Feb 27, 2015 06:11 PM

Activist Urges Legislature to Take Action on School Sex Assaults

(Beijing) – An award-winning women's rights activist has written a letter to deputies of the country's top legislature asking them to pass a law covering sex crimes in the country's schools and universities.

Xiao Meili, a winner of the 2014 Netease Media Awards for women, said she hopes the letter raises deputies' awareness of a rising number of incidents in recent years in which girls and women were sexually attacked, molested or harassed on campuses.

Seventy-two cases of sexual assault involving more than 100 female students were reported from the beginning of 2013 to the end of May last year, a non-governmental organization named Women's Rights Focus Network has reported.

Authorities have been reluctant to tell the public about the problem, the NGO said, and only 8 percent of the cases were made public. It surveyed 200 local education departments around the country in 2013 and 2014 and only 3 percent admitted that sexual assaults or harassment incidents occurred at schools in their jurisdictions.

Xiao said that the number of cases that became known to the public represented "only the tip of the iceberg."

Deputies of the country's top legislature, the National People's Congress, are expected to gather in Beijing starting on March 5 for an annual session.

Xiao said she decided to contact deputies because she and several other activists were disappointed by the response they got from the Ministry of Education when they asked for a meeting to discuss the issue.

Li Maizi, another women's rights campaigner, said activists visited the ministry in December in a bid to meet officials to raise concerns about the issue. The activists were turned away from by officials in the ministry's petitions department, she said.

The group later gave the ministry a written proposal urging it to strengthen the protection of women and girls on the country's campuses. A month later, the ministry sent the group a letter vowing to improve safety at schools, Li said. It also pledged to strengthen the moral education of teachers and punish perpetrators, but did not provide details on how it would do these things.

The ministry's letter cited a document it released in October on improving the morality of teaching staff at universities, she said. That document also stipulated that educators should not have "an abnormal relationship" with students or sexually harass them.

The document warned that teachers could be fined for any violations and university officials would be held accountable, Li said. The ministry document made no mention of informing police of any problems.

Li said that the ministry has introduced a code of conduct for teachers to deal with the sexual harassment issue, but it is not as comprehensive as those in place abroad.

Lu Pin, the head of an NGO called Media Monitor for Women Network, said the document unveiled by the ministry in October provided no solution to the problem of campus sexual assaults and harassment.

The ministry also failed to recognize that it is difficult for students to come forward about assaults committed by powerful educators, she said.

(Rewritten by Li Rongde)

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