A former student at Nanchang University who last year accused a professor of sexual assault is suing both the school and the teacher for compensation, China Women’s News, a Beijing-based newspaper, reported Monday.
Through social media and using the alias “Xiaorou,” the student in December exposed how Zhou Bin, the former deputy director of the school’s Institute of Chinese Classics, had repeatedly raped and assaulted her over the course of seven months beginning 2016. Xiaorou said that when she reported the abuse to Cheng Shuijin, the institute’s director, he allegedly asked her to keep quiet.
Her accusations came as part of a wave of actions across Chinese university campuses, holding offenders and administrators to account. A day after Xiaorou’s post, Nanchang University, located in eastern China’s Jiangxi province, announced it had removed both Zhou and Cheng from their posts.
Xiaorou’s lawyer, Wan Miaoyan, told Sixth Tone that the lawsuit was filed to a local court last Wednesday, and that they are expecting a response from the court by the end of this week. In the suit, Xiaorou asks for an apology and a total compensation of 140,000 yuan ($21,000) from Zhou and the school.
On Monday, Xiaorou posted on social media to explain her decision, saying her lawyer had advised her that it would be nearly impossible to prosecute Zhou for criminal liability.
As Chinese civil law does not include sexual harassment as a cause of action, victims have to bring proceedings on other grounds. Xiaorou’s lawsuit comes under tort liabilities and the general provisions of civil law. “This is a complicated legal argument,” her lawyer Wan explained.
Xiaorou wrote that beyond the harassment, she was hurt by the remarks of a school official responsible for campus investigations, who, she alleges, told her: “I can’t just hang up a banner saying you were raped and then go and investigate.” Xiaorou said she wants an apology for these remarks, and that she still feels mentally unwell and has frequent nightmares.
Wan said that prior to the case filing, the university turned down their request for an advance payment for Xiaorou’s psychological treatment fees and explained that it was unable to cancel Zhou’s teaching license. Nanchang University told Wan that while it agreed Zhou’s license should be cancelled, the issuing body — the Huanan education bureau — must make that decision.
Sixth Tone’s calls to Nanchang University’s publicity department went unanswered on Tuesday.
According to Li Ying, founder of the Beijing Yuanzhong Gender Development Center and an attorney specializing in sexual harassment cases, Chinese police have pursued very few sexual harassment cases in recent years because it is difficult to fulfill the strict evidence requirements.
“It is rare for campus sexual harassment victims to file cases like this,” Li said. She told Sixth Tone that many victims don’t come forward because they fear their allegations are difficult to prove, and because they are afraid of victim-blaming.
Li said it is sometimes hard to prove harassment due to the nature of teacher-student relationships at Chinese universities. “In a system where teachers hold the authority, students usually don’t dare to fight back, and sometimes even appear compliant,” she said. Students also lack awareness of how to collect evidence.
Even if a victim wins their case, compensation is often low: In cases Li has handled, the maximum payout was only about 20,000 yuan. “Many of my clients turn down my suggestion of pursuing a civil case,” Li said, adding that lawsuits also have adverse effects on victims, their relationships, and their work.
Xiaorou ended her social media post with a quote from Dazai Osamu, a Japanese writer who was troubled by depression and killed himself: “To be born a human, for that I’m sorry.”
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: Photodisc/VCG)