Headlines in recent months have highlighted a number of sexual assault stories involving minors in China. Bào Yùmíng 鲍毓明, a prominent lawyer who served on the board of Chinese telecom giant ZTE, was accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting his foster daughter since she was 14. In late April, police in Mianyang, Sichuan Province, arrested the vice principal of a local middle school after over 80 students came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
Many cases like these, where the perpetrators were people the victims knew well, have caused a sense of panic among Chinese parents, who worry that strangers are no longer the greatest threat to their children’s safety. Instead, they are worried about people known to them, and adults who are around their kids on a daily basis.
These growing concerns have been validated this week. On May 19, Girl’s Protection, a Beijing-based nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating child sexual abuse by raising public awareness, released three reports (in Chinese) on sexual offenses against minors. By analyzing a total of 301 adult-to-minor sexual assault cases that made news in 2019, the organization found that more than 70% of the offenders in these cases were people the victims knew: family members, teachers, and neighbors.
Meanwhile, the report highlighted the prevalence of sexual abuse by educators, noting that about 34% of all the sexual improprieties last year happened in schools.
Below are some other main takeaways from the reports:
- Child sexual abuse within the family environment needs to be talked about more. Judging from a dozen cases studied in the report, where the victims were subjected to sexual violence committed by their family members, many of them were silenced by fear and shame. Their reluctance to speak up is partly caused by a lack of supportive measures to make sure they won’t face retaliation after coming forward.
- There has been a rise in cases where perpetrators used online tools to commit sexual crimes against minors, including soliciting sexually explicit media from children and sexually assaulting them when meeting offline. Meanwhile, the internet has enabled an explosion of child pornography and made it easier for like-minded offenders to share materials and communicate.
- Chinese parents have become increasingly aware of the severity of the problem and the necessity of protecting their children from potential sexual abuse. Of 32,517 parents who responded to a survey on their awareness of child abuse, roughly 57% said that they had read news articles about child abuse cases last year, up from 43% in 2015. Almost 95% of the respondents expressed willingness to teach their children about sexual assault “in a professional and systematic way.”
As damning as the reports were, Girl’s Protection warned that the cases they looked at were likely only the “tip of the iceberg.” According to the organization, the consensus among experts on this subject was that it’s nearly impossible to provide a comprehensive picture of how prevalent child sexual abuse was given that many cases never received media attention and a considerable number of victims never disclosed their experiences.