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Call to prevent harassment in the workplace

By CAO YIN | China Daily | Updated: 2013-03-13 02:54

NGOs say more needs to be done to protect female employees

Legal experts are calling on legislators to shore up the commitment of China's employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

With the number of sexual harassment cases growing, women's rights NGOs such as the Maple Women's Psychological Counseling Center, said China urgently needs to create a law to deal with disputes or specify employers' responsibilities in the regulations.

In April, a regulation on the protection of female employees touched on employers' responsibilities, but in Wang Xingjuan's eyes, it is far from enough.

"The employer is key to handling sexual assault cases. They must be blamed and be punished, such as in some Western countries, especially in the United States," said Wang, director of the Maple Center.

However, employers in China usually terminate the women's contracts and tend to use money to resolve disputes, Wang said.

The association invited 1,500 women from Beijing, as well as Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces, to share their experiences for a study. More than 80 percent of the respondents said they had been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace, and most of the victims were under 35 years old.

"The sexual harassment made them give up jobs and led to misunderstanding from the public, even their families, which has affected their daily life and damaged their mental health," Wang said, adding this is the reason the NGO has been calling for new legislation since 2009.

Zhang Jiangzhou, a judge with Beijing Haidian District People's Court, echoed Wang's comments, saying many women refused to legally protect themselves and it is difficult for them to win a sexual harassment lawsuit, let alone blame the employers.

Since 2005, about 10 women have sued alleged sexual assaulters or employers in court, but only one won her case, according to Zhang.

"How to prove sexual harassment is the biggest difficulty faced by the victims, so they hide their experience and quit their job," he said.

In a case Zhang worked on, a woman in her 20s was allegedly often the focus of unwanted attention in the workplace from her superior officer surnamed Liang, between December 2009 and February 2010. The woman sued Liang after he allegedly tried to force a kiss on her in July 2010, but the case was not successful.

"She blamed her company and asked for compensation, but she didn't provide any evidence, only described her suffering," Zhang said.

Although some women have the foresight to record evidence with a digital voice recorder, this might help punish offenders but does little to alleviate the wider problem, he said.

"The principles and general articles in the regulation should be written in detail, or else there will still be problems during the enforcement," the judge said.

Zhang said the responsibility of employers and how they should be punished if they fail in these responsibilities are still undefined. What constitutes sexual assault and how to categorize sexual assault into varying levels of seriousness is also vague, he said.

He said comments that are sexual are seen as being light sexual harassment by judges, while forced kisses or indecent behavior may be considered as serious.

Jiang Yue, a law professor at Xiamen University and an expert in women's rights, suggested the top court provide a detailed guideline for judges to help them deal with such disputes, but tackling sexual assault with a new law is key.

"Asking employers to pay compensation as punishment will not work well, because many companies don't care about money," Jiang said. "Instead, requiring them to apologize in public, or a punishment that may affect their reputation, will be more useful."

She said a guideline adding clarity to the current regulation is more practical than establishing a new law in the short term, because sexual harassment is a complicated problem, which does not only happen in the workplace.

"After all, the establishment of a law requires more time and research," she added.

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