EDITORIAL: Taiwan needs MeToo

Wed, Mar 14, 2018 - Page 8

The MeToo movement has arrived in Asia, which is an impressive feat in a region where many societies are still highly patriarchal, where speaking out will bring shame to victims of sexual harassment.

Although the movement has been slow to take off in Taiwan, things seem to be starting to move after a former gymnast came forward to accuse her former coach — a respected figure in the field — of sexually assaulting her from 1996 to 2006, starting when she was a junior-high school student.

She posted the police report form on a popular Internet message board, which apparently prompted another of his former students to come forward with similar allegations, and it is believed that there are several more victims.

Hopefully, MeToo in Taiwan will not stop there. However, while Taiwan seems to have a favorable environment for women on paper, with comprehensive gender equality and laws against sexual harassment, several news reports this week show that this nation needs a MeToo movement just as much as any other.

These reports are concrete proof that Taiwan still has a way to go toward full gender equality and that the nation definitely needs more people to stand up and break the stigma that society unjustly places on the victims of sexual abuse or harassment and domestic violence instead of the perpetrators.

One of the biggest problems continues to be the obscenely light sentences handed down by so-called “dinosaur judges” to perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment, as highlighted by a ruling last week by the Judicial Yuan’s Court of the Judiciary.

The court in 2016 found that former Taipei High Administrative Court judge Chen Hung-pin (陳鴻斌) had sexually harassed his assistant and ruled that his actions warranted dismissal. The verdict was quickly hailed as a landmark ruling: the first time a Taiwanese court had ordered a judge to be dismissed for sexual harassment.

However, on Thursday last week, that verdict was overturned on appeal. The court decided to fine Chen an amount equal to his annual salary, saying that Chen was repentant and that only three of the eight incidents of misconduct constituted harassment.

This is completely unacceptable. It is a slap in the face to all the women of Taiwan and those who have fought hard to achieve the institutional safeguards in place for women in this nation today.

While Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers and other politicians have slammed the second verdict and the Control Yuan has announced it would file an appeal, the average person must make it clear that such rulings have no place in today’s society.

Kissing, hugging — even verbal abuse — is sexual harassment and that needs to be made clear to all corners of society.

Another sign that Taiwan needs the MeToo movement is the recently released survey by the Medical Laborers’ Working Conditions Reform Task Force, which found that 80 percent of female physicians and 63 percent of male physicians have been sexually harassed at work — but only 3 percent filed a formal complaint.

Among those who said they did not file a complaint, 33.7 percent were worried that they would be punished for complaining.

Even more dispiriting, a survey by the Ministry of Labor found that 54.7 percent of female respondents said they would “laugh it off and take no action” if confronted with sexual harassment in the workplace.

However, sexual harassment and sexual abuse are no laughing matter. Girls and women should not feel that they will be punished, made fun of or otherwise stigmatized if they report harassment or abuse. They must be given the support they need and their attackers must face punishment, not slaps on the wrist.

The numbers do not lie. Let the victims start coming forward.