“Were You Looking to Have Fun?”: Reporting a Rape
On WeChat, women’s rights activist Xiao Meili recently shared a troubling account of her experience attempting to report a rape to local police in Sichuan. An 18-year-old college-student had reached out to Xiao for help after a date rape, and the activist describes the humiliation, doubt, and harassment that waited for the two women as they attempted to file a report to local police. Xiao Meili, a vocal Chinese feminist activist, in 2014 organized a 2,000 km protest walk from Beijing to Guangzhou to raise awareness of sexual abuse, and has been instrumental in pushing forward China’s #MeToo movement. CDT has translated an extended excerpt from Xiao’s WeChat post, detailing the experience at the police station. The bold text is carried over from Xiao’s original Chinese text:
[…] “[We are here to] file a case.” Inside the police station, I can only hear my own voice and heartbeat. “A rape case. And the man said he had AIDS.”
The policemen all have crewcuts and look alike. We choose the one right in front of us. He looks confused. I explain again why we are here. Wu Fei later told me she was too nervous to say anything. I say: “We want a female police officer.” The only policewoman in the station is being called. I feel relieved. But surprisingly, the policewoman stares at us, her mouth twitching. She stands like a rebellious middle-schooler.
The male officer takes us to a small office and asks: “Which one of you is filing the case?” “She is,” I say. Wu Fei then gives a detailed account of what happened:
She hooked up with a guy through Douban. There is a textual record showing she demanded that he wear a condom and that he is free of STDs. The man agreed. When they met for sex for the second time, the man said he had run out of condoms. She asked him to buy some, and he refused. She said she would go out and buy some. But the man held her down and forced her to have sex. She fought hard but was unable to stop him. In desperation, she yelled “don’t come inside me.” But he did anyway. Wu Fei thought she had been raped. She was very angry. She got dressed and left, and deleted the man’s WeChat. After she bought morning-after pills, she learned online that the pill may not work everytime. So she added the man on WeChat again, hoping to stay in touch. The man then told her that he had AIDS. Wu Fei broke down. After a while, the man sent a voice message, laughing, and said that he had some drinks and was tipsy, and that he was simply teasing her.
The policeman scrolls through Wu Fei’s WeChat messages and asks: “Why would he say that he has AIDS? Why would he do that?” Wu Fei is flustered. Her memories are still coming back to her: “I don’t know if he really has AIDS. I am scared. I don’t know if what he said was real…” I have to jump in: “We don’t know why he said that. He just did.”
The policeman asks: “Is this Douban thing an app for hookups?” She says: “No. It’s for books and films.” The policeman asks: “Then why did you use it for a hookup?” I say: “It helps you meet people offline too.” The policeman gives me an impatient look as if he is trying to suppress his disgust: “You have a seat over there. Let her talk.”
The whole process seems too complicated for the policeman.
“Where did he say he had AIDS?”
“On WeChat. Just keep scrolling down.”
“After you’d done it, you deleted him from WeChat?”
“Yes. I was angry.”
“Then where did he say that?”
Wu Fei points to the chat record: “Right here.”
“But you said you deleted him.”
“I added him back.”
“Did he tell you beforehand that he had AIDS?”
“He didn’t. I felt that I was raped. I was angry. I deleted him. I took the morning-after pill. Then I added him back because I was worried the pills may not work. Do you understand!” She cried out.
“Calm down. I need to make sure.” He stops talking and looks through the WeChat records while Wu Fei sobs.
Then the policeman asks: “Does he have a girlfriend?”
He uses a phone to take pictures of the chat record and curses: “Fuck, there’s a glare.” Wu Fei holds up a notebook to help him block the lights. A policewoman is squatting down at a corner in the room, smoking, playing with her phone. She snorts and giggles from time to time. The policeman curses again: “Fuck, so many pictures to take.” After he is done, he asks us to go upstairs. I come to realize that we haven’t even gotten to the police report part yet.
Unlike what is often shown on TV, the police report isn’t done in a small room. It is done in a big office where there are a dozen of tables. It surprises me that we have to answer questions about a case like this in such a public space.
The policeman turns on a computer in a cubicle at the end of the room. We are sitting around him. The policewoman flips through some snacks on a table and asks the policeman if she may eat them. They joke around. I realize that this is the policeman’s cubicle. He hasn’t bothered to tell us his name since we walked into the police station. I see a name tag on his table: “Ma Yu” (pseudonym).
There is another policeman in the room getting ready to leave. He says: “I’m leaving.” The policewoman says twice, dryly: “I want to leave too…” Her words floated in the air.
