Young, Rural Women Sexually Harassed in Hunan, China

May 27, 2006 Updated: September 15, 2015

Xiaoxin, from a rural county outside Changsha City, says she’ll always remember the time she told her boss about her first encounter with sexual harassment on the job. Her boss replied, “Customers are like God. How can God sexually harass anyone?”

Investigations conducted by the New Rural Reconstruction Research Center of Hunan Social Science Academy revealed that the majority of young female rural workers in Changsha City, Hunan Province have experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment.

Sixty-five percent of the city’s young female rural workers are employed in service industries such as massage and beauty salons, hotels, restaurants and the entertainment industry. Of those, 74 percent have experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment.

According to the report of the investigations published in the Xiaoxiang Morning Paper in Hunan Province, nearly half of these young female service workers reported verbal harassment while serving customers. Fifteen percent said the customers had sexually harassed them physically. According to the report, 8 percent of the young female workers think that flirting language or behavior constitutes sexual harassment. But 64.8 percent think that the behavior is disrespectful to them and to other women.

Xiaosu works in a foot-washing shop. She said, “Whenever my guests tell pornographic stories, I feel disgusted. I feel like someone is tearing my clothes off. I feel uncomfortable and I start blushing. I am not a street walker. I do honest work.”

The investigation shows that among the 74 percent who think that they have to actively protect themselves in these situations, 28 percent put up with sexual harassment. When facing harassment, only 46 percent take action to protect themselves, and 50 percent do not.

In addition, 37 percent consider getting their supervisors’ protection and help, though few of them (only 6 percent) actually seek out help from them. Xiaosu said, “We will only be put in an unfavorable situation if we ask our bosses for help. Few bosses would offend customers to help their employees.”

The investigation found that 15 percent think that harassment is a significant issue. Yet they said, “In our career, we cannot offend the customers.”

Tingting is from the countryside in Hubei Province. She works in an entertainment center in Changsha City. She said that when she served a male customer on her second night, he leered at her and pulled her towards him. She struggled to get away and ran downstairs. The customer then got angry at her boss. In turn, her boss threatened her and said, “You can quit. But you have to pay me 500 yuan (US$60) to get your ID card back.” Since then she has been getting used to sexual harassment.

Fu Lijuan, director of the Women and Children Legal Help Center in Hunan Province, said that employers are responsible for protecting their employees and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. These responsibilities will be set down in detail in the Regulations on Protecting the Rights of Hunan Women, currently being developed.

She said that the law only protects victims, so young female workers must know how to prevent sexual harassment.