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Pupils stand outside Wanning No 2 Primary School in Hainan province, whose principal has been charged with sexual assaults on minors. Photos by Hai Nan / for China Daily
Top left: The mother of one of the girls during an interview. Top right: Ye Qing, a police officer from Wanning Public Security Bureau, who confirmed the arrests of the two men. Above: The room at the Luchuanyuan hotel, where some of the assaults are alleged to have taken place.
Uproar caused in island province, report He Na, Wu Wencong and Hu Yongqi in Beijing.
When police in Hainan province arrested two men on charges of sexually assaulting minors, they believed they were dealing with an open-and-shut case.
However, the incident took a bizarre twist on Tuesday, amid claim and counterclaim concerning the girls' status as virgins, when the results of forensic examinations on four of the six girls were released via the police micro blog.
The examinations, conducted on Monday by a medical expert from the Hainan Provincial Public Security Bureau and doctors from the obstetrics and gynecology department at Wanning People's Hospital, concluded that the girls' hymens were still intact.
The news caused uproar in the island province.
The girls' parents refused to accept the results, and claimed that tests conducted by different experts at the same hospital on Friday had indicated genital bruising and that the girls' hymens had been ruptured.
The story began last week when Chen Zaipeng, the principal of Wanning No 2 Primary School, and Feng Xiaosong, who works for the Wanning city housing authority, were arrested and charged with child molestation after six girls, aged 11 to 13, claimed they had been sexually abused.
The girls, who had been missing for two days, were eventually located after police and parents arranged a search party to comb the area.
The details remain sketchy, but the police allege that four of the girls accompanied Chen to a hotel in Wanning, a claim backed up by security footage, while Feng is alleged to have taken the other two to a hotel in the provincial capital, Haikou.
The police said the two men were not acquainted and were unable to explain why the girls accompanied Chen and Feng, apparently of their own volition.
The incident triggered a national outcry in China and quickly became a hot topic on social media Internet platforms as netizens debated the case itself and whether China's laws on rape are fit for purpose.
In the wake of the incident, experts warned that the definition of rape under Chinese criminal law is too narrow. Only nonconsensual vaginal intercourse between adults or genital contact with a girl aged 14 or younger constitutes rape, and these acts are often difficult to prove.
"In many cases, the prosecution has been unable to prove rape or assault in court because of the difficulty of providing compelling evidence. A much wider definition of rape and sexual intercourse must be accepted by the legal establishment and the public, as has already happened in many other countries," said Liu Baiju, a professor of law at the Scientific Research Management Bureau of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
He said that only nonconsensual vaginal intercourse between a male and female is deemed to be full rape, while other nonconsensual acts such as anal or oral sex are defined as molestation. That definition meant that the initial investigation conducted by Wanning police concluded that the girls had not been raped, but they had been sexually molested.
One of the girls who spent the night with Chen said he committed intimate acts with her, but the girls who shared a room with Feng denied that he had committed any indecent acts on them, according to the Wanning police.
"More than 90 percent of Wanning city residents don't believe the results of the investigation. On the Wanning Online website, thousands of locals said they opposed the way the incident has been dealt with," said Li Min who runs the portal.
The six girls are all students at Wanning Houlang Primary School. The first inkling that something was wrong came when their parents were called by a teacher who informed them that their daughters had not shown up for school on May 8.
In response, the school and parents launched a search of the city. When they failed to find the girls they turned to police for help.
Two of girls were found at a hotel in Haikou, more than 160 kilometers from Wanning, at about 5 pm the next day. The other four were discovered at the Wanning Luchunyuan Hotel on the morning of May 10, two days after being reported missing. When found, some of the girls had bruising on their wrists and all six appeared groggy, according to a report in The Legal Daily.
The father of one of the girls said the hotel security footage showed his daughter in an apparently groggy state as she went upstairs. He and other parents suspect that the girls had been drugged.
"My daughter said the principal wanted to sleep with her and offered her 2,000 yuan ($325), but she refused. He persisted in his attempts and offered her the money on two further occasions. My daughter said she continued to resist and protested with all her might, but she gradually lost consciousness," the Beijing Times quoted him as saying.
"My daughter said that when she awoke in the morning, she was partially dressed, and she discovered a sticky substance on her crotch. She claims that when Chen came out of the bathroom, he was only wearing his underpants," the father said.
Wanning's police, housing and education authorities would not comment when reached on Wednesday.
According to the current criminal law, child molestation is defined as an obscene act - such as inappropriate kissing, touching or hugging - committed on a child of either sex aged 14 or younger.
The sentence for child molestation is usually less than five years in prison, although it may be longer if the act is committed in public or involves a number of abusers.
Child rape is not defined as a specific crime in Chinese criminal law because it falls under the category of aggravated rape. The severity of the offence determines the sentence, which varies from three to 10 years, to life imprisonment or even the death penalty in the most extreme cases.
Genital contact with a girl aged 14 or younger is deemed to be rape and vaginal intercourse is not a necessary precondition in such cases, according to a post on the micro blog of Tong Zongjin, an associate professor at the China University of Political Science and Law whose main areas of study area is legal history.
"Therefore, it is inappropriate to determine a rape case based on whether the six girls' hymens are still intact," he wrote.
Liu of CASS echoed that point and added that even if the girls are still virgo intacta, that fact alone does not prove that they weren't raped. However, he also pointed out that although the law sets a wider definition for child rape, evidence of genital contact without intercourse is usually hard to produce. "That's why some commentators have said the police had been slapdash in quickly announcing that there had been no rape in the case," he said.
In Liu's opinion, one of the biggest flaws in the current criminal law is the definition of rape: "Vaginal, oral, anal intercourse, and a lot of other situations, are already recognized as rape, or, in some cases, compulsive sexual behavior, in the laws of many other countries."
Li Min who runs "Wanning Online" visited the two schools and one of the hotels on Wednesday to seek further developments. However, the hotel staff remained tightlipped after it was fined 50,000 yuan for allowing Chen to book two rooms using one ID card.
Surprisingly, the parents of all six girls have suddenly "disappeared" and no one has been able to talk with them to gain new information, said Li. "The city is very small and we should have found them very easily today, but surprisingly they are nowhere to be found," said Li.
In Wanning, the incident is not the first crisis the local education system has faced. Two years ago, dozens of primary school teachers left the city after allegations that it had 200 primary teachers on the payroll, around double the number of positions available. "Many teachers were relatives and friends of officials at the education bureau, those 100 teachers didn't even take one class during the period of their employment. Therefore the quality of education was far from satisfactory," said Li.
One teacher, who asked not to be named, wrote on Li's website that Wanning's educational services should be overhauled in light of last week's events. "Although we are sorry for the incident, it's a good opportunity to get rid of the teachers who didn't actually contribute to the education of the kids," she said.
Zhang Yuchen contributed to this story.
Contact the writer at email@example.com
(China Daily 05/16/2013 page6)