China’s sex­ual ha­rass­ment laws re­main vague and un­en­forced

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Chen Shasha

Awoman in Shang­hai had her breasts groped by an ex­press de­liv­ery­man while re­ceiv­ing a pack­age at her home back in May. The man ex­cused his be­hav­ior by say­ing that he did it sim­ply be­cause he was lonely but blamed her for wear­ing sexy clothes when an­swer­ing her door. The de­liv­ery­man’s com­pany claimed that they dis­missed him but re­fused to is­sue any of­fi­cial apol­ogy for the in­ci­dent. The wo­man then pub­lished her ex­pe­ri­ence on a gen­der-based vi­o­lence so­cial me­dia plat­form, which at­tracted waves of dis­cus­sions about the state of sex­ual ha­rass­ment laws in China.

Some Chi­nese ne­ti­zens con­tend that the de­liv­ery­man should have been ar­rested for sex­ual as­sault. Oth­ers bluntly agreed with him that the vic­tim was to blame for mis­lead­ing him with her re­veal­ing at­tire.

In­ci­dents of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault oc­cur across China ev­ery day, but only a hand­ful are re­ported to the au­thor­i­ties and even fewer are ever re­solved to the sat­is­fac­tion of the vic­tim.

Not all vic­tims are brave enough to de­fend them­selves or speak out af­ter­ward. The rea­sons, in terms of cul­tural val­ues, so­cial mores and governmental leg­is­la­tion, are com­pli­cated in China.

Ac­cord­ing to A Re­port on Sex­ual Ha­rass­ment on Chi­nese Col­lege Cam­pus re­leased by Guangzhou Gen­der and Sex­u­al­ity Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter ear­lier this year, al­most 70 per­cent of re­spon­dents had ex­pe­ri­enced a form of sex­ual vi­o­lence or ha­rass­ment.

About 50 per­cent of them also said that they have no idea how to han­dle such in­ci­dents, while 90 per­cent agreed that China needs more and bet­ter sex­ual ha­rass­ment preven­tion ed­u­ca­tion.

In China, there is no clear le­gal def­i­ni­tion of what con­sti­tutes sex­ual ha­rass­ment. Ac­cord­ing to Hong Dong­fan, a Shang­hai-based lawyer with Al­lBright Law Of­fices, the first and only time that the con­cept of sex­ual ha­rass­ment ap­peared in Chi­nese law was in 2005 when the Law on the Pro­tec­tion of Rights and In­ter­ests of Women was amended.

The law “for­bids” sex­ual ha­rass­ment of fe­males and en­cour­age women to com­plain about such be­hav­ior to com­pa­nies and re­lated de­part­ments. “But due to the ab­sence of suf­fi­cient leg­is­la­tion, the judg­ment on such cases is usu­ally made by law en­force­ment or ju­ris­dic­tional au­thor­i­ties based on com­pre­hen­sive sit­u­a­tions,” said Hong.

No laws in place

Ac­cord­ing to Peng Xiao­hui, a sex­ol­o­gist and pro­fes­sor at Cen­tral China Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity, the orig­i­nal con­cept of sex­ual ha­rass­ment was a fem­i­nist claim to fight against dis­crim­i­na­tion of women when it was first pro­posed in the United States last cen­tury.

In the US, the Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion de­fines sex­ual ha­rass­ment as “un­law­ful to ha­rass a per­son (an ap­pli­cant or em­ployee) be­cause of that per­son’s sex. Ha­rass­ment can in­clude un­wel­come sex­ual ad­vances, re­quests for sex­ual fa­vors and other ver­bal or phys­i­cal ha­rass­ment of a sex­ual na­ture.”

Peng ex­plained to the Global Times that there are im­por­tant el­e­ments in Amer­i­can leg­is­la­tion re­gard­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment, which aims to pro­tect “weak groups” from be­ing sex­u­ally ex­ploited.

Firstly, when oc­cur­ring in a com­pany or school, the per­pe­tra­tor is prob­a­bly in a su­pe­rior po­si­tion over the vic­tim or in­tends to ob­tain some in­flu­ence in power or author­ity.

Se­condly, the per­pe­tra­tor and vic­tim can be any gen­der. A fe­male su­pe­rior, for ex­am­ple, could just as eas­ily per­form ha­rass­ment against a male. Also, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion is not con­sid­ered, which means the per­pe­tra­tor does not have to be of the op­po­site sex.

Peng said that these el­e­ments are now widely ac­cepted by the Chi­nese sex­ol­ogy field be­cause sex­ual ha­rass­ment, as a com­pli­cated con­cept, can­not be ex­plained or de­fined in one sim­ple sen­tence.

But Peng con­sid­ers sex­ual ha­rass­ment in pub­lic spa­ces such as grop­ing on the sub­way as an­other form of sex­ual vi­o­lence which is more se­ri­ous than the sex­ual ha­rass­ment men­tioned above.

Such ob­scure recog­ni­tion of the term has deep cul­tural roots in China. “Some­thing im­por­tant is re­moved dur­ing the com­bi­na­tion of the Amer­i­can con­cept and lo­cal cul­ture,” Peng said. “Cur­rently, fight­ing against sex­ual ha­rass­ment has de­vel­oped into fight­ing against sex.”

Love life

Peng said that China has a long his­tory of re­strain­ing sex­ual ex­pres­sion, with sex gen­er­ally pro­hib­ited from be­ing dis­cussed in pub­lic. For ex­am­ple, sex ed­u­ca­tion is of­ten con­sid­ered taboo by Chi­nese par­ents and schools, lead­ing so­ci­ety to per­ceive sex as some­thing dirty, evil or shame­ful.