The guy that Wu Fei hooked up with wanted to meet with her. He sent Wu Fei his National ID number, which the police used to look up who he was. We now get to know his name for the first time: Li Ao (pseudonym)
Ma Yu asks me to sit far away and not to talk before he starts working on the police report. He takes away Wu Fei’s phone. She is all alone. I am glad that I can keep her company, although most of the time, all I can offer is an encouraging look. Ma Yu declares: “I am asking questions as part of my job… You need to understand. There is nothing personal between us. I am married with kids. Just so you know.”
The process is as long as killing a rat with a dull knife. It is a thousand times more painful than the summary I am about to give. I am trying my best to digest and relay this long inquiry. It is very repetitive and petty, it could drive people crazy. Please be patient and bear with me.
The questioning sounds more like an interrogation. In my opinion, he is often not trying to get answers, but to confirm his assumptions. Sometimes he uses his questions to attack Wu Fei.
If Wu Fei denies, he gets impatient and even lashes out. If Wu Fei gives more details than he wants, he says: “There is no need to be too precise.” He even yells at Wu Fei: “Don’t digress. Follow my lead.” He reassembles the whole thing according to his assumptions. It seems that he hates the details. Perhaps it’s because the details often prove him wrong. Wu Fei struggles to correct Ma Yu, having to repeat herself all the time.
“How many times did you have sex (the first time you hooked up with him)?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Just estimate.” He doesn’t hate this particular detail.
“About four or five times.”
“That many times?” He laughs. The policewoman laughs along. He says: “Fuck.”
Wu Fei says: “You said you’d leave out your personal feelings.” Ma Yu then restrains himself a little.
“He didn’t pay you?”
“Hooking up is not prostitution…”
He murmurs as he types. As if there is an automated translation software working in his brain that tweaks everything against Wu Fei. He translates Wu Fei’s rejection into “did not reach consensus”; he leaves out her hesitation, caution and worry. He says: “Right, in the end you said yes. Don’t make it too complicated.” He sees a picture of Li Ao (note: the man who allegedly raped Wu Fei) and adds: “Not bad in the picture.”
He pushes for the details of every round of sex. But when it comes to the sexual assault, the part that Wu Fei cares about the most, Ma Yu brushes it off. She tried to return to the topic several times, but only got, “Ultimately you are angry because he came inside of you.”
“Does he use Douban only to find hookups?”
“I don’t know.”
“How many hookups have you had?”
“Is this relevant?”
“Have you had any hookups?”
“Is this relevant?”
Ma Yu didn’t answer. After a while he says: “So, this is about it.”
Wu Fei says: “The point is, we had an agreement that he should use a condom, but he didn’t; that he shouldn’t ejaculate in me, but he did. This is against my will.”Ma Yu ignores this.
Later Wu Fei tells me that at the beginning the policeman’s attitude made her sad. It made her feel as if what happened to her didn’t matter. Then she became angry and started to fire back. Ma Yu goes back to point one yet again, this time ever more trivial.
“Did you know his name?”
“Then what did you call him?”
“Nothing. Just like I don’t know your name either.”
“So you don’t know him?”
“You don’t even know him, then why did you have sex with him?”
“Does it have to be with someone I know?”
Ma Yu continues: “Were you looking to have some fun?” She hesitates.
“I’m asking you a question,” he urges her to answer.
She looks at me. I mouth the words to her: Sexual desire.
She answers: “Human beings have desires.”
Ma Yu conceals all emotions with agitation. He types as he says: “(Hookup) is to satisfy sexual desire.”
The details of the sex are amplified under colored lenses. Even when Wu Fei refuses to answer, he would ask again and again for the answers he wants.
“Did he feed it in?”
“What do you mean by ‘feed it in’?”
“Did his penis go into your vagina?”
“Yes it did.”
“For how long?”
“Is it important?”
“You may choose not to answer.”
“Then I won’t.”
“I can’t remember.”
“Was it fast?”
“I do not wish to answer.”
“How long did it last approximately?”
“Is this important?”
“You are here to report rape.”
After a moment of silence, Wu Fei says: “It was normal…”
“A couple of minutes?” Ma Yu gave a duration that he thought was normal.
It finally comes down to the key parts about the rape. Wu Fei gives a description of how Li Ao held her down and how she was “struggling” under him. Ma Yu gets impatient: “Wait, wait.”
Then another policeman comes into the office. Ma Yu greets him in a lighthearted way: “You are still here?” They chat for a while. The policeman’s phone rings. The tune is a symphony. It rings and rings. The office is turned into a theater.
Ma Yu says: “He coaxes and pesters?”
Wu: “I was trying to push him away.”
