Wed, Jul 11, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Why college students in Taiwan hesitate to report sexual harassment

An ineffective reporting system, fear of repercussions and a lack of protections keep young women from reporting

By Joy Chang  /  Contributing reporter

Illustration: Angela Chen

Tso Shin-pin (左欣平) froze when her teacher unexpectedly hugged her. Frightened, she immediately dropped the course.

It wasn’t the first time that Tso was made to feel uncomfortable. A classmate had caressed her thigh without permission while driving her to school.

“This happens all the time,” Tso says.

She didn’t report either incident to Tamkung University, a school she graduated from last month.

Tso’s experiences with sexual harassment on campus are all too common. Even though Taiwan is progressive when it comes to gender equality, sexual harassment remains prevalent and the reporting system in universities is largely ineffective.


Compared to sexual assault, sexual harassment occurs far more often and its prevalence makes it more acceptable. According to the Gender Equality Committee of the Executive Yuan, there were 13,755 cases of sexual assault reported in 2016, but only 1,091 for sexual harassment.

“Of course the real number of sexual harassment cases is much higher,” says Tu Ying-chiu (杜瑛秋), the general supervisor of research and development at the Garden of Hope Foundation (勵馨基金會), a Taipei-based non-government organization (NGO) dedicated to helping abused women and girls.

Tu says that the number does not reflect reality because, unlike sexual assault, it is not compulsory for institutions to report sexual harassment.

According to the Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act (性侵害犯罪防治法), when institutions learn about a suspected sexual assault case, they must report it to the competent authority within 24 hours. However, they are not required to report incidents of sexual harassment, but only instructed to “take effective corrective measures.”

“It’s not compulsory and there’s no mechanism for us to report. It’s really up to the victim,” Tu says. “There’s nothing we can do if they don’t want to report.”

Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英), founder of Taiwan Women’s Link (台灣女人連線), says that harassment is largely endured by the victim because it’s considered acceptable behavior.

“People are so used to it that they don’t think it’s a serious problem. It’s just a touch,” Huang says.

In the past, sexual harassment was often referred to as “eating tofu” (吃豆腐), a catchall expression for acceptable teasing or touching. It was only in the 1990s that it was defined as sexual harassment and later criminalized in the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act (性騷擾防治法) in 2005.

Jhon Jhia-jhain (鍾佳臻), a student representative from Tamkung’s gender equity education committee, says that they receive three to four sexual harassment complaints every semester. But she believes that the number of cases is much higher.

If the harassment isn’t bordering on assault, Jhon says, “many victims don’t consider it something that needs to be made public.”


Reporting a case of sexual harassment is an arduous process. The victim has to file a complaint, gather evidence and undergo an investigation by the university’s gender equity education committee. The process is time-consuming and wearing, and it is usually not transparent.

The complicated reporting system is not limited to Tamkung University. At National Taiwan University (NTU), National Chengchi University and National Taiwan Normal University, three of Taiwan’s top schools, students are not shown how the committee operates and where to report their cases.

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