Twenty-five years ago today, with the slogan “We don’t want sexual harassment, we want orgasms,” nearly 1,000 fed-up women took to the streets to protest against widespread sexual harassment in society and the authorities who tend to side with the perpetrators.
Back then, few people had even heard of the term “sexual harassment” — there were no laws against it and rape was not an indictable crime.
Today, there are legal protections in place; anti-sexual harassment stickers and posters in temples, libraries and other public places; and everyone knows what sexual harassment means.
Or do they? Why do today’s courts still have to debate whether certain blatant behaviors constitute sexual harassment? Last month’s judicial debate over whether a grown man forcefully licking an eight-year-old girl’s toes in a hypermart was sexual harassment was already ridiculous, but fortunately the judge ruled against the perpetrator.
However, what happened earlier this month is a travesty. A private high-school teacher surnamed Wu (吳) was dismissed in 2016 following allegations that he incessantly made inappropriate jokes and comments in class, including simulated sexual acts.
He did not physically harass anyone and his jokes were not directed toward any student in particular, but the details of his behavior in the court documents is quite appalling. There is no way that this sort of verbal harassment should be tolerated, and the school rightfully fired him. Under the Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act (性侵害犯罪防治法) he was barred from teaching for life.
This should have been a testament on how far Taiwan has come in terms of sexual harassment protection after the brave women stepped up 25 years ago during a time when women were not expected to speak out.
However, Wu appealed and the Tainan District Court ruled against the school, ordering it to pay the teacher three years of wages totaling NT$2 million (US$63,573).
The court argued that while Wu’s behavior was inappropriate, he was just joking and did not target any student, nor was there physical contact, and Wu eventually apologized for his behavior.
This is ludicrous. Verbal abuse can hurt just as much as physical abuse, and if an apology could get someone out of a crime, then nobody would be persecuted.
The court even suggested that after receiving punishment, he should have remained at the school, which could monitor his behavior. There is no lack of potential teachers in Taiwan, so why would the school keep him around and risk him offending again? On what grounds does the court have the right to arbitrarily decide that “there is little possibility of Wu repeating his offenses”?
Finally, the court said that depriving Wu of the right to teach would affect his family’s means to survive. The man obviously failed at his job and should not be anywhere near students, much less allowed to teach again. Why is the court being so considerate about the welfare of a criminal?
This is a slap in the face of all Taiwanese who have been sexually harassed and those who have fought to make Taiwan a safer place.
Again, the courts have failed Taiwan. There should be zero tolerance for inappropriate teacher behavior. The government can amend all the laws all it wants, and a few weeks earlier did so through amendments to the Teachers’ Act (教師法), but as long as there are “dinosaur judges” such as this, no amount of regulation will mean anything.
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