As a beauty blogger, Zhou Beilei usually shares makeup- and skin care-related content on her Weibo microblog. But her latest, most popular post is more personal.
In a video published Wednesday, the 26-year-old told her more than 950,000 followers that she was molested by her middle school math teacher 13 years ago.
In the five-minute video, Zhou accuses the teacher, surnamed Wu, of inappropriate physical contact — touching her bra strap and private parts — while she was a student at Mianyang Dongchen International School in the southwestern Sichuan province. Wu is now the school’s vice principal.
“Thirteen years have passed since then,” Zhou says in the video, which had been viewed more than 11 million times as of Friday afternoon. “I don’t want my children to experience the same thing. I decided to speak up, and I won’t be afraid of any consequences.”
A screenshot from the video in which beauty blogger Zhou Beilei recounts how she was molested by her middle school math teacher, posted April 22, 2020. From Zhou’s Weibo
Mianyang Dongchen International School said Thursday that it had suspended Wu and is investigating the allegations against him.
An official surnamed Yang from the Mianyang City education bureau confirmed to Sixth Tone that Wu had been suspended, and said that a team of police officers, prosecutors, and disciplinary officials had been assembled to investigate the case.
Repeated phone calls to Wu’s mobile number went unanswered on Friday.
Zhou told Sixth Tone that she has received hundreds of messages since posting about her experience online, many of them from former schoolmates sharing their own stories about Wu’s alleged misconduct, including sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and corporal punishment.
In the 48 hours since sharing her story, Zhou has received testimonies from over 80 individuals who claim that Wu molested or abused them when they were students. Many of the individuals are women accusing him of sexual misconduct, while a few men have also claimed he abused them either physically or verbally. The earliest allegation of misconduct is from the year 2000, two decades ago.
Left: A letter in which Wu alludes to advising one of his students to protect her lips with lip balm; right: A screenshot from Wu’s faculty profile page. From Zhou’s Weibo
Xiaoyu is one of the 80 who shared her story with Zhou. The 20-year-old told Sixth Tone that Wu sexually harassed her when she was 12.
“At first, I thought he just cared about me. He often called me to his office alone and commented on my face and body,” said Xiaoyu, using a pseudonym to protect her privacy. “He would sit me on his lap and touch my waist, back, and legs, saying he liked me the most. … We almost never discussed my studies.”
Xiaoyu said she would not have been able to face these traumatic experiences if she hadn’t seen Zhou’s post on Weibo.
“I thought this would be a secret I carried with me forever, but seeing that there were still people being harassed by him 10 years later, I decided to speak up,” Xiaoyu said.
Zhou said she feels empowered seeing so many people come together and speak out against their former teacher. She added that she is currently collecting testimonies and evidence, and that a police officer from Mianyang, where the alleged incidents took place, is coming to Shanghai, where she lives, as part of the investigation.
“I think everyone is very brave,” Zhou said. “Back then, we were all 12 or 13. But after all these years, they decided to speak up, even if they have to relive the horrible memories all over again.”
Yuan Feng, the director of Beijing-based women’s rights nonprofit Weiping, told Sixth Tone that social media has provided a platform for many victims not only to speak up and share their stories, but also to find each other and band together to take action against perpetrators. However, she added that there should be reporting mechanisms to prevent sexual abuse from happening at schools in the first place.
“It’s not enough to just tell children to protect themselves,” Feng said. “We need to urge education officials to build efficient reporting mechanisms in schools, to give students an outlet for speaking up.”
In December 2019, China’s education ministry instituted a new guideline mandating teaching bans for educators found guilty of misconduct, including sexually harassing students. China has also included sexual harassment in a draft revision of its civil code — though formal adoption has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic — that would make perpetrators civilly as well as criminally responsible for their actions.
“We all hope he’ll go to prison,” Zhou said, referring to her former teacher.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Jetta Productions/Getty Creative/People Visual)