, I also set up an advisory committee to deal with this issue. I have been very active in bringing about a change in mindset and attitude by the various sectors of the legal system with respect to victims of sexual violence and sex workers who themselves may be victims of trafficking and exploitation. This was seen in the seminar I organized in August 2013 on Victims of Sex Crimes.

    It has greatly disappointed me that something like this has happened and that it may have had an adverse impact on my work and initiatives on these issues. This work is too important to be frustrated by an article that was wrong.

    Kevin P. Zervos

  • Tom

    Thank you Mr Zervos. At the time, I intended to amend this
    blog post with your right-to-reply letter, but it was removed from
    …I also noted the original article was removed as well as any references to
    it on Wikipedia.

    Before your comment appeared today, I ought mention that I
    had already written/planned a blog post for next week which reproduces it in
    full ( However, a couple of points to clarify
    first, please:

    *I understand the matters of context, but in which way were
    the comments attributed to you ‘inaccurate’ or ‘untrue’. As your quotes bear
    speech marks.

    *Was the SCMP’s decision to remove both the original article
    and your letter from their website their own doing, or were they pressured to
    do so?

    *Was any legal action threatened against the journalist or
    SCMP? If so, on what grounds?

    *Is it common knowledge (i.e. reported) that the victim worked for the SCMP?

    I would be happy to amend the blog post I’ve lined up for
    next week with your side. But unless there are actual factual inaccuracies, I
    feel it’s important the article remains alongside it as planned. (The direct
    quotes were reblogged very widely on Tumblr, prompting a big response from
    feminist groups – and the article remains available, in full, elsewhere).

    If you could respond to these points above, I will avoid
    being as ‘tabloid’ about it and shall clarify things as fairly as possible.

    Thanks, Tom.

  • Tom Grundy

    In a comment here, Zervos – who is now a judge – employed jigsaw identification to help reveal who the victim was. I have hidden the comment.