Sex abuse vic­tims in China speak out on­line

#MeToo move­ment slowly mak­ing waves

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Spe­cial to USA TO­DAY Vi­o­let Law

BEI­JING – Af­ter spend­ing two months late last year nudg­ing uni­ver­sity of­fi­cials to pun­ish her for­mer ad­viser for try­ing to pres­sure her and oth­ers into sex, Luo Xixi found un­likely help on China’s heav­ily cen­sored in­ter­net.

She pub­lished a post on Weibo, a pop­u­lar mi­croblog site sim­i­lar to Twit­ter, to de­tail her own ex­pe­ri­ences and those of four oth­ers with the pro­fes­sor at Bei­jing Uni­ver­sity of Aero­nau­tics and Astro­nau­tics. In a few hours, her post – ini­tially tar­get­ing her fewer than 10 fol­low­ers – gar­nered 3 mil­lion views.

It had swift con­se­quences in the con­ser­va­tive coun­try, too: The pro­fes­sor was fired.

“I don’t think the of­fi­cials for­got to block me,” Luo told USA TO­DAY by phone from her Cal­i­for­nia home, where she moved af­ter grad­u­a­tion to work in soft­ware pro­gram­ming. “I can tell the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to open the door to the #MeToo move­ment, lit­tle by lit­tle.”

Sex­ual abuse scan­dals aren’t new in China, but they rarely have caused a stir in the past. In this deeply pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety, women who spoke out be­fore were of­ten seen as airing dirty laun­dry and bring­ing shame upon their fam­ily.

But with Luo’s post – the first by a Chi­nese vic­tim to use her real name – the tide has turned, and the flood­gates to sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions in China burst open.

Other Chi­nese na­tion­als liv­ing over­seas be­gan post­ing on var­i­ous Chi­ne­se­lan­guage so­cial me­dia sites al­leg­ing sex­ual mis­con­duct by aca­demics. Since late July, ev­ery few days new vic­tims and wit­nesses in­side China have aired their ac­cu­sa­tions on chat groups or per­sonal blogs against such prom­i­nent fig­ures in phi­lan­thropy, the me­dia and entertainment – in­clud­ing a na­tional va­ri­ety show host and a monk who heads the coun­try’s Bud­dhist as­so­ci­a­tion.

State cen­sors have deleted some posts, though not be­fore they per­co­lated on cy­berspace through re­posts and were am­pli­fied by lo­cal me­dia re­ports.

Much as the so-called Great Fire­wall has kept sites such as Face­book, In­sta­gram, Snapchat and Twit­ter off-lim­its to China’s ne­ti­zens, there is a plethora of pop­u­lar home­grown sites.

Also, as China’s cen­sor­ship ap­pa­ra­tus is known to em­ploy ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to au­to­mat­i­cally block sen­si­tive terms from posts and group chats, some ne­ti­zens find a way around re­fer­ring to #MeToo by us­ing ho­mo­phonic Chi­nese words that mean “rice rab­bit.”

“China has a con­tentious in­ter­net cul­ture – peo­ple in China are used to tak­ing their griev­ances on­line,” said Yang Guob­ing, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia who spe­cial­izes in on­line ac­tivism in China. “(Cen­sor­ship) hasn’t re­ally stopped the de­ter­mined pro­test­ers.”

For ex­am­ple, in April, five Chi­nese liv­ing abroad, in­clud­ing one on the fac­ulty at Wes­leyan Uni­ver­sity in Con­necti­cut and an­other teach­ing at Swarth­more Col­lege in Penn­syl­va­nia, posted open letters on­line de­mand­ing that Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity re­lease specifics of a 1998 in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a for­mer pro­fes­sor fol­low­ing their un­der­grad­u­ate class­mate’s sui­cide; they be­lieve he re­peat­edly raped her. Even as she took her own life, the pro­fes­sor held on to his po­si­tion for more than a decade and won na­tional recog­ni­tion.

The ad­vo­cates dis­tanced them­selves from the #MeToo move­ment, as Chi­nese of­fi­cials of­ten are quick to crack down on or­ga­nized ac­tions.

“Be­fore I came for­ward, I told our class­mates we shouldn’t hitch our­selves to any move­ment or po­lit­i­cal de­mand,” the Wes­leyan pro­fes­sor Wang Ao wrote on one of his blogs.

Fol­low­ing the re­cent wave of al­le­ga­tions, how­ever, a few of the ac­cused ended up apol­o­giz­ing on­line. And the fall­out has been par­tic­u­larly swift for pro­fes­sors iden­ti­fied as per­pe­tra­tors – all were let go or re­signed.

Luo said she now em­braces the #MeToo move­ment. “So more peo­ple can come for­ward,” she said. “So they know they’re not alone.”

A par­tic­i­pant in the Hong Kong SlutWalk has the words “Don’t get raped” writ­ten on her chest. The rally was held to con­demn sex­ual, gen­der and body-based vi­o­lence. JEROME FAVRE/EURO­PEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.