Teachers in Nanning, Guangxi, learn from soldiers how to guard against attack. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
A man who touched the breasts of two females, including a minor, in a subway car was this month (Oct) given a prison sentence in Shanghai, a move that has been hailed nationwide.
It was the first time in Shanghai that a prison term had been handed down for a case of molestation on public transportation.
Offenders in such cases had been typically sentenced to administrative detention for five to 10 days, mainly due to insufficient evidence. Before the Shanghai case, only two offenders in Beijing had received prison terms for molestation on public transportation.
Lawyers said the Shanghai case differed to those in Beijing, which took place in the past two years, and in which the offenders injured either the victim or a police officer when attempting to flee.
According to the law, cases of molestation involve physical violence. In the Shanghai case, the court ruled that the victim's rights had been violated.
Ding Yaqing, a lawyer based in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, who focuses on sex and gender cases, said: "It showed that the Shanghai court made efforts in terms of obtaining evidence and strengthening judicial power. A court judgment of this nature gives the public an important reminder that such offenses are criminal acts and should not be endured alone."
Lawyers said such decisions will serve as a good example for courts elsewhere in the country.
They will also raise public awareness, especially among young women, who are usually the victims in such incidents as offenders take advantage of their reluctance to retaliate in public. Furthermore, the decisions will deter molesters in public areas.
"That's why these court decisions will be so important, as they will give more victims the courage to safeguard their rights," Ding said.
On Oct 15, a 34-year-old man, surnamed Wang, was sentenced six months in prison by Shanghai Jing'an District People's Court.
After the court decision was announced, Wang's mother said she hoped her son would abandon attempts to lodge an appeal and "sincerely repent for his misconduct".
During the evening rush hour on July 1, Wang sat close beside a female, who is a minor, in a subway car on Line 8 in Shanghai. He touched the girl's breast for about five minutes by pretending to lay his left hand on his right arm.
She attempted to get away from Wang by moving seats, but he followed her and continued to molest her, the court said.
Wang later touched another woman's breast in the same way on the subway. However, she confronted him, chased him onto the platform and, with the help of other passengers, summoned police, who arrested him.
Many netizens have voiced hopes that more courts will take a tougher stand against such offenders.
"Shiyuan" a Sina Weibo user from Huai'an city, Jiangsu province, said she was molested on a bus when she was a teenager. Since the incident, she has never taken a bus journey on her own.
There have been many media reports about sexual harassment on public transportation.
In July, a man was accused of using his mobile phone to take "upskirt" pictures of women on a staircase at a railway station in Jinan city, Shandong province. The offender, who walked up and down stairs more than 10 times to take the pictures, was seen by police officers. He was given five days' administrative detention.
The Shanghai Railway Transportation Procuratorate said earlier this year that after it found that some offenders had been repeatedly caught molesting females on the subway, it decided to step up efforts to collect evidence and apply the law "appropriately" to bring such cases to trial and ultimately stop these incidents.
Jin Ying, deputy director of criminal cases at the procuratorate, said: "We held multiple discussions with courts to reach an agreement on the application of the law and believe that molesters can be brought to trial, considering comprehensively the amount of force used by the offender, the time the act of misconduct lasted and the impact on the victim."
Ding Dehong, chief judge in the case involving Wang in Shanghai, said Wang's behavior "fully constituted coercive indecent assault", especially as he continued to pursue the first young woman despite her trying to evade him, and his actions lasted for five minutes. Video surveillance footage in the subway car caught him in the act.
Lawyers said people who fall victims in such cases should be aware that they should collect evidence themselves.
Wang Xiaoyan, an attorney with The Brave Lawyers law firm in Beijing, said, "For example, they should take a lead by walking in areas covered by video surveillance cameras and take recordings, pictures and videos.
"The most important thing is to report such incidents to police as soon as possible," said Wang, who focuses on cases of sexual assault involving minors.
Ding Yaqing, the lawyer in Guangzhou, said the difficulty in gathering evidence may lie in the absence of surveillance footage, but witnesses' statements and police inquiry records can both be used in evidence.
"When a case of molestation occurs in public, the victim can shout for help and people nearby should give assistance as quickly, and as much, as possible to stop such misconduct," she said.
A report two years ago by People's Daily public opinion monitoring office showed that among 40 cases of sexual harassment on public transportation in the first half of that year, only eight victims reported them to police. Just 10 victims shouted at the offenders to stop, while most reacted by leaving their seats quietly or staring back at an offender.
Wu Yaowei, a 17-year-old student in Shanghai, said she believed most young women who are molested do not shout at offenders to stop, as they are scared they will be injured.
"I'm afraid an offender would exact revenge on me and that I'll be mocked by people nearby. So, support from other passengers is vital. I'll only call for help when I'm guaranteed that I'll get it, rather than encountering indifference," she said.
Sun Xuemei, a founder of the Girls' Protection Program at the China Foundation of Culture and Arts for Children, said support from people nearby is especially important for minors. It is also vital to educate minors about avoiding any "suspicious contact" and give them detailed steps on the best ways to protect themselves.
Last year, the program instructed children of both genders in 30 provinces on how to protect themselves against sexual assault, and launched a systematic teaching plan involving professional advice.
However, experts said parents and teachers should be aware that it can be very difficult for a minor to shout "stop" to an adult offender in public in such cases, and parents and teachers must help them with this through repeated role-playing.
Zhu Daqian, deputy director of psychology at the Children's Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai, said: "We will never be able to say we have sufficient sex education for children. It's the same as how we educate them about road safety. We should never tire of telling them of the need to steer clear of danger."