Fri, Jun 29, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Suicide sparks soul-searching in China

AFP, SHANGHAI

The suicide of a teenager in China whose sexual harassment case was dismissed has triggered a bout of national soul-searching over her treatment and anger at onlookers who encouraged her to jump off a building.

Li Yiyi, 19, died last week after throwing herself from the eighth floor of a department store in Qingyang, a city in Gansu Province, following previous suicide attempts, police said.

A public outcry erupted after videos of the scene circulated online and reports that some bystanders had jeered her and urged the young woman to “jump quickly,” while firefighters tried to save her.

The police on Monday said they had detained two people who had booed and started investigations into six others for verbally abusive online posts about Li.

“The world is getting more and more indifferent. I’m scared. Just how mentally defected are those people who booed her to jump?” questioned one user on a Chinese microblogging site.

The case has put a new spotlight on the struggle among Chinese women to get legal help in sexual abuse allegations.

The teenager had been upset because prosecutors cleared a high school teacher whom she had accused of forcibly kissing her and trying take her clothes off in September 2016.

Li and her father had repeatedly sought charges against the teacher, but local prosecutors decided not to try him, declaring that his behavior was a “slight” offense that did not constitute a crime.

She appealed to a higher prosecutor, who also rejected her case.

The teacher was briefly detained, but kept his job.

“She fought for two years. Except for her father, no one — including teachers, the school, the court and the prosecutor — cared about her pain. Only those firefighters kept trying to save her,” a microblog user wrote.

Sexual harassment cases have rocked Chinese university campuses in the past few months, fueling a #MeToo movement that has been more low-key than in other countries due to censorship by the authorities.

There is no legal definition of sexual harassment in China and no national regulations on how to handle sexual assault cases in schools and workplaces.

Very few sexual assault cases are prosecuted due to lack of evidence, and a lack of respect for women has contributed to such cases not being taken seriously in China, said Guo Jianmei (郭建梅), a women’s rights lawyer in Beijing.

“Her case is a typical pattern where her helplessness and loneliness after long-term pressure sent her toward a death path,” Guo said.

“It happens a lot, and it is hidden harassment, which is hard to get convicted as there is no obvious violence in the action,” she said.

“She was actually very brave as she went to the police and talked about it. Most girls just cry in private and then become depressed,” Guo said.

A 26-year-old Chinese graduate student drew social media praise last month after she tried to sue police for dismissing her rape report — it was believed to be the first such attempt to challenge the authorities on a sexual assault allegation.

The burden of proof is high for alleged victims, lawyers said.

In a survey of more than 6,500 Chinese students, conducted by the Guangzhou Gender and Sexuality Education Centre last year, 70 percent reported having been sexually harassed and more than 40 percent said the cases took place in public areas on campus.

However, only 4 percent of women and even fewer men reported campus sexual abuse cases to police, a 2015 Sina.com survey said.

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