Alibaba Sex Crime Suspect Release Shows China’s #MeToo Obstacles

(Bloomberg) – A decision by Chinese prosecutors to drop charges against a former executive of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. accused of rape highlights the set of challenges faced by women seeking to navigate the Chinese justice system.

Police had opened an investigation into the man, whose last name is Wang, into allegations of “enforced indecency” – a broad category that includes sexual assault and stops before rape. But ultimately, they said they couldn’t prove that his behavior following an alcoholic dinner with customers was a criminal offense. Wang was released after the maximum 15 days of detention on the lesser charge of “indecency.”

For those who have studied the Chinese legal framework on sexual assault, the case is not surprising. Similar to civil law countries like Germany, the Chinese system offers much stronger protection to defendants than common law countries, where the most likely version of events usually wins.

Some Chinese lawyers have said courts need 85% certainty that the incident has occurred, a standard that typically involves providing evidence such as a video recording or screenshot, according to Darius Longarino, senior researcher. at the Paul Tsai China Center of Yale Law Schoo which has done a lot of work. on the legal framework of sexual harassment in China.

“Overall, Chinese courts tend to give little weight to testimony in general, which creates problems for survivors whose cases depend solely on testimony,” said Longarino, who added the companies have also a role to play.

“The Alibaba case shows that companies must institutionalize their measures against sexual harassment and not leave it to individual managers to make ad hoc decisions without a guiding policy,” he added. “The MeToo incidents in China will continue to occur without a greater culture change in the workplace. “

China revised its sexual harassment law earlier this year to better define areas such as speech, pictures or physical actions, while requiring employers to take reasonable steps to prevent, investigate and respond to complaints. . But they still do not clearly define the legal responsibilities of companies, which makes them difficult to implement in practice.

In Alibaba’s case, the employee handed out leaflets and shouted in the cafeteria last month after company employees went a week without following up on the sexual assault charge against her boss. She also posted an 8,000-word account of the ordeal which went viral on social media.

Alibaba responded by firing the accused director. Two senior executives of the e-commerce giant resigned, and general manager Daniel Zhang issued a mea culpa, calling the company’s handling of the incident “humiliation.”

More and more people are turning to social media to publicize their cases and put pressure on judicial authorities, said Michelle Miao, associate professor specializing in Chinese criminal law and human rights at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “When the case gets national attention, it will be a good pressure on the authorities to ensure that they act quickly,” Miao said.

China does not release official statistics on sexual violence. The number of rape cases brought to Chinese courts nearly doubled to 2,881 in 2017, from 1,473 in 2014, according to a report by the China Family Planning Association, Tsinghua University and an organization. non-governmental organization called Love Matters. As is the case around the world, only a small fraction of sexual assault or abuse is officially reported.

Officials have generally treated feminism and related activism like the #MeToo movement with suspicion. Chinese authorities arrested – and then released without charge – five young female activists for planning a street campaign against sexual harassment in 2015. Three years later, an influential social media account called Feminist Voices with 180,000 Weibo subscribers has been banned.

The state has also used its power to erase the accusations from public discourse. Three years ago, a former intern with state-owned China Central Television filed a sexual harassment complaint against a popular host, accusing him of making unwanted sexual advances. The presenter denied the charges, and a second scheduled court hearing was canceled and not rescheduled. Meanwhile, the complainant’s social media accounts were suspended, tens of thousands of supportive posts were deleted, and the case was ignored by state media.

Yet the #MeToo movement has persisted, with a growing number of women speaking out publicly about their experiences of sexual assault, braving a patriarchal culture that brings victims to shame. And sometimes the state amplifies demands that fit its political agenda.

Pop superstar Kris Wu has been arrested for sexual assault after a massive social media campaign, which he denies. The government condemns Wu and is using the scandal as food for its campaign against celebrity excesses. The Alibaba affair exploded just as Beijing rolled out additional measures to tame the power of the country’s tech titans.

Lilian Shen, a volunteer who works with victims of sexual harassment and domestic violence in Shanghai, said few people in China have the will or the means to take legal action, even though her group does not take legal action. advertising for its services because “we wouldn’t be able to meet demand.

“For the authorities, feminism is scary,” she said. “They see it as radical, as a Western import and as involving half the population – it’s a fear of disorder.”

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