Ten male lawyers have urged the company that runs subway trains in Shanghai to establish procedures to prevent and deal with sexual harassment, instead of blaming women who wear sexy clothes in public.
In a joint letter released on Wednesday, they also called on rail transportation companies in five other major cities, including Beijing and Shenzhen, to disclose their own measures to tackle the sexual-harassment issue.
"If you dress like this when taking the subway, no wonder you are being harassed. Girls, have some self-respect, please," Shanghai No 2 Metro Operation Company, affiliated with the Shanghai Shentong Metro Group, wrote on its verified Sina micro blog on June 20. The post was illustrated with a photo of a female passenger wearing a see-through dress.
The post has sparked a fierce debate on whether women should dress conservatively to avoid sexual harassment.
Supporters of the call to cover-up said proper dressing at public places is common sense and a virtue.
However, two women protested the advice by wearing masks on Shanghai's subway trains and holding signs with slogans saying "I can look sexy but you can't harass" in the days after the online post, local media reported.
A playwright in Shanghai who only agreed to give her English name, Sophie, described her experience of sexual harassment in a subway carriage as "disgusting".
The 25-year-old subway commuter said that once, a middle-aged man followed her into a crowded carriage, then pressed his body against her, no matter where she moved, until she got off the train.
Sophie said she did not call police at the time because there was no evidence the man harassed her.
However, "no matter how attractively women dress, men should behave themselves," she said.
Jiang Zhenwei, a lawyer from Shanghai and one of the authors of the open letter, cited one article of the traffic regulations in Shanghai, which stipulates that companies that run railway transportation should provide a safe and convenient environment for their passengers.
"Sexual harassment is a major threat to a safe journey, just like traffic accidents," he said.
The letter said most violators target juveniles and those who look timid and less assertive.
Pang Kun, a lawyer from Shenzhen, said the subway company's micro blog showed that the company not only misunderstood the deep-rooted reasons for sexual harassment, but also ignored its own legal responsibility to reduce such behavior.
"If this problem cannot be dealt with, both men and women will fall victim to sexual harassment," Pang said.
Since the controversy over the micro blog post, Shanghai Shentong Metro Group has taken steps to prevent sexual harassment, including requiring its staff on the subway to help victims call police and to provide police with video footage. The company also is promoting self-protection knowledge among passengers, according to a letter the company sent to Huang Yizhi, a lawyer in Beijing, on July 16.
But the open letter said they believed the moves are not enough, and urged the company to take more feasible measures to fight sexual harassment and set a good example for other cities' subway operators.
It proposed that the company design transparent procedures and provide training for its employees so they know how to handle cases of sexual harassment.
It also suggested the company set up a hotline for reporting sexual harassment on the subway and strengthen advertising that educates the public about how to help victims and stop offenses.