TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Two men were detained Saturday on suspicion of sexual assault in a case that shook Alibaba Group, the world’s biggest e-commerce company, Chinese police announced.
The men, identified by the surnames Wang and Zhang, were suspected of the crime of “forcible molestation,” police in the eastern city of Jinan said in a statement. It said they were under “coercive measures,” a euphemism for detention.
There was no evidence to indicate the men committed rape, a different charge under Chinese law, the police statement said.
Alibaba was shaken last week after a female employee’s complaint on an internal company website that she was sexually assaulted by a manager surnamed Wang became public. The woman complained Alibaba failed to act after she reported the incident to its human resources department.
The woman, surnamed Zhou, had flown into Jinan on July 27, the police statement said. Her team successfully signed a deal with Jinan Hualian Supermarket and decided to celebrate that night with a banquet. They invited a man surnamed Zhang from the supermarket as well as his colleagues.
The first assault took place at the dinner, after Zhou had to leave the room to throw up from drinking too much. Zhang from the supermarket chain accompanied her and molested her on the way back to the banquet room, police said.
Later, Wang, the woman's manager at Alibaba, went with another female dinner guest to take the drunken Zhou back to her hotel. After dropping her off in her room, they went to call for taxis.
However, instead of leaving and going back to his hotel, Wang went back inside. He went to the front desk, holding Zhou's national ID card, and had a key made for himself, police said. The hotel had called Zhou to get her consent before giving him the key.
Wang entered her room a total of four times that night. Police said he assaulted her after returning to her room alone. According to the investigation, he then ordered condoms online, but they did not arrive until later.
The next morning, after the woman, Zhou, had woken up she allegedly made a phone call to Zhang from the supermarket and told him her room number. Police said he came over to her hotel and assaulted her, taking her underwear and leaving a box of unused condoms in the room.
Zhou reported the assaults to Jinan police the same day after having checked out from the hotel. On July 29, the day after, police in Jinan said they had to extend the review period another 30 days before they could formally file a case, owing to its complexity.
After Zhou went public with her accusations and her story went viral, the police listed her case formally in the system as a sexual assault case.
Alibaba did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Women in China face a very steep uphill battle in trying to get justice for any form of sexual violence. Whether it's sexual harassment or rape, victims often face the burden of evidence in court.
"It’s hard for many victims to win a sexual assault case in court," said Li Ying, a lawyer and director of the Yuanzhong Gender Development Center, told state-owned China Daily. “Even if the victims have the evidence, they have to prove the perpetrator acted against their will.”
Still, some have been heartened, after a limited #MeToo movement emerged in China in 2018. Then, young women went public with accusations against the men who had assaulted or harassed them, opening up the public conversation in a way that had not been seen before.
However, the movement faced a tremendous amount of pressure from local and central authorities, as well as extensive censorship, and was obstructed.
In response to the #MeToo movement, China codified sexual harassment in its civil code last year, but did little to lay out guidelines for enforcement. While the law provides protection for women against any form of sexual violence, enforcement remains difficult.