Ma: “Then you said yes.”
Wu: “I was fighting him.” (firmly)
Me: “What you wrote down is totally different from what she is saying.” (I can’t help from jumping in.)
Ma: “She’ll read it later. Are you kidding me? What good does it serve me if I wrote differently?” (Ma Yu says to me impatiently)
Wu: “I was struggling underneath him…”
Ma: “You calm down.”
Wu: “I’d been fighting him before he even got into me. But you said that I consented..”
Ma: “How did you say no exactly?”
Wu: “I was trying to push him away.”
(The other policeman and the policewoman are chatting loudly.)
Ma: “Then you consented. But you asked him not to ejaculate inside of you.”
Wu: “I did not consent. I did not say ‘yes’ or anything like that. He just pushed himself into me. There was nothing I could do other than asking him not to come inside me. I yelled it out.” (angrily)
Ma: “So you were fighting him. You didn’t consent? He forced his penis into your vagina anyway.”
(The conversation between the other policeman and policewoman gets louder and louder.)
Me: “Hey, officer, sir.”
Ma: “Just wait.” (raises his voice)
Me: “Can other people leave the room?” (quietly)
Ma: “They are all police officers, investigators. They have two kids. What’s the big deal? They are over 30 years old. They’ve seen it all. Right? There, the lady is still there.” (pointing to the policewoman)
Policewoman: “I’m going to the bathroom.” (she said this right after she was cued and left the room.)
Ma: “I’m talking about the case, not about code of morality.” (his tone sounds like he is educating some students)
Me: “It’s not about morality. It’s about the feelings of the person involved.”
Ma says to the other policeman: “Brother Qiang, hurry up, they are asking you to leave.”
Qiang: “I’m gonna take a while. Wait. You do your business. I’ve got all these cases here.” (a pile of plastic bags make swooshing sound as he shuffles through them)
Me: “It’s no big deal for you, but what about her?”
Ma: “Right, right, right. Hurry up. I handle more rape cases every year than the number of taxis you take. Understand? It’s not what you think. Like we haven’t seen these things.”
Me: “That’s not what I mean. I’m just worried about her feelings. I have nothing against you.” (more worried)
(Brother Qiang is still shuffling through the plastic bags. His phone rings a symphony again.)
Ma talks to Wu: “And then you consented.”
Wu: “I did not consent! How could I consent? He forced himself into me. He is strong. I just yelled ‘do not come inside me.’ He said ‘ok.’ This is rape!” (shouts in desperation)
(The policewoman returns to the room and continues to chat with Brother Qiang loudly. The plastic bags continue to swoosh.)
Ma: “How long did it last?”
Wu: “Less than two or three minutes. He suddenly stopped. I asked ‘What? Did you come?’ He said yeah. I sat up and cried. I was getting dressed and I asked him: ‘Are you kidding me?’ He said ‘I’m serious.’ And I started hitting him with my clothes. I said, ‘You are not treating me like a human being.’”
Ma: “You got dressed and you hit him with your clothes?”
Wu: “How is that possible? I was getting dressed while hitting him. Did you type down what I said? I said ‘you are not treating me like a human being.’” (gets closer to Ma’s computer.)
Ma: “I’ll have you look at it later.” (he waves Wu away.)
(the noise from the plastic bags die down)
Li Ao promised to reimburse the taxi fares of 100+ yuan. Wu Fei asked for only 100 the first time. The second time, she asked him to give her 150 yuan for taxi and the morning-after pill. He didn’t. Instead he said he had AIDS.
The money became Ma Yu’s focus. He asked detailed questions.
When it comes to Wu Fei buying the emergency HIV prevention drug, Wu Fei shoots back: “Why aren’t you asking about money now?”
Ma Yu immediately uses me as his shield: “With your friend as a witness, do you feel that we, the police, are biased against you? It’s good that your friend is here.”
I feel embarrassed and have to explain myself: “Of course I’m with her.” Then I try to calm him down: “Can you just use a gentler tone?”
Because Li Ao said he had “slept with 100+ prostitutes” and had dealt drugs, and that he apparently lacked awareness of safe sex, Wu Fei thought he was “at high risk for AIDS.” And as the conversation comes back to sex, Ma Yu seems to again have forgotten his job as a police officer. He taunts: “Boasting…” He ignores Wu Fei’s concern and repeats Li Ao’s apology.
Wu Fei says: “10 am the next morning, he scolded me on WeChat and said if I call him again, he’d hit me. Then he deleted me.”
Ma Yu says: “That’s not scolding.”
She says: “How is that not scolding? Does he have to call me an SOB for that matter?”
