Police in northeastern China on Thursday detained a male driving instructor for performing indecent acts and molesting a 22-year-old man, who publicly wrote about the abuse in a series of online posts.
The victim, surnamed Li, has been updating followers of his Weibo microblog account since the Aug. 15 incident, saying he hopes his posts will draw attention to the issue of male sexual abuse and encourage others to speak out.
“This is not a shameful topic — at least I’m not ashamed to talk about it,” Li, who is from Liaoning province, wrote on the day he was assaulted. “Sexual assault can happen to men and women, regardless of age. It’s an important topic.”
In China, sexual abuse survivors are often reluctant to seek punishment for their tormentors out of fear of being stigmatized. Widespread media coverage and activism have to some extent raised public awareness of sexual assault and harassment of women, but victimization of men goes largely underreported.
On Monday, Li posted a detailed account of the incident, which he said has left him physically and mentally paralyzed. He wrote that his 46-year-old instructor told him they would drive 600 kilometers so Li could practice his driving skills. When they reached a remote area in Dalian’s Jinzhou District, Li said the instructor forced himself on him. He decided to file a police complaint the next day.
Li’s mother has also been vocal following her son’s assault. In a post Friday, she shared photos of her son’s medical reports, which noted that he had swollen glands and bruises and bite marks on his genitals. In an emotional post, she wrote about her discovery of the abuse, her lack of awareness of the issue, and her decision to speak out along with her son. Neither Li nor his mother responded to Sixth Tone’s interview requests.
In recent years, the internet has been a valuable tool for discussing and combating sexual abuse. Female victims have used social media to expose culprits, while men like Li have turned to online forums to share their experiences to educate others.
Wei Tingting, director of the Guangzhou Gender and Sexual Education Center, told Sixth Tone that men are often detached from the discourse on sexual abuse, and that most men don’t report abuse, either due to a lack of awareness or in order to maintain the facade of masculinity that society expects of them.
A report the center published in April showed that 35 percent of male respondents to their online survey had encountered some form of sexual harassment, that sexual minorities were more vulnerable, and that 90 percent of offenders were male. Similar research published in July in the United States also found that the impact of sexual assault is “underreported and understudied” in men.
“Men are seen as powerful,” Wei said. “There’s this notion that they cannot be harassed, because they are the ones who harass. They are confined to the role of perpetrators, so people are surprised when they hear about men being harassed.”
On Weibo, some users responding to Li’s post assumed that he was a woman. “Girl, remember to go for a medical checkup — everything will be OK,” wrote one user.
China in 1997 enacted a law against the sexual assault of women. But until a 2015 amendment introduced male sexual assault to the law, male survivors could only file for general assault. The change followed a high-profile case in 2010 wherein a 42-year-old security guard sexually abused his teenage colleague. While the sexual assault of minors was already criminalized then, it wasn’t until the 2015 amendment that China recognized the sexual assault of male victims over the age of 14 as a crime. Today, the indecent assault of men or women is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Currently, the crime of rape still only applies to female victims. Zhang Qiao, a criminal lawyer at Shangquan Law Office in Beijing, told Sixth Tone she believes this should change. “The reason China has long neglected this is a result of the patriarchy. Recognizing male rape as a criminal offence is meaningful for gender equality.”
In Li’s case, police have given the driving instructor 10 days of administrative detention for performing indecent acts in public. According to a notice from the Jinzhou police on Monday, the instructor admitted to the accusations in Li’s report. The police declined to comment when contacted by Sixth Tone on Monday.
According to Chinese law, people who deliberately expose themselves in public or act indecently toward others can be detained for five to 10 days, depending on the circumstances. “In order to charge someone with the crime of indecent assault, it needs to be proved that the victim is forced and couldn’t resist at that time,” said Zhang, the lawyer. “[In this case] there might not be enough evidence.”
And Li is well aware of this. In fact, he has been calling on other victims to preserve every piece of evidence that might be held against the suspect in a court of law. “I don’t have any photographic evidence of the incident,” he wrote. “The only proof I have is the wounds on my body.”
Additional reporting: Li You; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: A driving school instructor guides a student behind the wheel in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, April 13, 2015. Deng Yinming/VCG)