A sexual harassment case against a powerful Chinese media figure has started in Beijing, with its accuser calling it a major moment in the country’s still young MeToo movement.
Zhou Xiaoxuan, now 27, sparked a social media storm in 2018 after accusing prominent TV host Zhu Jun of groping her and forcibly kissing her while she was trainee at the public channel CCTV.
China’s very first civil code – passed in May – broadened the definition of sexual harassment, but many women are still reluctant to come forward and cases like this are rare to see court.
“I’m very nervous,” she told AFP ahead of Wednesday’s hearing. “But whether we win or lose the case, it makes sense.”
“If we lose, it at least allows the issues we raised to remain in history. Someone will have to give us an answer. “
Before the hearing, crowds gathered outside the Haitian People’s Court for a rare display of political activism. Participants held placards calling for responses and offering support to Zhou. According to local media, the police demanded to stop showing their signs and appeared to forcibly fire at least one reporter.
“I hope my case will help advance the Chinese legal system,” Zhou said.
Zhou alleges that she found herself alone in a locker room with Zhu in 2014 and that he groped her after asking her if she wanted to continue working for the channel after her internship.
Zhu is a former host of the country’s annual Spring Festival gala – one of the world’s most-watched TV shows – and other major broadcast events.
He denied the allegations and launched his own trial, accusing him of damaging his reputation.
Zhou’s lawsuit against Zhu was originally filed under the “Personality Rights” Act – covering rights relating to an individual’s health and body – but his lawyers have requested that it be considered under the new legislation.
Zhou was among a wave of people who came forward in 2018 when an emerging MeToo movement rocked China. When she initially reported the matter to the police, she said she was told speaking out would affect the image of the public broadcaster where Zhu worked and hurt the feelings of those who admired her. .
“These [experiences] gives you the impression that your existence is very insignificant, ”she told AFP.
Many women are reluctant to speak out in conservative Chinese society, where victims can also be blamed. But Zhou has no regrets about starting the case and says that even if it fails, she hopes it will encourage more women to speak out.
“Even if I had to start the experience again, I don’t regret it,” she said. “I think all of this is still meaningful.”
With Agence France-Presse