Alibaba has fired the employee who in August accused a manager of rape in apparent retaliation for her story going public. The victim, surnamed Zhou, alleged that her manager raped her after a boozy client dinner. Her accusation highlighted issues with Alibaba’s internal culture and was a landmark #Metoo case in China’s corporate world. Over the course of the following month, the case took a number of turns. Alibaba fired the accused and two other managers, and announced that it was drafting its first ever Sexual Harassment Prevention Code of Conduct. A police investigation found the accused had committed “forcible indecency” and detained him for 15 days, but did not pursue rape charges, to the outrage of many across China. Alibaba then fired 10 employees it held responsible for leaking Zhou’s accusation, which was originally posted on an internal company message board. At The New York Times, Steven Lee Myers reported on Alibaba’s decision to turn on the woman it once vowed to do justice by:
The company dismissed the man she accused, while two senior managers resigned for failing to take action after Ms. Zhou reported the episode. Now the company appears to be disputing her accusation, saying in the dismissal letter that she had “spread falsehoods such as ‘raped by executives and the company knew but did not deal with it.’”
“Since August, the incident has gone through several twists and turns,” the letter went on, “and the damage caused to the company and the parties, including you, is incalculable.”
[…] In the end, however, the company cited her original accusation as grounds for dismissal, noting an article in the company’s code of conduct: “Publishing or disseminating inappropriate remarks to the outside world, or deliberately fabricating or disseminating fictitious facts, or disseminating unconfirmed information, causing bad influence.”
The dismissal apparently came as a shock to Zhou. Ryan McMorrow of The Financial Times published an interview her in which she said her dismissal was “very unfair”:
The woman, who asked only to be identified by her surname Zhou, told the FT that she had published her account internally “after repeatedly reporting the incident to company leaders without a response”.
“I just wanted the company leaders to see what happened and help resolve it,” she said. “I never thought the company would end up firing me, the victim. It’s very unfair.”
[…] Zhou said: “I really don’t understand it, before the company leaders were putting out press releases emphasising that they would properly handle this, I didn’t think the result would be dismissing me.” [Source]
Zhou also gave a lengthy interview to the state-owned paper Dahe Daily. At The Associated Press, Zen Soo reported on Zhou’s interview with Dahe Daily and the pain she feels over the precedent her case has set:
In an interview with Chinese newspaper Dahe Daily published on Saturday, Zhou said that she had received many messages from other women who said they too had been plied with alcohol and sexually assaulted during work-related events. Most of them did not come forward, choosing instead to tolerate it or resign.
“My heart hurts for these people, but I can understand why they chose to deal with it this way,” said Zhou to Dahe Daily. “I will not appeal to other victims of sexual assault to come forth and share their stories, as doing so could cause them to suffer even more hurt.”
“I hope that (they) can eventually walk out of their trauma and lead a normal and ordinary life,” she said. [Source]
Bloomberg news reported that online reactions were mixed but broadly critical of Alibaba, although not always from a feminist angle. One comment, for example, read: “As an internet giant, what Alibaba did was inconsiderate. Firing the woman caused new problems. Why didn’t Alibaba reflect on its own management flaws?”
Victims of sexual harassment in corporate settings have little recourse to the law. A Yale Law School report found that 77 of 83 sexual harassment related civil suits in Chinese court databases were filed by the accused harassers rather than the victims. In September, a Beijing court dismissed #MeToo activist Xianzi or Zhou Xiaoxuan’s civil case against CCTV host Zhu Jun without considering evidence. Alibaba’s dismissal of Zhou (who has no relation to Zhou Xiaoxuan) is part of a chain of high profile retaliations against #MeToo accusers in recent months. Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai was infamously disappeared (and then forcibly reappeared) after accusing a former senior Party member of sexual assault. Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing, both of whom were public advocates for victims of sexual assault, were both arrested in September.
China’s feminists once found a sanctuary of sorts online, but those days now seem to be over. Early this year, Douban shuttered feminist groups as part of a crackdown on “extremism and radical politics.” In July, Weibo suspended the account of #MeToo activist Zhou Xiaoxuan. Pepper Tribe, an online platform for Chinese working women, shut down in August. Those moves are part of a broader attempt by the Chinese state to exercise control over the internet: in mid-December, the Cyberspace Administration of China announced that it had closed down 20,000 “top online influencer accounts” for spreading “erroneous guidance,” i.e., veering from the Party line. Yet feminist and women-oriented groups seem to be a particular focus of the campaign. At Sixth Tone, Zhang Wanqing documented Weibo’s embrace of using “gender opposition” as an excuse to shut down women’s accounts:
Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social platform, announced Thursday that it had deleted 54 accounts and muted another 472 users for up to 30 days each for “hate speech, gender opposition, and incitement to conflict.” The 526 sanctioned accounts are no longer accessible.
[…] Then, in January, it froze a user’s account for “provoking gender opposition” — the first known instance of the platform using the term. The user, a self-described feminist, had her account deactivated for 30 days after commenting on a story about a man who had recently killed himself. “Can’t women start having sympathy for themselves (rather than for men)?” she wrote.
The platform has increasingly started sanctioning users for “creating gender opposition” since then. In September, Weibo muted 6,767 accounts and deleted another 185 for comments related to an incident in the northwestern city of Xi’an, when a security guard inside a subway station forcibly removed a female passenger from a train, exposing the woman’s skin and underwear. [Source]