TAIPEI, Taiwan—Two men were detained Saturday on suspicion of sexual assault in a case that shook Alibaba Group, the world’s biggest e-commerce company, Chinese police announced.
The men, identified by the surnames Wang and Zhang, were suspected of the crime of “forcible molestation,” police in the eastern city of Jinan said in a statement. It said they were under “coercive measures,” a euphemism for detention.
There was no evidence to indicate the men committed rape, a different charge under Chinese law, the police statement said.
Alibaba was shaken last week after a female employee’s complaint on an internal company website that she was sexually assaulted by a manager surnamed Wang became public. The woman complained Alibaba failed to act after she reported the incident to its human resources department.
The woman, surnamed Zhou, had flown into Jinan on July 27, the police statement said. That night and the following morning, she was reportedly assaulted by Wang and Zhang.
Zhou reported the assaults to Jinan police the same day after having checked out from the hotel. On July 29, the day after, police in Jinan said they had to extend the review period another 30 days before they could formally file a case, owing to its complexity.
After Zhou went public with her accusations and her story went viral, the police listed her case formally in the system as a sexual assault case.
Alibaba did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Women in China face a very steep uphill battle in trying to get justice for any form of sexual violence. Whether it’s sexual harassment or rape, victims often face the burden of evidence in court.
“It’s hard for many victims to win a sexual assault case in court,” Li Ying, a lawyer and director of the Yuanzhong Gender Development Center, told state-owned China Daily. “Even if the victims have the evidence, they have to prove the perpetrator acted against their will.”
Still, some have been heartened, after a limited #MeToo movement emerged in China in 2018. Then, young women went public with accusations against the men who had assaulted or harassed them, opening up the public conversation in a way that had not been seen before.
However, the movement faced a tremendous amount of pressure from local and central authorities, as well as extensive censorship, and was obstructed.
In response to the #MeToo movement, China codified sexual harassment in its civil code last year, but did little to lay out guidelines for enforcement. While the law provides protection for women against any form of sexual violence, enforcement remains difficult.
By Huizhong Wu