A woman wearing a face mask runs past the offices of Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba in Beijing on Dec. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Management did not want to hear about her accusation of sexual assault, a former employee of Alibaba said. So, she went into the lunch room at the Chinese tech company’s headquarters and shouted about her problem.
Now, she is facing online harassment and being called a liar by the wives of the two men she accused. She is also facing a lawsuit from an Alibaba vice president who was forced to resign. And recently, the company told her that she no longer had a job.
Women in China often face such troubles if they choose to speak publicly about sexual assault. Women were especially targeted during China’s short #MeToo movement in 2018.
In multiple public cases, victims were sued by the men who had been accused of harassment. Some have been targeted with online harassment and have been prevented from speaking about their cases.
Former Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared from public after accusing a former high-level Communist official of sexual assault. Her accusation was quickly removed from the internet and discussion of it remains heavily censored. Monday, Peng posted a video saying that she was never assaulted.
Women’s rights activists in China fear that fewer victims will be willing to speak out.
“This is helping the wrongdoer, and makes the workplace environment even worse, and it’s an attack on the next woman who wants to stand out,” said activist Zhou Xiaoxuan.
The former Alibaba employee told a Chinese newspaper that she would not advise other women to come forward. She said her own experience of being harassed online and called a liar has been very difficult.
But she said to The Associated Press that she would continue her fight. She is being identified only by her last name, Zhou, because of harassment concerns.
Zhou accused a fellow Alibaba employee, Mr. Wang, and a client, Mr. Zhang, of sexual assault during a work trip in July. She said she woke up in her hotel room to find Wang kissing and feeling her. She also said Zhang molested her while they were all at dinner.
Police arrested both men in August on suspicion of “forcible molestation”, but released Wang after 15 days. Officials dropped the investigation into Wang, although Alibaba fired him. Zhang is still set to face a criminal trial.
At first, Zhou thought she would get justice. Alibaba's CEO Daniel Zhang said in a public statement in August he would create an anti-sexual harassment policy. Senior leaders promised to improve management, she said. Two executives Zhou said did not respond to her allegations resigned. One has since sued her.
“So, even though I was already covered in scars, I was still willing to trust the company, and cooperate with the company,” she told the AP.
But last month, Alibaba fired her, saying she hurt the company. The letter said she was fired for spreading false information about her assault and about the company's handling of the issue.
Alibaba has not answered requests for comment about Zhou's situation.
Other victims have faced similar problems.
Researchers at Yale Law School recently released a report about sexual harassment cases in China. The researchers found just 83 cases in public Chinese court records related to sexual harassment or molestation between 2018 and 2020. Of those, 77 were brought by the alleged harasser against companies or the victims. Victims sued their harassers in only six cases.
Victims face a higher burden of proof in the courts, even when they are being sued.
Experts say the national law against sexual harassment does not define any punishments. Enforcement depends on laws at the local level. Also, many companies do not have sexual harassment policies with clear ways for victims to seek justice.
Zhou's lawyer said they are waiting for the criminal court hearing for Zhang. They are also asking the court to reopen the case against Wang.
“I will not accept the result of the company's unsympathetic, unreasonable and illegal way of dealing with this, Zhou wrote.”
Words in This Story
harassment — n. to annoy or bother in a constant or repeated way
lawsuit — n. a process by which a court of law makes a decision to end a disagreement between people or organizations
censor — v. to examine books, movies, letters, etc., in order to remove things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc.
molest — v. to harm through sexual contact
scar — n. a mark that is left on your skin after a wound heals
alleged – adj. accused of having done something wrong or illegal but not yet proven guilty
burden — n. something heavy that is carried
unsympathetic — adj. not feeling or showing concern about someone who is in a bad situation