A few hours after the speechifying, the teacher later said, the chief of Ashi’s land bureau, who had attended the school session, raped her. When she tried to bring charges the next day, she said, a police commander told her, “If he wore a condom, it isn’t rape.” Other officials pressured her to keep silent and urged her boyfriend to abandon her so she would lose courage, she said.
Only two months later, after the teacher posted an eloquent plea online and a newspaper reported her accusations, did officials take action. Heads have rolled. The accused has been arrested.
The teacher’s case illustrates an axiom of the Chinese justice system: Rape victims face extremely long odds if they accuse officials or others of special social status. Guo Jianmei, the director of the Women’s Legal Consultancy Center in Beijing, said even seemingly airtight cases with physical evidence and sympathetic victims could fail.
“There is still a huge possibility that the rapist would not be put behind bars,” Ms. Guo said.
But the case also suggests that victims are no longer quite so alone. “We see more and more victims getting help from the Internet,” she said. “We are really happy to see that public opinion in this country is playing a role in restoring justice.”
Victims get little help elsewhere. Rape crisis centers and hot lines remain extremely rare in China. Beijing, with more than 20 million people, has one sexual assault hot line that supposedly operates four evenings a week. One recent week, the telephone went unanswered on two of those nights.
Ms. Guo says her center is the only private group in China that offers legal aid specifically to rape victims. But the center is fighting for its life. Because of government pressure, it lost its standing as a nongovernmental group and was forced to relinquish about half of its financing. Further restrictions may be in store.
As in many countries, in China only a small fraction of rape victims ever charge their attackers. In a country of 1.3 billion, fewer than 32,000 sex crimes were reported in 2007, the latest year for which government statistics are available. By contrast, the number of rapes reported in the United States that year was more than 12 times as high.
“Let me give you an example,” said Li Ying, the vice director of Ms. Guo’s center. “A few years ago there was a case where one man in a village raped more than 100 women. Not one of them spoke up.”
The teacher’s case is a glaring example of how “officials in remote places cover for each other and protect each other,” said Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
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