Allegation of sexual assault on a teenager by a prominent personality in China have generated outrage and a call to raise the age of consent in the country which is currently at 14 years old.
Bao Yuming, a prominent lawyer and oil executive, has been accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a teenage girl given the pseudonym Xingxing, in 2016.
Xingxing, now 18, said the abuse began shortly after she turned 14, the legal age of consent in China.
Bao was fired as the vice-president of a Chinese oil company and resigned from his role advising the tech giant ZTE after the allegations and an interview with the victim were published in Chinese media this week.
A Weibo account run by the Chinese #MeToo activist Zhou Xiaoxuan and her friends published a statement on Wednesday saying minors were much more easily abused in a system that ascribed the power of consent at such a young age, when “they have very few ways to protect themselves in the first place”.
“Most of the time they don’t know how to retain the evidence and must report the case in the first place,” it said. “Secondly, girls who are underage, they do not understand the definition of sexual assault itself.
Zhu Guangxing, an assistant professor of criminal law at China University of Political Science and Law said that “if the law sets the age of consent at 14, it tacitly grants sexual autonomy to minors over 14 and implies that they can freely decide to engage in sexual activity.”
“In too many cases, however, this only creates an opportunity for offenders to prey upon young, sexually ignorant minors, knowing they can later claim it was consensual to sidestep any legal repercussions,” Zhu continued.
According to the New York Times, Bao has acknowledged a “close relationship” with Xingxing, but he has denied any wrongdoing and accused Xingxing of fabricating her story.
According to Chinese media, Xingxing reported the allegations to police in April 2019, but the investigation was closed before the month was out.
Last week Yantai police said they had reopened their investigation into the allegations against Bao in October.
Chinese media have also reported that Xingxing was informally adopted by Bao from Xingxing’s mother.
Bao’s “illegal adoption” was an unavoidable issue, said Zhou in her statement.
Xingxing allegedly first raised the alarm more than a year after Chinese courts formalised guidelines on dealing with the abuse of minors by guardians.
Her story prompted countless women and girls to share stories of their own abuse and the failure of authorities to respond appropriately, and to question the lack of sex education for young people in the country.
Amnesty International said it was aware of Xingxing’s case, and called for the Chinese government to work with civil society groups to combat abuse, instead of shutting them out of the spaces where they operate.
In its 2019 country report, Human Rights Watch said the Chinese government “remains hostile to women’s rights activism”. (Source: The Guardian)