An official in China said that a sexual assault survivor was not attractive enough to be raped, prompting criticism from social media users.
The victim, identified as Ms. Fu, accused a village party secretary, identified as Cui, of sexually assaulting her three different times between 2014 and 2015.
In 2016, Fu finally reported the incidents to the village’s discipline inspection commission. When the case was transferred to the party’s local office, Secretary Hao, the head of the agency, made little of the accusations.
“Cui was over 50 years old at the time, you haven’t seen this female comrade — I can’t say she’s unbearably ugly, but she does not have the looks by far, to stimulate any desire,” Hao told local news outlets.
He then added that they couldn’t simply protect a simple secretary.
“The real situation is not as Ms. Fu said — she is purposely trying to damage another with no regard to her own reputation,” he said.
When asked about the crime by local reporters, Cui denied the accusations and said that he was being framed.
After the backlash, the Renqiu city party commission announced on Chinese social media that the city’s discipline commission had opened a probe into this incident and the officials involved, and they were also investigating Fu’s allegations.
Still, they did not address the comments made by Hao.
Commentators were not having any of it, however.
“This is not something that a subdistrict office secretary should say, shouldn’t he speak based on evidence? What the heck does it have to do with attractiveness? Old ladies get sexually assaulted too — does it have to do with attractiveness?” one commentator asked.
Another said that locals have a hard time standing up to local officials because of their power.
Others continued to criticize the government for allowing a secretary to victim-blame the survivor, while some of the commentators actually agreed with Hao, saying “A 50-year-old woman from a farming village. Who would be interested in that?”
In an interview, Chinese feminist activist Lü Pin said that the practice of victim-blaming and character assassination of women who suffer abuse is commonplace in the country.
“In this case, the secretary and the [alleged] attacker are actually linked by power and interest. So for him, using that convenient patriarchal language to attack the victim was a way to protect the people of power within his circle,” she said.
But she also explained that over the years, awareness raised by people like her helped to make a huge difference.
“But now, the public are very savvy towards these tactics to shame victims and can clearly recognise that they are a sign of officials covering for each other,” she explained.
While the backlash associated with the official’s comments helped to push the government to investigate, Pin said that officials in important, powerful positions often get away with abuse.
Hopefully, this incident and the criticism that officials had to face will help to change this reality, especially for victims, who perhaps may feel more empowered to report abuse thanks to Fu’s courage to come forward.