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71% of Chinese women sexually harassed?
(Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2005-03-31 11:28

Sexual harassment has reportedly been included in the amendment to China's Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women (LPRIW) that has been included on the legislative agenda for 2005.

Hands on or off. [Shanghaistar] 
It will be the first time this behaviour has appeared in Chinese law if it is passed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, possibly by the end of the year. According to the draft amendment, all institutions are required to take measures to prevent sexual harassment in workplaces.

A nationwide survey showed that about 71 per cent of Chinese women have been sexually harassed in their lives.

"If it were not that the problem is deteriorating year by year, the All-China Women's Federation would not have considered writing it into the amendment," said Ge Shannan, an attorney in Shanghai, who often represent women clients.

She said that sexual harassment is a problem commonly confronted by women but so far she has not accepted any such cases because few women have been willing to speak out about their experience, let alone bring it to court.

Offensive touches

Sexual harassment mainly happens in two places: public transportation and the workplace.

"Almost every woman has been harassed at least once on a bus. We suggest women learn to protect themselves and gather the courage to fight against offenders, rather than keeping silent," said Zhou Meizhen, an expert at the Shanghai Wei'erfu Women and Children Psychological Hotline. "But the cases occurring in the workplace are more intractable."

According to Zhou, workplace harassment almost always involves men in position of power and women at a lower level, although "very rarely" women bosses also took advantage of lower-ranking men.

"Female offenders usually cease harassment when their attempts are turned down by men, but things are different when men are the offenders," Zhou said.

Women who made complaints through the hotline could hardly bear the harassment any longer but did not know how to deal with the problem appropriately.

"They are confronting great pressure and worrying about revenge from their bosses, such as lowered performance evaluations, as well as the misunderstanding of colleagues and families," she said.

Many of those who talked to psychologists at the hotline confessed that they had never mentioned their problems to anyone else, even their boyfriends or husbands. They were afraid that people would think it was their own frivolous behavior that had caused men to begin harassing them.

Ming Xia (not her real name), a migrant woman who has opened a small grocery store, told the Shanghai Star, the reason why she left her previous job in Beijing was because she could not stand the sexual harassment of her boss.

"He kept staring at me, up and down, all day long," she said.

Ming was not the only person who chose to quit a job to avoid being further harassed.

Duan Lin, a local accountant, said one of her former colleagues left the company for the same reason.

"To be honest, many of us knew about the harassment she was subjected to, but I would not have gone to the court as a witness if she had sued the boss. That would have destroyed my own situation and relations with my boss," she said.

Hard to defend

Even though sexual harassment has not yet become a criminal offense, several victims have fought legal battles against it in recent years, in the name of damage to reputation and mental distress. Most plaintiffs have lost these lawsuits.

Legal experts have expressed concern over sexual harassment legislation, especially the difficulty of defining the offence and obtaining evidence.

Both the attorney Ge and the psychologist Zhou explained that sexual harassment usually takes place between two people without the testimony of witness or material evidence, so it is often hard to convince a court.

Experts say there is a long way to go before China finalizes and enacts its sexual harassment law.

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