Chinese University Probes #MeToo Sexual Harassment Claim From Former Student

The student accused her former PhD supervisor of trapping her in a room and trying to have sex with her, leaving her in tears.

Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics lecturer Chen Xiaowu is shown in an undated photo.

A university in the Chinese capital is investigating a prominent scientist after a former student posted allegations using the sexual assault and harassment hashtag #MeToo.

"The university takes seriously the recent named allegations made via social media regarding the ethics of our lecturer Chen Xiaowu," the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, now known as Beihang University, said in a statement on its official account on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

"We have set up a working group as soon as we could to investigate and confirm them with dispatch, and Chen Xiaowu has been temporarily suspended from duty," it said.

It said the university operates a zero tolerance policy regarding violations of professional ethics, and would deal with any issues seriously once it had confirmed the facts of the case.

An employee who answered the phone at Beihang University on Tuesday said the investigation is under way.

"[But] we haven't had the results of the investigation yet," she said.

Computer science professor Chen was accused by Luo Qianqian, a Chinese scholar currently living in the U.S, using the #MeToo social media hashtag of "trying to force himself upon me behind a locked door" after "duping me" into visiting him at his sister’s house 12 years ago.

Luo, who was one of Chen's PhD students at the time, said he eventually let her leave after she couldn't stop crying.

"The next few years of my life, when he was my supervisor, were a nightmare because he treated me so badly," Luo wrote.

Social media campaign


The #MeToo hashtag, initially coined by social activist Tarana Burke, went viral on social media platforms outside China, fueled by a string of sexual harassment allegations against film producer and executive Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men in the entertainment industry.

Luo said the social media campaign, which has prompted millions of women to share stories of incidents ranging from harassment, to assault, rape and sexual abuse, had led her to revisit this incident.

Chen has told local media he did nothing illegal, and will leave the matter to investigators.

China doesn’t have a law on sexual harassment, although rape is generally punishable by up to 10 years in prison, the Caixin news site reported on Monday.

The allegations against Chen come after Nanchang University removed Zhou Bin from his post as a deputy head of its Institute of Chinese Classics on Dec. 18 after a former student accused him of sexual assault. Zhou is still employed at the university.

The student, whose real name hasn't been made public, detailed sexual assaults lasting for seven months in 2016, which she said had left her traumatized, Caixin said.

Rarely taken seriously

Beijing-based artist and feminist activist Ye Haiyan said sexual harassment allegations are rarely taken this seriously in China.

"Up until now ... nobody would blame the harasser, even if the person harassed did speak out," Ye said. "They would blame the woman, saying she didn't comport herself properly, and causing her pain a second time."

"Also, women who did speak out would risk having their lives made worse, so I think that the government should pay close attention to this incident," she said. "They should help to create an atmosphere of mutual care and concern, which I think may come as a huge shock to a lot of men."

Sexual harassment has also been treated as a politically sensitive topic by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in recent years.

The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which collates reports from groups inside China, recently called on the administration of President Xi Jinping to improve the treatment of Chinese women.

"Women in China face widespread discrimination and abuses both in their public and personal lives," the group said in a statement on its website on Friday. "Physical violence against women remains common. Such incidents often go on uninvestigated, and suspects continue to enjoy impunity."

Rights defenders targeted

Women’s rights defenders and feminist NGOs have been targeted as the government tightens its grip on civil society.

The detention of five Chinese feminists detained ahead of International Women's Day 2015 as they planned a public campaign against sexual harassment on public transport prompted an international outcry.

Wu Rongrong, Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, and Zheng Churan were released "on bail" in 2015 after being detained for several weeks on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," and have faced restrictions on their freedom of movement since.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.