When a young employee at Alibaba, one of China’s biggest tech companies, accused her manager and a corporate client of sexually assaulting her after working with alcohol last summer, it was in response to the country’s burgeoning #MeToo movement. seemed like a turning point.
Months later it hadn’t worked out that way.
In September, prosecutors decided not to charge the woman’s boss because they said her behavior was not a crime. In November, Alibaba fired the woman, identified by police and her lawyers by her last name, Zhou. The company claimed that Ms. Zhou damaged her reputation by spreading lies.
But now, in the latest development, a Chinese court on Wednesday found Zhang Guo – the corporate client whom Ms Zhou has accused of sexually assaulting her boss – guilty of “enforced indecency”. It sentenced Mr Zhang to 18 months in prison, becoming one of the few high-profile examples of men being held accountable following allegations of sexual assault against men in China.
The Huayyin District People’s Court in east China wrote in its ruling that it found Mr. Zhang to have taken advantage of Ms. Zhou’s intoxication and harassed her near the restaurant’s reception desk and in a private dining room. . It was also noted that Mr. Zhang went to her hotel room the next day and attacked her again.
Alibaba fired Ms. Zhou’s former boss, identified by her last name as Wang in news reports, after Ms. Zhou publicly accused him of raping him. Alibaba did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday’s court ruling against Mr. Zhang. Mr. Zhang’s lawyer, Feng Yanqiang, said the verdict was wrong and he pleaded not guilty to his client. Mr. Zhang told the court he planned to appeal the decision, his attorney said.
Jun 21, 2022 3:44pm ET
Ms. Zhou said in a written response to the questions that Mr. Zhang’s sentence was less than he expected. She said her mental and physical health deteriorated as a result of the episode, and she was concerned the court’s ruling would discourage other women from reporting in China.
“I can’t just encourage more women to be stronger and braver because I know how painful and difficult that process is,” she said. But instead of “dying” with no answer, he said, “one should choose to work hard and seek justice.”
The incident drew national attention last year when Ms. Zhou stood up and yelled about sexual assault in Alibaba’s cafeteria. In a video posted online, she loudly accuses her mentors and HR of ignoring her complaints. As the video circulated on social media, it sparked an uproar among viewers, who became angry at the many prejudices and power imbalances faced by women in China.
The #MeToo movement is struggling to gain momentum in the country. Women who accuse men of sexual harassment or creating a toxic workplace are often met with hate online. Organizations promote women’s empowerment messages, but many women say allegations of misconduct by colleagues or bosses are often ignored.
The court said on Wednesday that prosecutors had provided “credible and sufficient evidence” to build the case against Mr. Zhang. It was said that Mr. Zhang neither confessed nor apologized. Chinese news media said neither Ms. Zhou nor Mr. Wang, both of whom were listed as witnesses, appeared in court during a two-day trial in early June.
Claire Fu contributed to the research.