After playing tennis together, he and his wife drove her home, before forcing her to have sex while his wife guarded the door.
This is the allegation of sexual assault top Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai made against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli in a post on WeChat, a Twitter-like social media platform in China. His post was deleted by the platform within half an hour, but he has already broken the internet.
“I was very scared that afternoon, and I didn’t think it would happen. […] Why did you come back and bring me to your house and force me to have sex with you?” Peng said.
It was the first sexual assault allegation against one of the country’s top officials. Beijing has not responded to the incident, but has censored all content and discussion related to his accusations. Peng had not been seen or heard from for weeks after the allegation was made; eventually, she claimed in a video that she didn’t write that message, but the world didn’t believe the statement was made out of her own free will.
The Women’s Tennis Association has suspended all tournaments in China due to Peng’s allegations and concerns, while many Western countries have announced plans to boycott the country’s Winter Olympics. On Twitter, the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai emerged, with top tennis players including Naomi Osaka calling on China to let Peng speak.
It’s not just Peng
Peng’s scandal has only brought to light the plight of countless accusers and victims of harassment and sexual assault in a country that has tried to shut up and suppress every campaign they have launched.
Late last year, former TV station intern Zhou Xiaoxuan lost a high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit against popular TV host Zhu Jun, who allegedly groped and kissed her against her husband. thank you. Zhou demanded a public apology from Zhu and $7,600 in damages, but Zhu denied the allegations and even filed a defamation suit.
Zhou is widely considered the face of China’s #MeToo movement. She told media that she was attacked online, yelled at and harassed offline. Her WeChat account was also deleted soon after she spoke, but she gained local and international support.
Chinese crackdown on #Metoo
China’s fixation on political stability has led its authorities to root out the country’s burgeoning #MeToo movement, according to Ke Li, assistant professor in the political science department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (City University of New York). ).
“Social movements can unfold in ways that government officials find destabilizing, uncontrollable, subversive and even dangerous to the political status quo. [People’s Republic of China’s] fixated on political stability, it is no surprise that government officials are trying to eradicate the #Metoo movement from Chinese society,” Professor Li told FairPlanet.
Another high-profile case involves a former Alibaba employee who claimed she was raped by her manager while on a business trip. His accusations sparked a backlash against the tech giant, which fired the manager who admitted to committing “intimate acts” while the accuser was “intoxicated”.
The police investigation, however, indicated that “no one forced her to drink excessively”, according to the Chinese government spokesman. world times. Several months after the incident, Chinese prosecutors dropped the case and refused to prosecute the director, while Alibaba reversed course and fired the woman for spreading lies and damaging the company’s reputation. .
A survey by a local Chinese media found that 65% of workplace sexual harassers in the country are senior managers or directors and 45% are co-workers. Yet only less than half of respondents fought the incidents, and only one reported it to the police. Of the victims who expressed distress, one in five were forced to leave their workplace after reporting the attack.
A separate New York University Law School report analyzed more than 100 Chinese court decisions that found victims who sued “rarely won due to the heavy burden of proof. burden on plaintiffs and the requirement that the oral testimony of the victim must be corroborated by material evidence”. They often face retaliation from the employer or face a libel suit, the report adds.
Chinese law has been slow to protect victims of sexual assault, added Professor Li of John Jay College. While rape has been criminalized since 1979 in China, sexual harassment was banned in 2005, and it was only last year that the law finally defined the concept.
Article 1010 of the Civil Code now states that “the person who has been sexually harassed against his will by another person through spoken or written language, images, bodily or other acts, has the right to ask the perpetrator to declare themselves civilly liable in accordance with the law.
“Before 2020, victims of sexual harassment could hardly find a national law clearly defining the offense or effectively holding employers accountable for their failure to create a safe work environment,” Professor Li said. “Given the legal ambiguity on this issue, we can only imagine how difficult it can be for victims – many of whom are women – to speak out, to obtain formal redress or to obtain any form of righteousness.”
“We will continue to witness the relentless struggles of victims to have their voices heard and to realize their rights promised on the books.”
Key Chinese legislation has been debated to provide women with more safeguards against sexual harassment in the workplace, including prohibiting employers from asking job candidates about their plans for marriage or pregnancy or preventing them from doing both.
The proposal also defined sexual harassment as the subjection of women against their will to “verbal expressions with a sexual connotation, inappropriate or unnecessary bodily behavior, sexually explicit images or allusions to advantages in exchange for intimate relations or sexual relations “.
However, the legal system and Chinese society are hampering progress.
“There are deep-rooted structural issues inside and outside of Chinese courts that prevent victims from having their experiences recognized and redressed by authorities. Moreover, changing ordinary people’s perception of the issue will also take time,” Professor Li explained.
Although China boasts of having nearly one in four female judges, these judges have done little to help fight for more rights for women in trials, she added.
“Put more women on the bench will not be enough,” Professor Li said. , deviating from and even outright undermining women’s rights.”
“In my research, I focus primarily on judicial decision-making in divorce litigation. Unfortunately, I did not find female judges more sympathetic towards women than their male colleagues; nor could I find evidence that women judges do more to uphold women’s rights or gender equality,” she added.
The legal expert predicted that the struggles of victims of sexual harassment and assault in China could last for some time.
“For many years to come, we will continue to witness the uphill struggles of victims to have their voices heard and their promised rights on the books respected,” she said.
Image by Philippe Bourhis