Tangshan Assault - what happened?
On June 10, 2022 a video clip went viral on the internet and led to a nationwide uproar in China: it graphically depicted an assault against a woman (as well as her friends) because the woman had — clearly shown from the video — rejected a man's sexual harassment.
Warning: this article may contain distressing images.
Below is the summary in combination of the video and a report of Tang Shan Police Station.
It was around 2:40 am in the morning. Four women were eating a meal in a barbeque restaurant when a man (Chen) approached one of the women and touched her back. After the woman's explicit refusal, Chen (along with his acquaintances) started to beat the woman and her friends up. They dragged the victims outside the shop and continued their assault (including smashing bottles against their head and violently kicking the women). The assaulters fled the scene but was later all arrested by the police on June 11. The four victims' injuries were stable and non-life-threatening: two women were hospitalised for treatment (with one suffering serious mouth injuries and loss of teeth).
Click here for the video.
This video spread like wildfire on Weibo as people were appalled that any woman could be horrendously abused simply because they had refused sexual harassments and stood up for themselves. It was even more heart-aching to see that no one/nothing could prevent the assault which lasted for a prolonged period of time. Although the video did present other people from the restaurant attempting to mediate the situation, it was of no avail. This was not an isolated social incident; rather, it continually revealed the assertion of the overlook of gender violence in the society. A strikingly similar incident took place in eastern Zhejiang province in 2020: after a woman's rejection of sexual harassment at a restaurant, she was beaten to the degree of unconsciousness. The penalty that the men experienced was only detainment for 10 to 13 days - with no further charges pursued. The undertone of public's complacency of gender violence was demonstrated from the frequent reports of domestic violence coupled with the general norm that "domestic disputes are a family's private problem".
It was clear that the ex-ante laws (e.g., crime of intentional assault or provocation) were not able to stop these abusers from continuing their actions. If the report of media and video were correct, then under Criminal Law of the Republic of China's Provocation and Causing Disturbances clause, the suspects will likely constitute "creating trouble from nothing". They could be penalised for up to five years of imprisonment, detention or control. In addition, depending on the degree of harm that was identified by the state-level judicial expertise institutions, the sentence of the defendants with regards to intentional assault could vary. In this case, it could be one of the following:
Level 2 Minor Injury: The injury or sequelae is not life-threatening; the structure and function of the remaining tissues and organs are slightly damaged or the appearance is affected.
Level 1 Minor Injury: The injury or sequelae is not life-threatening; the structure and function of the remaining tissues and organs are moderately damaged or the appearance is obviously affected.
Level 2 Serious Injury: Injury or sequelae endangering life; handicapped limbs or mild disfigurement; loss of hearing, vision or other vital organ functions.
For serious injury it could be between three to ten years of imprisonment, while for minor injury, it could only be up to three years. However, if the harm was only identified as mild injury (minor damage to the structure of tissues and organs or minor dysfunction), the defendants could not be charged against intentional injury. The penalties that could be given are insufficient in comparison with the grave wrongdoings committed by the defendants and the ripple effects it had caused.
Hence, this shouldn't be it. The judicial system should be able to award ex-post damages to the victims using this case. In specific, punitive compensation should be considered as this case raises several important issues that the laws were countering against.
Not only did it reveal the deep-rooted and pervasive systematic gender inequality in China, it also instigated discussions on the gangsters in China. Voices were raised especially among the neighbouring community of the experience of successive abuses from the local gangsters where the group thrived under police's protection. From a storeowner's testimony against the presence and threat of gangsters, he said that the gangster said in front of the police's and his face:
I will not obey the law.
The punitive damages perform the function of deterring the defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct. Putting this case in an ideal situation, punitive damages should be used to prevent further encroachment of the basic rights of individuals.
N.B. However, realistically, it is unlikely that the judicial system in China will provide any punitive damage as China only introduced this form of compensation under Measures for Penalties against Infringement upon Consumers' Rights and Interests in 1993.