HONG KONG – It was a beating to see.
An official in northeast China who complained about harassing his boss’s text messages was caught on camera beating him with the commercial end of a mop, sparking debate over the persistence of workplace harassment and turning it into an Internet sensation.
In the 14-minute video, the woman, later identified by her last name, Zhou, can be seen throwing books in the face of her boss, identified as Wang, and spraying him with water, besides hitting it with the mop. He is seen hiding his face behind his fingers, trying to apologize and saying he was joking when he sent the messages.
It is not known exactly when the incident took place, but local media said the woman filed a police report last week accusing her boss of harassment, and the video began circulating widely online this week. It has been viewed millions of times, with many social media users enjoying what they saw as an unusual manifestation of resistance against an authority figure in a country with limited protections against sexual harassment in the workplace. Many users have sided with the woman, praising her for turning the balance of power and calling her an advocate for justice and a martial arts warrior.
Lu Pin, a prominent Chinese feminist activist, said many saw the video as an outlet for pent-up anger at the general lack of accountability for stalkers and the remedies available to the courts or the police. . Many victims of bullying feel powerless to report it and fear they will not be believed or face retaliation if they do.
“Most of the time, women are forced to remain silent because it is difficult to investigate sexual harassment,” Ms. Lu said in an interview on Tuesday. “This woman took matters into her own hands to protect herself; the fact that his behavior attracts so much attention is a reflection that there are no better ways. “
Chinese state news media identified the man as the deputy director of a government poverty alleviation agency in Beilin District in Suihua, a city in Heilongjiang Province. After an internal investigation revealed that he had “life discipline problems,” he was dismissed from his official duties in accordance with the Communist Party’s disciplinary measures, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. The employee was not disciplined as officials said she suffered from an unspecified “mental illness”. No further details were available. Neither the man nor the woman could be reached for comment.
China passed a law in 2005 banning sexual harassment and giving victims the right to complain to their employers. A number of regulations have followed in recent years that have made employers responsible for “preventing and suppressing” sexual harassment. However, few workplaces have adopted strong policies against it, said Darius Longarino, senior researcher at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center.
“Very few lawsuits have been brought against stalkers, and even fewer successful cases,” Mr. Longarino said in an interview. “If the case comes down to testimony, the court often finds that there is not enough evidence to prove that the harassment took place.”
Victims of harassment may even become the target of legal action themselves. In 2019, after a woman in the Chinese city of Chengdu filed a police report saying she had been harassed by a colleague, the colleague filed a lawsuit. Although the lawsuit was largely dismissed, the woman was ordered to issue a court-considered apology in a focus group where she discussed the harassment, in order to reverse the “ill effects” on her colleague.
In the video footage of the mop episode, Ms. Zhou says that Mr. Wang sent her unwanted text messages three times, and others in the office received similar unwanted attention. She can be seen and heard making a call and accusing her boss of assault.
On the phone, she says she has already reported her actions to the police. According to local media, police said they recorded their report against his boss last week and are investigating his allegations. Suihua City and Beilin District government offices, as well as the Beilin District police, did not respond to requests for comment.
Activists have called for more system protections for such cases.
“How can we support more victims who have not caught the public’s attention?” Ms. Lu said. “These questions have only been raised and there are no answers.”
Ms. Zhou’s case is helped by the fact that she has a recording of her boss’s confession, Mr. Longarino said.
In many situations, he said, “there is no viral video.”
Claire Fu helped research Beijing.