China’s #MeToo Movement Sees Legal Victories

Despite resistance from authorities, China’s #MeToo movement is making progress with small but meaningful victories in court for individuals fighting sexual harassment and assault. The Guardian’s Lily Kuo reports on the recent win for Liu Li, who has spent the past year fighting to win a lawsuit brought against her former boss. Liu’s case is part of broader efforts by those in China’s MeToo community to use the country’s court system to bring justice to survivors. This move has been bolstered by a Supreme People’s court decision last year to add sexual harassment to the formal list of causes for civil litigation.

Over the course of proceedings, Liu Li, who uses an alias, saw her life scrutinised inside and outside the court. The defence argued that online posts she made about the play the Vagina Monologues suggested she was “open” to sexual advances. Friends and acquaintances, not realising Liu Li was involved, said they thought the claimant was a fame-hungry liar.

But she carried on, helped by women’s advocacy groups and a lawyer. Then, on 11 July, a court in Chengdu ruled in her favour and ordered her former boss to publicly apologise.

The win, while modest, is one of the first legal victories for China’s MeToo movement, which emerged last year as a dozen women publicly accused men in media, academia, the non-profit world, the tech sector and elsewhere of sexual assault and harassment.

Earlier this month, another man was sentenced to six months in prison for molesting a woman and a minor on a subway in Shanghai, marking the first time someone has been criminally punished for sexual harassment on public transport in the city. [Source]

Liu’s case is a hopeful step forward for a movement that has encountered numerous setbacks. Five prominent Chinese feminist activists were detained in March 2015 on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after planning a public awareness campaign about sexual harassment. More recently, a #MeToo activist and journalist Sophia Huang was detained after she wrote about participating in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, where  journalists are increasingly targeted by law enforcement in the city. The movement also continues to struggle with government censorship and face various cultural and political barriers.

Besides the legal realm, progress is being made on university campuses, where several high-profile cases of sexual harassment allegations first surfaced. The Ministry of Education is now calling on all Chinese universities to set up special committees to handle allegations of sexual harassment and improve the complaints processing procedure. Laurie Chen at South China Morning Post reports:

The Ministry of Education acknowledged these cases of sexual harassment have “damaged the reputation of higher education institutions and the education system”, as well as reflecting “insufficient awareness”, China Youth Daily reported on Wednesday.

“At the moment, some higher education institutions have not set up specialist sexual harassment prevention committees,” it said.

“We will work with local education authorities to … improve mechanisms for sexual harassment prevention.”

Last November the ministry had issued a directive banning “improper” relationships between staff and students at higher education institutes and stating a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.

[…] Since the movement gained traction in China in January 2018, students from more than 50 mainland universities have signed open letters calling for anti-sexual harassment policies on campus, formal reporting systems and harsher consequences for offenders. [Source]


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