A bizarre case in which a former senior executive in two listed companies is alleged to have sexually abused his underage “adopted daughter” has been making the rounds among China’s internet community over the past few days.
The girl told the media that the man — who referred to her as his “adopted daughter" — had sexually abused her for four years since 2015, when she was only 14. The man kept her in an apartment in Yantai, Shandong, and forced her to watch child pornography.
China media identified the man as 48-year-old “eligible bachelor” Bao Yuming, also known as Robert Y. Bao. He was previously a vice-president in charge of legal affairs at Yantai-based Jereh Oilfield Services Group and an independent non-executive director of ZTE Corporation, as well as a lawyer with Beijing Taide Law Firm. He was named a high-calibre returning talent and one of the top ten general law consultants.
Ironically, in 2011, Bao published an essay discussing China’s inadequacies in dealing with the impact of sexual assault on young women, and called for effective legislation and judicial measures to prevent the privileged from exploiting loopholes. Regrettably, this veteran law practitioner and one-time “missionary of justice” is now a suspect in a case of sexual abuse of a young woman.
One is a powerful, middle-aged social elite well-versed in the law; one is a teenage girl just starting out in life. The vast differences in age, financial ability, and social status highlight the latter’s weak position. When the case surfaced, reports were flooded with comments reflecting the disgust, anger, and concern of the internet community. Many Chinese celebrities spoke in support of the woman, while some female netizens wrote on Weibo about their own experiences of harassment or sexual abuse, calling on the authorities to take such cases seriously.
However, the response from Bao and those familiar with him has been very different from what the young woman has alleged, making the case more bizarre.
...under China’s laws, consensual sexual relations with females aged 14 and above cannot be defined as rape.
According to Bao, it was not an adoptive relationship, but a May-December romance. He revealed his text exchanges with the girl, claiming that he loved her and they were discussing marriage, but the girl was repaying him with ingratitude. A Caixin report on 12 April described the case as “the story of a girl who grew up without love seeking a sense of security from her ‘adoptive father’”.
The report drew strong backlash from the internet community, with Chinese netizens almost unanimously thinking that Bao was trying to clear his own name by defining their relationship as that of lovers, because under China’s laws, consensual sexual relations with females aged 14 and above cannot be defined as rape. One netizen wrote: “This was carefully planned sexual abuse by a rogue lawyer. Disgusting!”
...if the man insists that both parties consented but the woman cannot prove otherwise, uncovering the truth will not be as easy as one thinks.
Is this a masked devil of a senior executive exploiting legal loopholes, or a shrewd young girl playing a naive middle-aged man? From current media reports, it is difficult to come to a firm conclusion in this case of he-said, she-said. The only thing definite is that this case might be far more complicated than imagined. Some law practitioners have said that evidence will be very difficult to gather since the sexual abuse happened one-on-one, and if the man insists that both parties consented but the woman cannot prove otherwise, uncovering the truth will not be as easy as one thinks.
...the girl called the police three times and filed two reports, one of which was withdrawn. This complicated case was only taken seriously when it reached the media.
However, like many big society cases, China’s public opinion has once again played judge. The one-sided mass criticism of Bao shows that the public really wants to use this tip-of-the-iceberg case to push the authorities to clamp down harder on sexual crimes against minors. It also highlights the desire of many ordinary people for social justice, which is not just a hope that victims will be vindicated, but also for an improvement in legal justice and the rule of law.
Based on available information, the girl called the police three times and filed two reports, one of which was withdrawn. This complicated case was only taken seriously when it reached the media. Also exposed was the evasiveness and stonewalling by the Yantai police when answering queries about this case under their purview, as well as unusual happenings such as the disappearance of the police personnel in charge. The woman’s mother even said that police told her they had to stop handling the case if they wanted to keep their jobs. This information pointing to non-action by the police has also seriously shaken public confidence in the legal system, leading to even more righteous indignation in public opinion, and firmer support for the girl.
In many cases in China, public opinion often plays a huge role in pushing the authorities to investigate and intervene, and this case is no exception. On 13 April, CCTV reported that the Prosecutor General's Office and the Ministry of Public Security have sent a joint supervisory team to Shandong to oversee the case, and hopefully to disperse the fog around it. Will it be the young teenage girl or the middle-aged senior executive who gets their mask ripped off? That is up to the legal system. But one thing is clear: in improving the rule of law and building up the credibility of the legal system, if justice can sometimes only be upheld with the pressure of public opinion, that is a flaw in all senses of the word.