Dilemmas of harassment make news in Shanghai subways and London’s law courts

July 10, 2012

The world-wide movement for gender equality reappears in Shanghai’s subways. Notices warning female passengers to dress discretely ‘to avoid harassment’ have met by protests about implied claims that provocation may be used as a defence by sexual predators

Western readers will understand the dilemma. It crops up in various versions. At its crudest, it boils down to the plea that harassment was provoked by the appearance or behaviour of one individual. The opposing view is that assault is assault. Its most common form is the male-on-female assault.

The Telegraph reported the original story

A group of women took to the underground on Sunday with their faces covered and holding signs reading: “I can be flirtatious but you can’t harass” and “We want to feel cool! We want no dirty hands [touching us]!”

“We believe women have the freedom to choose what to wear how people dress should never be an excuse for sexual harassment,” one of the protesters told the China Daily newspaper.
The protest was triggered by an online message posted by the Shanghai metro authorities last week counselling female passengers to dress more discreetly. “Girls, please be self-dignified to avoid perverts,” it said.

The post, which was accompanied by a photograph of a woman waiting for a train wearing in see-through dress, [and which] followed a spate of sexual crimes on Shanghai’s sprawling underground system.

Hitting the headlines in England

Another case was hitting the headlines concerning England’s football team captain John Terry. It had already been delayed for the curious reason of it possibly interfering with England’s progress in the Euro Finals [I may be simplifying, but that is how it seems from the news reports].

Mr Terry stands accused of racially abusing an opponent. This appears to have been in response to the opponent making provocative remarks about John Terry’s moral standing. There are a lot of contextual issues but I’ll keep in simple.

The abridged version

The press reports provided the story with or without censorship. I provide the abridged version:

The court heard that Terry told Ferdinand to “**** off” and also called him a “******* ********” as the pair exchanged insults.

Opening the prosecution, Duncan Penny said: “The crown alleges that the words he used demonstrated hostility based on Mr Ferdinand’s membership or presumed membership of a racial group.”

The court heard that Terry maintains he was only sarcastically repeating words that Ferdinand wrongly thought he had used.

Penny said: “The crown alleges that the defendant, most probably in response to physical gestures being made by Mr Ferdinand, which the defendant understood to refer to the well-publicised allegation of an extramarital affair with a team-mate’s wife, shouted at Mr Ferdinand.”

From Chelsea with Love

Meanwhile, Didier Drogba is heading out of Chelsea Football Club for Shanghai, to continue his spectacular footballing career. He is well-placed to understand the similarity in the dilemmas on the Shanghai subways and on the sports fields of England.