We are almost down to the last part. Wu Fei wants to fill out the addendum at the bottom of the page, but Ma Yu stops her rudely: “I don’t need you to tell me what to do.” He drags the conversation back to the moment of sexual assault.
He questions how she resisted. “Why didn’t you call for help?”
Wu Fei says: “It was in his home. Who could I call for help? He was the only one there.”
Ma Yu has asked similar questions five times over. Wu Fei had to describe how she resisted twice.
In the end he asks again if Wu Fei has hooked up with others before. Wu Fei says: “I don’t want to answer that. That’s my private matter.”
When Ma Yu thinks it’s time for the addendum, Wu Fei says one word at a time, with clarity: “Because he forced himself into me and ejaculated, I had to take the morning-after pill. Because he said he had AIDS, I had to take an HIV prevention drug. These drugs have side effects on my body. I want him to be punished.” But Ma Yu didn’t type anything. He repeatedly asks her to make it simpler. The third time she repeats herself, Ma Yu finally starts to take notes.
Wu Fei takes back her phone. We are sitting together but we don’t dare to talk so we use WeChat. I type: “You have to check the police report carefully. That’s the most important thing.” Wu Fei replies: “I think he is prejudiced. I’m sad that I’m treated this way. I don’t want to pursue it. It’s useless. I might even be retaliated against.” I praise her for handling it so well: “Your thoughts were clear. And you fired back at him very well.” She says she is in her school’s debate team. I encourage her: “Let’s make the effort to finish this whole process. It’s going to be useful. Don’t be afraid.”
Wu Fei wants to look it over on the computer so that changes can be made. But Ma Yu insists on printing it out first. He says: “You’d have to sign it before it’s official. You are a college student. You should know these things.” When he asks Wu Fei to sign and fingerprint every page, he seems to be very controlling and peculiar. He insists that she flip the page in a certain way.
He says: “Just look at whether there are any factual discrepancies, broadly speaking. Don’t nitpick. I want you to understand that I’m not asking you to critique a novel today.” Wu Fei and I look at the police report together. I can’t believe that even after so many rounds of repetition, insistence and emphasis, the details about rape are still left out of the report. He is that stubborn.
I point to the sentences he included. They are like a monologue of the rapist. Wu Fei and I look at each other. Who would dare to edit his work. And a moment later, I got chased away again: “Let her take a look herself. Don’t waste our time. There are more procedures after this.” I ask when we can get our copy of the case receipt, and whether we should go to the hospital to collect the evidence. He refuses to give any information and simply asks us to follow his lead.
Wu Fei makes corrections with a pen. He makes edits on his computer and print out the docs. But the details are still left out. Wu Fei says: “He held me down. I couldn’t move. I yelled ‘don’t ejaculate inside of me.’” And she writes it down for the second time. He edits, prints out, and finally includes it. Wu Fei signs.
After the report is done, Ma Yu seems a bit more relaxed. He strikes up a conversation and asks if I am Wu Fei’s classmate. He thought I was 18 while I am almost 30-years-old. That made me question his judgement as an investigator.
“Do you use Douban as well?”
“I used to.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No.” (I withhold from him that I have a girlfriend.)
“Did you have a boyfriend in high school?”
“Does the post 2000s generation all do hookups?” (I can’t tell if he is really innocent or just playing dumb.)
“Do you hookup?”
“No.” Just like that, I am made into a “good girl.” I feel disgusted. I shouldn’t have answered him.
We are brought down to the lobby. No one told us what to do. I start to feel my body again. My head is light and my stomach aches from hunger. I look at Wu Fei. Perhaps she doesn’t feel the hunger anymore. She says her cousin is coming in from another city. He is a hothead. She is worried that he’ll scold her. But she also hopes he can offer some support as a family and also with his “street smarts.”
After a long wait, Ma Yu finally hands us the case receipt. We had spent the whole night for this piece of paper. Then he says Wu Fei should go to the hospital to collect the evidence. I am beyond happy, as if he was being very helpful and kind. (Is this like Stockholm Syndrome?)
I almost thought it was Ma Yu’s stubbornness that had tortured us for hours. But I know that’s not the case. Late July, 2018, a woman nicknamed “Xiaojingling” also went to the police to report media professional Zhang Wen for sexual assault. What she experienced was over 10 hours of “rounds and rounds of interrogation” as if she were a criminal. Every detail was repeatedly brought up, every sentence questioned. They incessantly asked her: “Why didn’t you fight back?” In comparison, we might actually have been quite lucky. Perhaps part of our “luck” stems from the bigotry and fear that the police have for AIDS. [Chinese]
Translation by Yakexi.