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Call for specific law on sexual harassment

By Yao Yuxin | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-16 07:58
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Li Min/China Daily

Editor's note: Chen Xiaowu, a professor at Beihang University, was disqualified as a teacher on Friday after investigations revealed he had sexually harassed some of his students. Two experts share their views on the issue with China Daily's Yao Yuxin. Excerpt follows:

Many victims reluctant to report harassment

Li Ying, a lawyer and head of Zhongyuan Gender Development Center

Sexual harassment, unfortunately, is not an identified cause for legal action, so victims, mostly women, usually have to file suits concerning other issues such as disputes over individual rights, reputation, privacy and/or physical harm, none of which gives the full picture of the harms caused by sexual harassment.

In fact, sexual assault cases on Chinese campuses that have come to light are only the tip of the iceberg according to my years of experience, although there are no concrete official figures on the subject. For example, one of my female friends, a university professor, once told me that quite a few new female postgraduates ask her to be their tutor every year to avoid working with male professors.

No wonder after Luo Xixi, a PhD research scholar under Chen, posted the sexual harassment charge online using her real name, six other students under the same professor joined her, albeit without revealing their names, saying they have similar experiences.

However, victims of sexual abuse usually prefer to keep silent or hesitate to step forward and share their experiences. There are several reasons for that.

First, professors at Chinese universities have a very big say in deciding whether an undergraduate should be admitted to graduate school, or whether he or she can publish a paper and even graduate on time. At times, these decisions are totally influenced by their personal will. As a result, students usually do not want to anger their professors even if they face or notice harassment, because they are in a disadvantageous position.

Unfriendly public opinion toward female victims of sexual harassment in China is another reason. People are more likely to blame women, with some saying the "sexy clothes" women wear are an invitation to sexual harassment, while others say some victims willingly invite sexual advances, in order to use the "hidden rule" to seek favors.

Moreover, sexual abuse victims receive little compensation even if they win a hard-fought battle compared with the price they have to pay. Based on the cases I have represented, the victims usually are paid only several thousand yuan for their mental trauma, when the fact is that many victims suffer severe depression apart from possible physical injuries. Luo said she is still haunted by the experience.

The lack of a national law and proper mechanism at school are the root cause of frequent sexual harassment cases. After a similar sexual abuse case was reported from Xiamen University in Fujian province in 2014, seven immoral behaviors were described as sexual harassment by the Ministry of Education.

The notice is a good beginning but far from enough to correct the situation, because it treats sexual crimes only as a moral issue of professors, not as the result of the huge power the professors wield. We need a specific law and related regulations.

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