In March, a mother of a pri­mary-school-age stu­dent com­plained on her Sina Weibo that a sex­ual health ed­u­ca­tion book that her child’s school is­sued showed pic­tures of re­pro­duc­tive or­gans. She thought her child was far too young to learn about such sub­ject mat­ter.

The com­plaint in­cited heated on­line de­bates, among which some agreed with the mother while oth­ers ac­cused her of be­ing too con­ser­va­tive. The school fi­nally de­cided to pull the text book fol­low­ing an outcry from other con­cerned par­ents.

In fact, the book, ti­tled Love Life, pub­lished in 2011, was com­piled from ma­te­rial is­sued by the In­ter­na­tional Tech­ni­cal Guid­ance on Sex­u­al­ity Ed­u­ca­tion im­ple­mented by United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2010. It was writ­ten specif­i­cally for chil­dren aged 7 to 10 years old.

Huang Lili, di­rec­tor of a Bei­jing-based sex ed­u­ca­tion study as­so­ci­a­tion, said in a March re­port by the Bei­jing News that, ac­cord­ing to the UN guid­ance, ed­u­ca­tion on re­pro­duc­tive health should be com­pleted be­fore graduation from pri­mary school. She also con­tends that sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion in China comes far later than that in other coun­tries.

Peng said that Love Life was the re­sult of a decade­long ef­fort by sex-ed ex­perts. But he re­mains op­ti­mistic that the con­tro­versy and pub­lic de­bate will in fact raise more aware­ness about the is­sue and hope­fully com­pel Chi­nese par­ents and schools to re­al­ize how im­por­tant it is.

Mas­cu­line dig­nity

Mean­while, Peng be­lieves that peo­ple who look down upon women who were sex­u­ally as­saulted or raped are per­pet­u­at­ing a form of “cul­tural vi­o­lence” that can emo­tion­ally in­jure the vic­tim in an even more dam­ag­ing way than the orig­i­nal phys­i­cal at­tack.

Ji Minglü, a se­nior psy­chol­o­gist and di­rec­tor-gen­eral of Shang­hai Per­fec­tion Youth De­vel­op­ment Ser­vice Cen­ter, said that fe­male sex­ual as­sault vic­tims are of­ten mis­treated by their own fam­i­lies or friends due to the wor­ship of vir­gin­ity and pu­rity.

Things are even more com­pli­cated for male sex­ual ha­rass­ment vic­tims in China. Tra­di­tion­ally and cul­tur­ally, men should be im­per­vi­ous to such be­hav­ior, but the re­al­ity is that just as many men as women ex­pe­ri­ence var­i­ous forms of sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

For ex­am­ple, there are many sex­ual ha­rass­ment experiences be­ing shared by male vic­tims on zhihu. com, a pop­u­lar ask-and-an­swer help plat­form in China. And ac­cord­ing to the Guangzhou sur­vey, nearly 40 per­cent of male re­spon­dents had ex­pe­ri­enced at least one in­ci­dent of sex­ual ha­rass­ment or vi­o­lence.

But male vic­tims tend to keep such experiences to them­selves rather than re­port it to the po­lice or their work­place su­pe­ri­ors, so as to main­tain “mas­cu­line dig­nity.” Ac­cord­ing to Hong, the lawyer, the ab­sence of reg­u­la­tion in this as­pect de­ters male vic­tims from seek­ing help or le­gal re­course.

But there is hope. Last month, a male vic­tim in Dalian, North­east China’s Liaon­ing Prov­ince, shared on­line his ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing molested by his male driv­ing coach. After the post went vi­ral, lo­cal po­lice acted and de­tained the per­pe­tra­tor for 10 days.

In last June, a male se­cu­rity guard in Suzhou, East China’s Jiangsu Prov­ince, was sen­tenced to prison for two years and nine months for mo­lest­ing sev­eral male sub­or­di­nates, be­com­ing China’s first-ever case of maleto-male mo­lesta­tion be­ing heard in a court of law since 2015, ac­cord­ing to a news re­port of thepaper.cn.

Cor­rect ed­u­ca­tion

Due to com­pli­cated cul­tural and so­cial val­ues, par­ents are quite hes­i­tant to teach their chil­dren how to pro­tect them­selves from sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

There is an es­say that has been widely shared on WeChat among Chi­nese par­ents re­mind­ing them to tell the chil­dren that “some body parts are not al­lowed to be touched by oth­ers.”

“Such ed­u­ca­tion only refers to the neg­a­tive ef­fects of sex but ignore the pos­i­tive parts, which could pos­si­bly de­liver the young a par­tial per­cep­tion that sex is dirty and evil,” said Peng.

He be­lieves that sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion should be in­te­grated into a com­pre­hen­sive sys­tem that presents all sides of sex­ual anatomy and in­ter­course to the pub­lic. Ji agrees that early sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion can help pre­vent bad things from hap­pen­ing. “For young vic­tims, par­ents should let them know that it is not their fault,” he said.

Photo: CFP

A wo­man tries to de­fend her­self from sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Pho­tos: CFP

(Main) Vol­un­teer col­lege stu­dents cam­paign for an­ti­sex­ual ha­rass­ment with per­for­mance art. (Inset) A wo­man be­ing sex­u­ally ha­rassed

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