A Beijing court ruled Tuesday against a Chinese woman in a three-year #MeToo court case, dealing a blow to the suppressed movement whose legacy remains uncertain.
The Haidian People’s Court said in a judgment on Tuesday night that Zhou Xiaoxuan, who has become the face of the country’s #MeToo movement, is failing to meet the burden of proof by claiming that Zhu Jun, his superior over his workplace, sexually harassed her.
Zhou was a former intern for Chinese state television channel CCTV and went public with the charges against Zhu, a prominent CCTV host, in 2018, as dozens of women began to talk about their past experiences of harassment or aggression. Since then, the movement has been largely shut down by authorities as activists found their online publications censored and came under pressure from authorities when they attempted to organize protests, but Zhou continued to speak out.
“I am very grateful for everyone, whether we win or lose, I am very honored to have lived these past three years,” Zhou told reporters in court on Tuesday afternoon, as men and women unidentified came and tried to push her along.
A woman shouted “pandemic safety”, trying to stop Zhou from speaking, while a man wondered if it was appropriate for her to speak alone.
A woman who attempted to hold up a sign saying “Standing Together” was quickly surrounded by police and the sign snatched from her hand. She later said that the police then asked for her national identification number.
Zhou brought an action against Zhu to counter an action he had already brought against her. She accused him of groping and forcibly kissing her in 2014 and demanded a public apology as well as 50,000 yuan (€ 6,575) in damages. Zhu has denied the allegations.
While the movement no longer has protests or lawyers and others helping victims to prosecute, some people continue to press for justice for victims of sexual violence, even though they do not cite the label. #MeToo.
A spate of sexual assault and rape charges in recent weeks has gained national attention. The most significant was a sexual assault charge brought by an Alibaba employee against two men. 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. “
After the #MeToo movement swept across China, authorities responded with legal changes that activists and legal experts say have yet to lead to real change on the ground. They defined sexual harassment in the country’s civil code, a massive effort approved in 2020 that organized civil laws and promised certain rights to citizens.
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,” Yale Law School researcher Darius Longarino said of legal reforms. “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.
Zhou’s case remained on the books for two years before a Beijing court agreed to hear it last December. The second part of the hearing, initially scheduled for May, was canceled during the day by the court.
A few dozen supporters came to support Zhou on Tuesday, although many kept their distance due to the large number of police officers. Many police officers were in civilian clothes and stood in the street filming.
“I think having one more person is a form of support and a form of power,” said Sophie Zhou, who said she kept her distance from the court when seeing police asking for ID numbers.
All the while, Zhou insisted that the court hearing be made public and demanded that the court order Zhu Jun to appear, citing basic legal procedures.
When she filed a complaint in 2018, those complaints were treated as labor disputes or under other laws that did not directly relate to sexual harassment. Zhou has been called a “personality rights dispute.”
The court rejected a request by her lawyers for her case to be heard under a legal provision promulgated after she filed a complaint that explicitly cites sexual harassment.
“I believe that justice in these basic proceedings is a necessary path to take to achieve a fair result, and all our efforts before the hearing are not just for victory, but for fundamental fairness,” Zhou wrote on his social media WeChat. count on Monday.