Police Detain Two Alibaba Employees on Charges of Sexual Assault

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An Alibaba sign is seen outside the company's office in Beijing on April 13, 2021.
An Alibaba sign is seen outside the company's office in Beijing on April 13, 2021. (Image: GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

Chinese police have detained two suspects in a sexual assault case following allegations raised by a female employee from Alibaba, the biggest e-commerce company in the world. The female employee revealed that the company’s leaders failed to take action after the incident was reported to her superiors.

The incident took place on the night of July 27. The woman, surnamed Zhou, was pressured by her manager to fly to Jinan on a business trip. During dinner, Zhou says she was obligated to drink alcohol in the presence of colleagues and clients. She soon lost consciousness. When she woke the next day in a hotel room, she found herself naked, with a condom on the nightstand next to her.

According to Zhou, security footage reviewed by police showed that her manager dragged her into the hotel room, using a copy of the room card to let himself in. He entered the room four times that night to assault her, while the client assaulted her twice. When she returned to work, the manager pretended as if nothing had taken place. Zhou complained about the incident to two other managers, who both refused to take action. One of them called her experience “a small incident.”

Zhou soon spiraled into depression and began to commit self-harm. She tried to talk about the incident in the company’s work chat groups. However, the messages were quickly deleted. She then brought a loudspeaker to broadcast her concerns at the company canteen but was surrounded by security guards. Finally, she decided to write an essay about the incident.

The 11-page essay was stored in the internal message board of the company and included the names of the manager and other executives. The essay was eventually shared publicly and went viral.

According to Alibaba, the female employee’s manager has been fired. The two managers who failed to address her concerns resigned. Chief executive Daniel Zhang expressed through an internal memo, “We will do everything we can to take care of her.”

The company stated that it had established a sexual harassment prevention emergency support hotline, as well as an all-female committee to address sexual harassment at the workplace.

The police detained the manager and client, surnamed Wang and Zhang, suspected of having committed “forcible molestation.” However, the police found no evidence to suggest that the men committed rape. Under Chinese Law, “forcible indecency” can land a prison term of up to five years.

“It’s hard for many victims to win a sexual assault case in court. Even if the victims have the evidence, they have to prove the perpetrator acted against their will,” Li Ying, a lawyer, and director of the Yuanzhong Gender Development Center said to a state-backed daily.

More than 6,000 employees from Alibaba have joined an online group demanding justice for the alleged victim. The story has been a focal point of discussion on the Chinese social network Weibo.

Some see Zhou’s essay as a reflection of how the custom of excessive drinking has crept into Chinese corporate culture. “This kind of drinking culture is extremely common and encourages all sorts of behavior that crosses boundaries and disrespects women,” Chinese writer and activist Lu Pin said.

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