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Police handling of alleged sexual assault in China sparks uproar

By Eve Bower, CNN
  • Head of a local government bureau is arrested two months after incident
  • A newspaper report revealed police dropped their investigation because of a used condom
  • The police cited a lack of evidence in the case
  • Chinese respond with outrage on the Internet; police then make arrest

(CNN) -- Chinese police have arrested the head of a powerful local government bureau, two months after the alleged sexual assault of a schoolteacher.

Besides the possibility that a serious crime was committed, what catapulted the case into the headlines was the manner in which the police handled it and the notion that a rape might not have been committed because of the use of a condom.

The alleged victim, a teacher in southern China's Guizhou Province, said her principal forced her to accompany a group of eight local government officials on an afternoon of drinking May 17, the Chongqing Evening News reported.

She drank as many as 16 cups of strong liquor, she said. The chief of the local Bureau of Land and Resources offered to drive her home, the newspaper reported. But instead of taking her home, she said he took her to his office, where he sexually assaulted her.

Two days later, the local police investigated the scene of the alleged crime, where they found a used condom, toilet paper and a bed sheet in the backyard, according to the Global Times, a newspaper affiliated with China's Communist Party.

The evidence collected proved that the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator did have sex, but, "police stopped the investigation on the grounds of lack of evidence," the paper reported.

It appeared that the case would not be investigated until a reporter from the Chongqing Evening News interviewed the teacher, and later filed the report citing the police's initial response, which went viral on the Chinese Internet.

"Henceforth, to beat a person, just make sure to wear gloves, because if you wear gloves then it wasn't a beating. When kicking a person, make sure to wear shoes and socks. With shoes and socks on, it's not really kicking!" went one meme repeatedly posted in the Chinese blogosphere.

"If a condom was worn, she is not considered to have been raped, but our law definitely was raped!" one commenter wrote.

Within two days of the Chongqing Evening News story, search terms related to the story had been blocked on Chinese sites, and the government official suspected of rape was under arrest.

Edward Chan, an expert on sexual assault and criminal justice in China, said the arrest was clearly a result of the Internet chatter.

"When the system fails to do justice; to protect victims; sometimes there is collective action," said Chan, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work and Administration at the University of Hong Kong. "The government's first response is to try to limit this, but if it continues to swell, the government may change its response to address the source of the perceived injustice."

China's rape law, as written, does not make any special provisions for the use of condoms and is in line with the law of other countries, Chan said.

"But the problem is law enforcement," he said. "The police and the prosecution systems are not mature enough to protect the victims."

China does not make official crime records of rape and sexual assault incidents publicly available, and experts say it is difficult to estimate the incidence of rape or sexual assault on mainland China. Research indicates that sexual crimes are under-reported due to a lack of legal and social support for victims.

Harold Tanner, a professor of Chinese history at the University of North Texas, said historically, Chinese law has put the onus on the victim of sexual assault or rape.

"Her chastity had been violated, and she didn't resist to the death, and so the blame was on her," he said. "I think there is still some version of that, at least as an undercurrent, in Chinese society today.

"There's still a feeling that the victim of rape may be to blame, and this factor militates against women who would come forth."