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Lydia Sun — July 21, 2023

Why Survivors Stay Silent after Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

Lydia Sun

In China, 84% of women have been subjected to different forms of sexual harassment, with working women being the most victimized group. Many new graduates that are women are assigned to accompany clients to dinner, karaoke, and drink meetings in the workplace. These environments include being plied with alcohol where individuals’ inhibitions are lowered. This leaves many vulnerable to physical contact and experiences of sexual assault perpetrated by clients and their superiors. This is a prevalent phenomenon in work environments across China. Despite their working environment being overwhelmed with unwelcome sexual advances, many women  freshmen choose to stay in the position. The reasons are that, firstly, it is very challenging to get hired due to the COVID-19 pandemic, oftentimes, graduates have to struggle for months to seek job vacancies. Additionally, in some situations, sexual advances and events are perceived as ‘a joke,’ which renders victims confused about whether it is suitable to make complaints to supervisors or not. The atmosphere in the workplaces of a  male-dominated society can make women believe it is a normal part of their job to go and accompany associates for drinks off-duty. Inexperienced women  workers are worried to be accused of being unprofessional when they refuse to attend social events. For this reason, they feel pressured to  participate in these events. Women tend to be oppressed into silence about their experience in the workforce, and leaders of various industries are not prioritizing improvements in the workplace. The lack of concern by employers causes many young workers to remain silent in the wake of sexual harassment and violence. Here are some reasons why: 

  1. Fear of Losing Their Job Or Retaliation 

A friend of mine, who gave me permission to share their story, disclosed to me  that they were sexually harassed by their boss, who is a partner in a firm. In order to obtain their needed license to practice, they needed to work under their boss for one year. They were afraid to leave their job because the initial six months they invested would be wasted. When the time came for them to negotiate their compensation, they opted not to ask for a higher amount for fear that their boss would accuse them of extortion. My friend did not want this incident to impact the future of their career if they chose to move on to another firm. The fear of retaliation pushes many employers out of roles and even industries. In my friend’s case, they felt the influence and power of their former boss all over their region of China. They chose to leave their residing city and pursue a career in another region of China.

  1. Lack of Trust in a Country’s Judicial System

The judicial system’s definition of  sexual harassment is flawed. Even though in In Chinese criminal law, sexual offenses such as rape or forced indecent are criminalized. However, sexual harassment may only be illustrated in the administrative code or civil regulations. It is difficult to define sexual harassment as well as obtain evidence. Survivors face judgment in consent when describing incidents of sexual harassment Oftentimes, survivors need to repeat the incident describing the physical contact and verbal harassment to parties, including police, the prosecution, and the court. This exposes the survivor to revictimization, which can lead to additional experiences of trauma. 

  1. Traditional Chinese Confucian Culture & Negative Social Stigmas

The traditional Chinese Confucian system of three cardinal guides and five constant virtues is the historical basis for the causes of sexual harassment. The code theories of three cardinal guides and five constant virtues are “Qinqin” as well as “Zunzun.” Qinqin can be explained as intimacy, which means in a family, male elders play the role of taking charge of family affairs. Wives and children need to be respectful of their male elders and do well in their duties. Zunzun can be explained as respect, which means in a society under the rule of the king, all subjects should be centered on the sovereign. 

The traditional Chinese Confucian system is a form of patriarchy. The position of men being superior to women has formed over time. In Filipas and Ullman’s study, 98% of female sexual assault survivors reported experiencing negative social reactions when disclosing their traumatic experience to others, with victim blame highlighted as a particularly unhelpful response. In Dworkin and his colleagues’ study, 70% of the studies based on social reactions to interpersonal violence found on negative social reactions were exclusively focused on the sexual violence sample. 

Under the baptism of traditional Confucianism, women abide by the three obedience and four virtues. The patriarchy revealed by Confucianism not only puts women in a subordinate position but also causes women to suffer physical, sexual, and emotional abuse from these patriarchal values. In Suarez and Gadalla’s study, cultural bias toward sexual crimes more often manifests in the form of stigmatizing remarks, whereas egocentric distress might arise more readily among disclosure recipients when the victim was subjected to bodily harm rather than nonviolent crimes.

Until now, China is a country that values traditional culture, and Confucianism — the mainstream of traditional culture — is even more widespread. The silencing and stigmatizing reactions following sexual violence may lead to a lower rate of reporting of reporting the crime to the police or a higher rate of psychopathology following sexual assault. Victims may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or scrutinized. The cultural dross of male inferiority still impacts survivors’ minds. Explicitly or implicitly, and this is what leads many survivors to  remain silent. There is still a long way to go to empower victims to speak out against sexual harassment, and a long way to go to change the attitudes of Chinese men and women towards sexual issues.

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