by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Littlebtc/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0
EARLIER THIS MONTH, several dozen civil society organizations have issued an open letter criticizing the inaction of Taichung city authorities regarding a sexual assault case involving a principal accused of assaulting a female student 25 years ago.
The open letter urged action on the issue and has been signed by a number of civil society organizations ranging from the Taiwan Labor Front to the Taiwan Parent Education Association, Homemakers United Federation, and other groups. Many of the signatories were groups involved in education. A number of DPP lawmakers also jointly held a press conference about the case, including Chang Liao Wan-chien, Fan Yun, Ho Hsin-chun, and Lin Ching-yi. Media reports have compared the case to the events that led to author Lin Yi-han’s suicide in 2017, with Lin having experienced sexual assault from a cram school teacher, and having fictionalized these events in a best-selling novel.
The Humanistic Education Foundation publicized the allegations against the principal, who is surnamed Huang, last week. However, the Taichung Education Bureau did not take any action on the matter until Thursday, more than a week afterward. Following the outcry, he was fired, with Taichung mayor Lu Shiow-yen urging victims to speak up.
The Taichung Education Bureau is accused of inaction because education authorities are required to investigate sexual assault or harassment allegations within a month according to the Teachers Act. The complaint had been filed earlier by the victim, as an administrative complaint, but the Humanistic Education Foundation appears to have gone public in the face of inaction.
Namely, around dozen former students of Huang’s have applied for an investigation into sexual assault cases by Huang, with eleven reported victims at two schools. The Taichung Education Bureau has been criticized for not responding to them, and failing in this way to expand its investigation into other victims of Huang, or to other schools that Huang taught at. Huang reportedly took female students to eat dinner individually, while giving them gifts to make them feel special, and grooming them as victims in this way.
Because the statute of limitations of the case had already expired, the initial victim who filed the complaint did so as an administrative complaint, rather than a request for a criminal probe. According to the open letter, Huang has continued to harass the victim, her friends, and family by continually emphasizing that the statute of limitations had expired. When the school did respond, it passed on her allegations to prosecutors, rather than respecting the wishes of the victim, and Taichung Education Bureau only warned Huang not to continue harassing the reported victim.
In particular, the complaint was made in April. But Huang was asked to take time off, rather than suspended, and continued to attend school activities from May to August, something that the open letter states is unusual. Likewise, the Taichung Education Bureau is accused of allowing Huang to take a demotion so that he could continue to receive his retirement pension, which also ensured that the complaint was not investigated at the level of the Education Bureau, but within the school. The school and the Taichung Education Bureau are seen as acting to cover-up the incident, so as to deflect blame for inaction.
The open letter called for Huang’s name and the name of the school he teaches to be publicized, so that students can be aware of his behavior in the future, while retaining the anonymity of victims and paying for their counseling expenses. To this extent, the open letter calls for merging the various levels of the investigation into Huang’s past wrongdoing.
More broadly, the open letter calls for the Huang case to set the standards for how sexual assault cases in schools are carried out in the future. For example, the open letter also urges that current laws on statutes of limitations for sexual assaults in educational institutions be amended in the future. This is in view of the fact that many victims of sexual assault in educational institutions are too young at the time to understand what they have experienced, or what potential avenues of recourse may be. The open letter draws attention to the incidents of students sexually harassed or assaulted by teachers are a larger institutional problem in Taiwan.
It is to be seen whether there is any action taken regarding the issue. At the very least, the case has garnered a significant amount of public attention, but it is to be seen whether this translates into broader calls for change at the systemic level.