by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Allentchang/WikiCommons/CC

A REPORT BY the Control Yuan released last month emphasized problems regarding sexual abuse in athletics programs in Taiwan. According to the report, there have been 548 reported violations of the Gender Equity Education Act since 2014. Track and field, basketball, baseball, judo, and taekwondo are the sports in which the most violations have been reported. The three Control Yuan members that issued a statement about the report were Fan Sun-lu, Hsiao Tsu-yu, and Jao Yung-ching. 

The report suggested that such issues regarding abuse stemmed from uneven power dynamics between teachers and students. In particular, 60% of participants in special sports programs live in dormitories on school campuses, though the government prefers elementary schools and middle schools to avoid housing students on campus. It may be that on-campus dynamics with students living permanently on campus further issues regarding abuse. 

To this extent, the report also suggested that some of the issues at hand stem from lack of oversight. The report pointed to lack of mandated standards for part-time coaches and insufficient gender equity education for full-time coaches, which does not take place at all for part-time coaches. Likewise, there is a lack of relevant regulations governing dormitory housing for students below the high school level. 

Problems regarding sexual abuse in Taiwanese schools are not unique to sports programs, something that does frequently return toward the power imbalance between students and teachers. 

In 2017, there was much discussion of the issue after the suicide of author Lin Yi-han. Lin was sexually assaulted by a cram school teacher, later making the incident into the subject of her novel. However, as with many such incidents, Taiwanese media disproportionately focused on Lin and her personal life rather than the larger, structural issues at hand. After the incident, there was further discussion of hiring standards for teachers, such as with regards to past criminal records. 

The widely-praised 2020 movie Silent Forest was based on a series of sexual assault incidents at a school for the hearing-impaired in Tainan. Apart from the incident that the film was based on, there were other similar incidents in schools in 2012 and 2018. 

Photo credit: Yu tptw/WikiCommons/CC

Other incidents at school involve teachers attempting to cover up incidents of sexual assault, rather than deal with them, for fear that this would taint the school’s reputation. This was the case at Fu Jen Catholic University in 2016, in an incident in which Hsia Lin-ching–the head of the school’s Department of Psychology. 

Hsia reportedly attempted to cover up a sexual assault incident that took place within the department, hoping to take care of the incident within the department rather than report this. This occurred despite Hsia’s reputation as a feminist academic. 

To this extent, issues regarding sexual abuse of athletes by coaches or other individuals with power have long been criticized by athletes calling for sports reform. This includes incidents in which athletes were coerced by sporting officials into sleeping with them, with the possibility of being shut out from sporting competitions or otherwise facing retaliation, or being forced to wear uncomfortable attire on the court as a form of punishment. It is thought that such issues are contributed to by the fact that appointment to sporting organizations was a sinecure position during the authoritarian period, with athletes calling for reform having been detained by police or being passed over in competitions.

More broadly, corporal punishment continues to be an issue in many Taiwanese schools. This occurs both within and outside of athletics programs. Notably, in April last year, a seven-year-old judo student was thrown to the ground 27 times by his teacher, resulting in a diagnosis of brain death. The student in question died several months later in July. Though not an incident of sexual assault, one notes that corporal punishment is a contributing factor to a culture of abuse that can include sexual abuse, and it is something that furthers the uneven balance of power between educators and students. 

The Control Yuan report, then, gestures at a larger issue in the Taiwanese education system. However, facing pressure for reform, educational institutions have sometimes preferred to dig their heels in rather than implement change, and it is to be seen whether that will be the case regarding issues of sexual abuse in athletics programs, as well. 

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