Schools should be obliged to report abuse to fight pedophilia
○ It has become common for child sexual abuse cases to be exposed on the Internet, where social media outrage can force the authorities to act, however this process can harm victims
○ Experts say China's child welfare system is flawed, as inter-departmental communication is lacking and there are no clear guidelines for intervention
When writer Chen Lan, who has more than 580,000 followers on Weibo, received a photo from one of her fans which showed a young girl being molested in public, she immediately posted it online, hoping it would make an impact.
It did. Within hours, her post was forwarded more than 140,000 times and the image had gone viral all over the Internet.
The photo was taken at Nanjing South Railway Station in August, and shows a preteen girl sitting on a young man's lap as he tucks his hands into her clothes. A middle-aged couple are nearby, who are suspected to be the girl's parents.
It aroused waves of questions. Who are these people? Why didn't they stop the man? Why does the girl look so calm?
Within hours, Nanjing railway police were asking Chen for more details. On August 28, the Nanjing Railway Procuratorate announced they had arrested the molester, who they identified as the girl's brother. Officials also said the girl is adopted. The case is now being reviewed.
But the quick reaction left questions unanswered. Chen wrote on her Weibo that it was fortunate the image was shared and forwarded many times, "but if the netizen didn't send out the photo, but reported it to the local police, the molester would probably have not been arrested because he's placed under the umbrella protection of 'family.'"
In the digital age
In recent years, there's been a trend of sexual assault and harassment cases being exposed online rather than through conventional law enforcement channels. By posting information and photos online, public anger can force law enforcement to act rapidly.
Just days after the Nanjing railway station case, images of another child molester went viral online. Police later confirmed that the man shown inappropriately touching a young girl in these images was her uncle.
On August 15, Internet police in Jiangsu Province received an anonymous report from a Weibo user who claimed to have found a website hosting videos of young girls being molested. It cost 30 yuan ($4.59) to sign up to the site and see their library of videos. The girls are shown in various states of undress and performing sexually-charged actions such as licking feet or taking off their clothes. The website also sells socks, shoes and even underwear worn by the children.
Sun Xuemei, one of the founders of advocacy group the Girls' Protection Foundation, told the media that the cases revealed online are only the tip of the iceberg.
According to Girls' Protection Foundation research, from 2013 to 2015, there were 968 child sexual assault cases in China exposed online and in the media, with 1,790 victims. This data doesn't include news reports that were ambiguous about the number of victims and simply used the word "multiple."
Furthermore, the consensus of society and academia on this issue is that there are about seven unreported cases for every one that is exposed, Wang Dawei, a professor with People's Public Security University of China, told the Xinhua News Agency.
From online to offline
Some netizens choose to report such cases on the Internet because they either have no other choice or are not aware of any alternatives. Earlier this year, a student surnamed Zhang exposed a cellphone application on question-and-answer site zhihu.com which contained information about child sexual abuse cases.
She also wrote that most of the victims mentioned on the app were minors living in small towns and many didn't even realize they were being assaulted or raped. Some of them were even being raped by their relatives. It was a shocking sight and got her thinking, what could others do to help?
After she posted the information online, she was contacted by the media and by the public account of the Central Committee of the China Communist Youth League, who told her they will look into it.