Sexual harassment scandal rocks China’s charity sector

Lei Chuang, a well-known figure within the Chinese non-profit sector, was accused yesterday of sexual harassment, six months after publicly offering his suggestions on how to prevent sexual harassment in the wake of the #metoo campaign spreading to Chinese universities.

A hepatitis B carrier, Lei founded the Yiyou Charity Center to counter discrimination against HBV carriers like himself in the society and in the workplace. Since 2009, him and his organization have received many accolades for defending the welfare of the disadvantaged.

The Accusation

Howevver, on the morning of July 23rd an anonymous open letter was published online, accusing Lei of sexual assaulting the author of the letter and potentially many other girls.

The victim wrote that the harassment took place during a hiking trip from Inner Mongolia to Beijing that Lei organized to raise awareness for overpriced hepatitis B medication in 2015. Lei started off giving her special attention and care, including some “slightly inappropriate touches”. She thought Lei was simply taking care of her as if she were his “little sister”, as he himself said, until he picked her alone to enter Beijing with him and led her to a hotel room with a single bed.

After she insisted on the inappropriateness of sleeping on the same bed, Lei claimed that people in the nonprofit industry are all “very poor”, and that she could feel free to sleep on the floor. Shortly after, however, Lei is said to have had sex with her against her will.

The victim wrote that she endured an unbearable “tearing pain” that night and unmanageable psychological trauma in the following three years. “I blamed myself for being a ‘bad girl’ and had to stay in a relationship with him afterwards to ‘rationalize’ the abuse and make the whole thing bearable,” she wrote.

The victim also said that it was when she heard of other accounts of Lei sexually assaulting interns and volunteers in Yiyou that she eventually decided to go public with her story.

In response, Lei published a letter of apology online and resigned from his position as the head of Yiyou yesterday morning. Nevertheless, a few hours later, he claimed that he was in a “proper romantic relationship” with the victim, even though he acknowledged that the relationship might not have been entirely voluntary on her side.

Following the attention garnered from the Lei Chuang case, further allegations against other prominent male figures in the philanthropic sector have been made in quick succession, prompting a “me too” movement. As of date, another three men (Deng Fei, Feng Youfeng and Yuan Tianpeng) working in the sector have been accused and have issued public statements regarding their actions, after numerous women came forward to tell their stories.

A response from Guangzhou Gender Education Centre

This morning the Guangzhou Gender Education Centre published an open letter in response to the incident. Anyone is free to sign the letter, and it has already collected a few dozen signatures from various other individuals and organizations within the charity sector. This is our translation of the content (see the original here):

As organizations and individuals who strive for social equality, freedom and fairness, the recent events that uncovered multiple cases of sexual harassment within the charity sector have left us deeply shocked. Some of our friends have expressed their amazement and inability to believe it.

According to United Nations statistics, globally 35% of women have experienced sexual assault or violence; this will naturally include some of the women working in the philanthropic sector, who make up a large proportion of the sector’s workforce. What has been hard to believe is that some of the perpetrators of these actions have come from within the sector itself. Those who work against discrimination and for equality are discriminating against women and creating inequalities.

The charity sector proclaims the values and principles of social justice to the outside world, but there seems to be a double standard when these values are applied within the sector itself. This also reflects that just like in other industries, women in the charitable industry are vulnerable and there is gender inequality.

As people and organizations who strive to create an ideal society and solve social problems, we feel the need to examine ourselves and our own responsibilities, so we have published this letter of proposal and commitment.

We propose:

  1. The charitable/philanthropic industry should face sexual harassment and infringement head on with zero tolerance.
  2. The industry should strengthen awareness and education on gender equality, gender nonconformity and sexual harassment prevention. There should be organisation-wide trainings at least once a year.
  3. The industry should adhere to the principle of gender equality, creating mechanisms and security for gender equality and prevention of sexual harassment, in order to eradicate sexual harassment, violence and other exploitive actions.

We are willing to strengthen our own organisation’s and individual behaviour in these three aspects, support victims and avoid the occurrence of further cases of sexual harassment and violation.

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