2019-11-20 12:22:59

Several people in central China’s Hunan province have been arrested on suspicion of rape and “procuring a prostitute,” Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Tuesday.

The public security bureau in Qidong County announced the arrests of six suspects — Liu, Wang, Zou, Jiang, and two surnamed Zhou — after the father of the 11-year-old alleged victim posted public letters Saturday and Monday on microblogging platform Weibo to accuse local authorities of delaying their investigation and appeal to the public to help draw attention to the case.

In Saturday’s letter, the father — who is also surnamed Zhou but is believed to be unrelated to any of the suspects — claimed that his daughter was held captive in a local karaoke club and raped by a bank manager (Wang), a local official (Zou), and “several others” after being brought to the establishment to work as an escort in late September. Police later confirmed that the suspect Wang works at a bank and Zou works at the Qidong County human resources department, according to The Paper’s report.

“I hope ordinary people like us can get justice,” the father wrote Monday, the day before local police announced the arrests. “Criminal gangs and their protective umbrellas should be stamped out completely and punished under the law, so that no more young girls or their families will be harmed in the future.”

According to the media report citing the police investigation, the victim’s grandfather filed a police report with the county public security bureau on Oct. 3, a few days after the girl went missing on Sept. 29. Police found the girl at a hotel on Oct. 6 and determined that she had been taken to a karaoke club owned by one of the Zhous and a woman surnamed Chen. There, police said, the two owners and a middleman — the other Zhou — “introduced” the girl to Liu, Wang, Zou, and Jiang, who raped her.

The public security bureau has criminally detained the seven people involved. Authorities formally arrested Liu on suspicion of rape and the middleman Zhou on suspicion of forced prostitution on Oct. 21 and Nov. 13, respectively. The woman, Chen, is also suspected of forced prostitution but was released on bail, because she is pregnant.

Though the age of consent in China is 14, the country’s judicial system still refers to girls who have sex with clients as prostitutes. According to Article 358 of China’s criminal law, individuals who visit “young girl prostitutes under 14 years of age” can be sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison, while the act of forcing underage victims into prostitution carries a heavier sentence of 10 years to life.

Li Ying, an attorney at Zhong Yin Law Firm in Beijing, told Sixth Tone that under Chinese law, having sex with a girl under 14 is considered rape regardless of whether the victim is a willing participant. But for cases in which the victim is between 12 and 14, other details — such as whether the accused could have known the girl’s age, given her height, appearance, clothes, etc. — are commonly taken into account, Li said.

The lawyer added that in her view, the term “prostitute” is a misnomer when applied in such cases. “Although the term is legally worded as a charge, cases involving girls under the age of 14 are considered rape, and anyone who coerces the victim should be considered an accomplice to the crime of rape.”

In Monday’s letter, the victim’s father accused the local prosecutor’s office of “acting as an umbrella for criminals,” saying the authorities had questioned his daughter’s age and complained of “unclear facts” in the case while delaying the arrests of some “influential criminals.” He further said that a hospital in Changsha, the provincial capital, had diagnosed his daughter with post-traumatic stress disorder following the ordeal.

When reached Wednesday afternoon, the Qidong County prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the case. Instead, a staff member who answered the phone referred Sixth Tone to the local publicity department, for which he would not provide a phone number.

In recent years, rape cases involving underage victims have made harrowing headlines in China. According to domestic research, 9% of children in the country may be victims of sexual assault. On Tuesday, Sixth Tone reported that police in Guangdong province are investigating the case of a 12-year-old girl with a developmental disability who had two abortions this year after being repeatedly raped by men in her village.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: VCG)