TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan is facing a long-delayed reckoning with sexual harassment and sexual violence. In the past month, people have stepped forward with accusations, one after the other, leading to criminal investigations, resignations at different levels of government, and a society-wide discussion of the unspoken rules that govern gender norms in society.
Taiwan’s #MeToo movement, which had a brief wave of accusations in 2017 as the #MeToo movement swept the globe, reignited on May 31 when a woman named Chen Chien-jou who worked for the Democratic Progressive Party, the party in power, accused film director Hsueh Chao-hui of groping her and making unwanted sexual advances.
When she went to tell Hsu Chia-tien, the party’s head of women’s affairs, Chen was met with dismissal and asked why she hadn’t screamed.
With the 2024 presidential campaign kicking off, Hsu has since resigned from her post, and the party vowed to make changes internally with the backing of its new chair, Lai Ching-te. People within the DPP accused of sexual harassment or assault were pushed to resign, though Hsueh maintained his position as he does not work for the party. He issued a public statement denying the accusation, saying he would cooperate with any investigation and apologizing for any misunderstanding.
On June 8, Taipei city councilor Chung Pei-chun accused pro-Nationalist political pundit Lucifer Chu of forcibly kissing her multiple times and grabbing her in 2022 at a private dinner with friends. Chung had appeared on a news program earlier in June alongside Chu to criticize the DPP’s series of sexual harassment allegations.
The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of alleged sexual assault, but Chung and others named in this report have chosen to publicly identify themselves.
“He was entirely serious as he criticized sexual harassment with a sense of righteousness, right in front of me,” Chung wrote in a Facebook post. “How dare he?” She decided to speak up in honor of the values that initially compelled her to enter politics, she said.
Chu later issued a public apology on Facebook, saying he was cooperating with prosecutors. “I’m willing to accept all the consequences and legal responsibilities.”
Last week, Taipei prosecutors subpoenaed Chu. Chung said she was pursuing all courses of legal action and wouldn’t comment any further on the case.
At first the accusations were primarily in the political sphere, but soon spread.
One person brought a criminal suit against TV host Chen Hsuan-yu. Known by his stage name, NONO, he’s been accused of sexual harassment, assault and other crimes. According to local media, at least 20 women have made accusations against NONO, and Taipei prosecutors are expected to subpoena him. On June 21, influencer Chiu Yao-le accused his former boyfriend Aaron Yan, a popular actor and singer, of filming them in bed without his consent when he was 16. The island’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the ambassador to Thailand was forced to resign after a sexual harassment complaint.
The wave of accusations and personal stories of unwanted encounters has brought the way Taiwan deals with sexual violence to the forefront of society.
“I think this has very effectively raised awareness for the public about sexual harassment, boundaries around the body, boundaries on our speech,” said Cynthia Shih, director of the Awakening Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for women’s rights in Taiwan.
In Taiwan, three separate laws address sexual harassment, depending on where it occurred: educational institutions, workplaces, or somewhere else. That dictates how different government ministries handle the case, Shih said, and cases of assault and rape fall under criminal law.
Shih is hopeful that the energy around the growing #MeToo resurgence could lead to amendments, such as requiring independent investigations for allegations, to the law governing sexual harassment in workplaces, which is due for a review by Taiwan’s legislature later in July.
Several legislators and politicians have vowed legal change. President Tsai Ing-wen, who belongs to the DPP, said in a statement in early June that the party would “make all efforts to investigate the relevant cases, and completely review and improve, while publicizing its reforms.”
But amending the law is only as impactful as the culture allows it to be, said Chung, the city councilor.
“The real problem is in each organizations’ environment, and whether those in charge have gender awareness,” Chung said. “Otherwise, no matter how advanced and improved the law, no matter how tight the laws, if the people in the organizations don’t take it seriously, then there’s no real meaning to it.”
Topics like sexual harassment and sexual violence were rarely discussed in Taiwan, so the #MeToo resurgence provided a chance for people to air accusations of misconduct that had been buried or ignored for years.
At the elite Yu-Jen Catholic Elementary School in Taichung, students were afraid of Tseng Shui-cheng, the head of students who taught 5th and 6th grade, said Chou, one of his former pupils. Now an adult, she requested to use only her last name out of fear of online harassment.
Students feared Tseng’s corporeal punishments and the way he treated female students, especially those who hit puberty earlier, Chou said, alleging he would touch them on their back and linger, and that he once touched her chest. Other former students said he touched their butts or thighs, according to a complaint filed against the school.
“For those two years, everyday was filled with fear,” said Chou. “When you’re so young, you’d wonder would this ever end?”
The Humanistic Education Foundation, a nonprofit experienced in dealing with sexual harassment in schools, helped Chou submit her complaint in 2022.
A special outside committee investigated the complaint, and in late May the foundation published the findings, which corroborated the allegations of sexual harassment by the teacher. The committee required Tseng to attend classes on gender equality and sexual health and post a written apology that could only be viewed in person at the school.
Yu-Jen Elementary School also posted its own apology from academic director Lu Mei-yun on its homepage. “We issue the deepest apologies to the alumni of the school,” said Lu. However, she said, “This happened 34 years ago.”
“The entire process was very closed off and passive,” said Tseng Fang-Yuen, director of the Humanistic Education Foundation’s central bureau, who is not related to the teacher.
A journalist who accused a legislator from the opposition Nationalist Party of unwanted touching said the party falsely claimed the issue was resolved. The man requested anonymity because he feared repercussions for his work as a journalist and gave only his surname, Hu.
He said that while leaving an event held for legislators and journalists at a karaoke venue in March, he shook hands with the legislator Cheng Cheng-chien. The legislator allegedly scratched at Hu’s palm for more than 10 seconds, which Hu said has been a covert signal for sex among gay men.
Cheng, the Nationalist legislator, said in his own press conference that the accusation “had no basis in fact.”
Hu first raised his complaint privately via an email to a dedicated address the Nationalist Party announced June 2, along with a task force to investigate claims. Party officials came to record Hu’s statement and present Cheng’s statement, which he thought was part of a record-keeping process for the investigation. On June 21, the party released a news statement saying the issue was resolved after both sides signed a statement and agreed to conclude. In the statement, they said they would continue to strengthen their response mechanism for sexual harassment issues.
Feeling that the issue was not resolved, Hu appealed to a lawyer friend who then publicized his case as a #MeToo post on Facebook. After that, party officials met with him again, Hu said.
The Nationalist Party issued another statement on June 23 saying they would not drop a case, and if there was new evidence they would restart the investigative process.
AP videojournalist Johnson Lai contributed to this report.
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