Liu’s sentence was handed down despite the increased public outcry and legal crackdown against the rise of sexual molestation and assaults on minors over the past few years.
According to the SPP’s website, which gives examples of previous cases but with many details obscured to protect the victims’ privacy, under the previous law, the Supreme People’s Court sentenced a school principal surnamed Qi to life in prison for molesting and raping girls in classrooms and his office. The verdict following an appeal by prosecutors was much heavier than the 10-year sentence given by the local court.
In another case the SPP cited, on February 14, Shanghai Jiading People’s Court sentenced a man surnamed Zhang to 12 years in prison for child abuse. Zhang was a repeat offender, released from jail in January 2020 on similar charges.
Zhang appealed, believing that as he had not physically abused minors, but had enticed girls aged 9-11 to send intimate photos, he should not be punished. Shanghai Second Intermediate People’s Court upheld the sentence, saying that it was his second offense, and it was severe abuse of the minors’ mental health and self-esteem.
In Liu’s case, regardless of how sincere his confession was according to the local court, the headmaster should have been punished more severely in line with the laws formulated to protect minors, experts argued.
“A reasonable penalty should be from 5-15 years in prison,” Wan Miaoyan, a lawyer in Sichuan Province, told news website Chengdu.cn. Lawyer Hou Shizhao from Hebei Province agreed that a harsh penalty is necessary because the crimes Liu committed definitely come under the umbrella of “serious circumstances” stipulated by the law.
The public joined the debate. “I can’t begin to vent my anger when the man hasn’t been sentenced to at least 10 years in prison,” netizen “Gao Jian” commented on Chengdu.cn on June 20.
However, according to the Sui County People’s Court, hard evidence was necessary to charge Liu with rape. An anonymous court staffer told NewsChina on July 3 that the investigation is ongoing, but declined to give a timeline for new announcements on the case.
In 2022, 36,957 perpetrators were prosecuted for the molestation or sexual assault of minors, a surge of 20.4 percent year-on-year, according to the annual white paper issued by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on June 1. The sharp rise is partly because of people’s growing awareness of legal protection, under which more parents want to bring alleged perpetrators to trial.
It is also partly because of the compulsory report system launched in 2020, where public organizations including hospitals, schools, village committees and social welfare institutes are obliged to call police if minors are found to have been subjected to domestic violence, abduction or abandonment, or involved in pregnancy and abortion, He Ting told NewsChina.
In 2022, the number of compulsory reports grew to 160 percent of the total previous cases combined. The most searched case was related to a girl from Siyang County, Suqian, Jiangsu Province. While she was visiting a local hospital, the doctors there found she might have been raped. Police arrested the perpetrator, surnamed Liu, who was sentenced to 12 years. The hospital was able to collect evidence of the rape.
Despite the progress, many cases have yet to surface, Wang Dawei, criminal psychologist and professor at the People’s Public Security University in Beijing, told news website Workercn.cn in an interview on June 19.
“Many minors are too young to understand the offenses when they are sexually abused by perpetrators who could be their teachers or relatives,” Tong said. “Some victims don’t understand the seriousness of the crime, while others are too scared to speak up.”
According to Tong, in many families, sexual assault is taboo and should not be spoken of to anyone, much less to police. Despite searching for legal help, some parents may victim blame, accusing their children of recklessness or overreaction.
In China, sex education in schools remains a sensitive topic opposed by some parents. Since curriculums change often, social organizations work steadily to raise awareness among minors, especially those living with extended family in landlocked rural areas, hoping they can protect themselves from sexual assault through the knowledge they have learned.
Among those who call the police, some must face repeated interrogations and multiple physical examinations, forcing victims to recount their trauma over and over, especially in front of unsympathetic officials. Sometimes, when the evidence is not clear-cut, police refuse to charge the alleged abusers or the case falls apart in court.