A child sexual abuse scandal involving a primary school principal and a government official has caused public outrage in China. The abusers were taken into police custody, yet the case is not as straightforward as it seemed.
Local media reported that six schoolgirls were taken by their principal and a local government official to hotel rooms, where they were abused sexually. Although thousands of similar cases take place every year, this one received wide media coverage and has become a catalyst to raise public awareness of child abuse as well as the loopholes in child protection regulations.
After the scandal was exposed, local authorities repeatedly censored news reports following the case. And after discussions with the authorities, the children’s parents dropped their complaints and withdrew their request to attorneys for legal representation.
Mei Chunlai is one of the attorneys. He turned down RNW’s request for an interview, but his posts on social media reveal his disappointment. Originally, he planned not only to sue the perpetrators, but also to hold the hotel, school and Education Bureau accountable. He wrote, “public prosecutor can still sue the perpetrators, but this would leave them too much space to defend themselves. The perpetrators haven’t faced justice yet, and may still get away with their deed. I don’t want to comment on the parents’ decision. But I hope they understand that they should be responsible for their decisions. Justice is not always served.”
The local prosecutor has begun proceedings against the alleged abusers, but there will be no public hearing for the case. Because of a legal loophole, the suspects will face a much less severe sentence if the children are deemed to be child prostitutes.
While helping the abusers avoid severe punishment, the authorities also took action to quell protests against the scandal. The police detained an activist, Ye Haiyan, protested in front of the girls’ school, holding a banner that read: “Principal, spare the children – come to a hotel room with me, Tel: 12338.” It is widely believed that her arrest was related to the protest, although the authorities claim otherwise.
Ye is known as an advocate of rights for women and sex workers. Three days after her protest, she was assaulted by 11 unidentified people while at home with her 14-year old daughter. She fought back and was detained by police for intentionally causing injury.
Ye’s protest went viral on the internet and sparked a wave of memes in protest. From internationally known artist Ai Weiwei to ordinary netizens, many Chinese posted pictures of themselves on social media websites, inviting the principal to join them in a hotel room or daring him to rape them.
Before her detention, Ye was interviewed by RNW’s China Desk and told us she hoped the memes wouldn’t turn her protest into a farce. “The public shouldn’t ask whether my protest was a hype of not. What they should ask is how to eliminate child sexual abuse on campus, why abuse cases occur so often and what can be done to improve sex education. Those who put me at the centre are diverting public attention from these more pressing issues.”
Ye’s arrest added to Chinese netizen’s fury. They expressed their sympathy and admiration for her on social media as well as anger at the assault and the fact that Ye was arrested for trying to defend herself. A loss of faith in the government and legal system was also widespread with many netizens calling for the rule of law and respect of basic human rights.
Speaking to RNW, Ye also urged the education authorities to improve sex education. “In traditional Chinese culture, sex is base and ugly. People don’t talk about sex and there’s hardly any sex education at school. Many people are sexually oppressed. They don’t know what they can do and what they can’t. We need to find a way to talk about sex at school and in society. Parents should also teach their children to protect themselves.”
Peng Xiaohui, a Chinese sexologist, agreed with Ye to a certain extent, but pointed out that parents shouldn’t be blamed for failing to teach their children how to protect themselves. Often this is because the parents themselves are ignorant and avoid talking to their children about sex as much as possible, fearing they might mislead them.