Sexual harassment common on Chinese campuses

Colleges urged to develop a procedure for filing sexual harassment complaints and handling incidents as quickly as possible
Sexual harassment common on Chinese campuses

The campus of North China University of Water Resources and Electric Power in Zhengzhou in Henan province. A survey showed that more than 70 percent of Chinese university students had suffered sexual harassment. (Photo by AFP)

More than 70 percent of university students from all 34 provinces in China interviewed for a survey said they had encountered sexual harassment.

Guangzhou Gender and Sexual Education Center and Beijing Impact Law Firm jointly released a report called "Sexual Harassment on Chinese College Campuses" after an online survey held over a one-month period. 

Nearly 6,600 valid responses came from undergraduates or new graduates aged 18-22, mainly from cities such as Beijing and Shanghai and provinces such as Shandong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Sichuan, Shanxi, Hunan, Jiangsu and Hubei. 

Overall, 75 percent of female respondents and 35 percent of male respondents had experienced sexual harassment.

"Sexual minorities were more likely and more frequently to have experienced sexual harassment than heterosexual individuals," said Wei Tingting, a spokeswoman for the center.

The most common harassment involved sex-related jokes or topics, or displaying obscene texts or images (35 percent), staring erotically without consent (34 percent) and touching a person's body or private parts deliberately (33 percent).

Of the respondents who had experienced sexual harassment (4,523 people), Wei said, 90 percent referred to the offenders as male and 65 percent of them were strangers. Others were classmates (32 percent) and authoritative figures in colleges (9 percent). 

More than 50 percent of sexual harassment occurred in public areas off campus, while more than 40 percent took place in public areas on campus. 

Nearly half of victims (2,108 people) chose to remain silent about their harassment, while fewer than 4 percent of victims reported incidents to colleges or police. 

"In other words, for every 100 cases of sexual harassment, fewer than four cases were reported to colleges or police. And the main reason is they think it is useless," said Wei.

More than 30 percent of victims felt their self-esteem was hurt, while more than 10 percent felt the incidents severely impacted their personal relationships and social lives. 

"Victims who had experienced forced sexual contact had a higher prevalence of chronic depression and suicidal thoughts," Wei said. 

She said colleges should collaborate with police, counseling centers, NGOs and cause groups to provide students with comprehensive help in areas such as campus security, sex education, psychological support and legal support. This would prevent victims from suffering serious long-term consequences such as chronic depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, suicide attempts and suicides.

Nearly 49 percent of victims were dissatisfied with how their colleges handled cases, while more than 59 percent were dissatisfied with the police.

Wei suggested that colleges should develop a procedure for filing sexual harassment complaints and handling incidents as quickly as possible. 

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"During the process, staff in charge should have an expert understanding of different aspects of sexual harassment, protect the privacy of victims and avoid secondary victimization," she said.

Wei said it was most important for colleges to keep incidents confidential and punish offenders in a serious manner.

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