Court Sentences Woman Who Became Face of #MeToo Movement in China

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A Chinese woman whose sexual harassment case against a popular TV host sparked a nationwide debate on #MeToo has accused a Beijing court of unfair treatment and has vowed to appeal after ruling against her.

The Haidian People’s Court said in a judgment on Tuesday night that Zhou Xiaoxuan failed to meet the evidentiary standard by claiming that Zhu Jun, her supervisor at work, sexually harassed her.

Zhou, known as Xianzi, had filed a lawsuit against the prominent CCTV host accusing him of groping and force kissing her in 2014 while she was an intern. Zhou went public with her accusations in 2018 in a 3,000-word social media post and she quickly became the face of the #MeToo movement in China.

“I told the court today that this incident happened when I was 21, and now I’m 28. Over the past three years, because of this court case, I haven’t could not do any other work. I was very sad and couldn’t help but cry in court today, ”Zhou told The Guardian.

“I can accept all kinds of results, but I just want basic procedural justice,” she said, adding that she and her lawyers had been denied the opportunity to fully defend their case in court.

Separately on her WeChat social media account, Zhou listed seven cases in which she suggested the court was unfair to her today.

She wrote to her supporters: “Failure is not a shame, and I am honored to have been with you together for the past three years… Thank you very much, everyone, I will definitely appeal. “

Earlier on Tuesday, she was pushed around by antagonistic passers-by as she made her way to court for the second hearing in the civil case, which had been canceled on the date originally scheduled in May.

A woman shouted “pandemic safety”, trying to stop Zhou from speaking, while a man asked if it was appropriate for her to speak alone.

Many were there in support. “I think having one more person is a form of support and a form of power,” said Sophie Zhou (no relationship), who said she kept her distance from the court when seeing police asking for numbers. identification.

Zhou demanded a public apology from Zhu as well as 50,000 yuan ($ 7,600) in damages. Zhu denies the charges and has initiated libel proceedings – the outcome of which is unknown.

Zhou’s civil case had remained in court for years, until the court agreed to hear her in December 2020. When she filed the lawsuit in 2018, those complaints were treated as disputes of the work, and Zhou’s was called a “personality rights dispute.” A court rejected a request to change a provision explicitly citing sexual harassment, after major reforms to the country’s civil code in 2020.

“I believe that justice in these basic proceedings is a necessary path to take to obtain a fair result, and all the efforts we made before the hearing are not just for victory, but for fundamental fairness,” Zhou wrote on Monday.

A spate of sexual assault and rape accusations in recent weeks has refocused national attention on the movement. The most prominent was a sexual assault charge brought by an Alibaba employee against his manager, but last week prosecutors determined that no crime had been committed. Chinese-Canadian singer Kris Wu has also been arrested in Beijing on suspicion of rape following charges filed online.

In August, charges posted online by victims separately led to the detention of a math teacher for forcible assault and the dismissal of a popular TV host at Hunan Television. Shanghai police, who initially refused to press charges in the latest case, said they have reopened the investigation.

“These incidents are definitely part of #MeToo,” said Lu Pin, founder of Feminist Voices, an online publication that was shut down by censorship in 2018. “Without #MeToo, it’s impossible to imagine this kind of stuff come out. “

Leta Hong Fincher, author of Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China, said today’s decision was “sad but unsurprising.” “I don’t see the importance of the #MeToo movement in China mainly in the legal field,” she said. “But Zhou’s case has succeeded in society by attracting support and encouraging women to claim their rights. “

Yet victims of sexual violence face legal and social barriers in seeking justice.

“The message is strong enough… and it tells people it’s going to make a difference,” said Darius Longarino, researcher at Yale Law School. “But on the ground, in the current system, there are still many pitfalls. “

In a recent report, Longarino and colleagues found only 83 civil cases in public databases regarding sexual harassment or assault between 2018 and 2020. Of the 83 cases, 77 were brought by the alleged harasser against companies or the victim. Only six cases were brought by victims against a stalker.

Authorities have also targeted activists and feminist groups in a purge on youth and minority subcultures, censoring publications and groups. Many women are reluctant to speak out in conservative Chinese society where victims can also be blamed.

Additional reporting by Xiaoqian Zhu

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