Allegations of sexual assault trigger online debate in China
A series of posts by victims, including journalists and non-governmental sector workers, have detailed how they were sexually assaulted by peers in China.world Updated: Jul 30, 2018 08:10 IST
Allegations of sexual abuse against more than 20 journalists and academics this past week have taken China’s online world by storm, with many of the accusations made via open letters circulated on social media platforms.
A series of posts by victims, including journalists and non-governmental sector workers, have detailed how they were sexually assaulted by peers, in some cases following official gatherings.
In many cases, bosses and co-workers were involved. The victims say friends and family discouraged them from going public. Then they took to social media, taking China’s online world by storm.
“The accusations have stoked heated online debate about sexual misconduct and what constitutes consensual sex or rape. On Friday, ‘sexual assault evidence collection’ was the second-ranked topic on popular social media platform Sina Weibo (China’s version of Twitter),” reported state-controlled Beijing Times.
“The most prominent sexual assault allegation this week came from a young legal worker who goes by the pseudonym Little Spirit. The 27-year-old said Zhang Wen — a veteran journalist and online political commentator in China — had raped her after a banquet in May, an allegation that prompted six other women to accuse him of sexual harassment and groping,” the report said.
Zhang denied the allegation earlier this week, saying that the sex was consensual.
“Men in sports have also been implicated in the accusations this week. On Friday, a 17-year old high school student in the eastern city of Ningbo said online that she had been sexually assaulted by two badminton coaches,” the report said.
In China, the hashtag #MeToo — the symbol for the worldwide movement against sexual assault by those wielding power and position — has appeared on searches some 77 million times. However, a majority of those posts aren’t viewable, said a state media report, possibly because of online censorship.
Besides being censored, allegations of assault were often swept under the carpet as the cases involved well-known personalities, reports said. That attitude could be showing reluctant signs of change, especially among urban women in China.
The catalyst for a Chinese #MeToo-style movement came in December last year when a US-based Chinese software engineer published a blog post accusing a professor at a Beijing university of sexual harassment. The movement then took root in China’s universities where students circulated letters, sharing their experiences of sexual assault by professors.
Under public pressure, universities too promised to look into the cases; professors were suspended and police investigations launched.
It remains to be seen how effective the movement will be in a country where civil society is tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party of China.