A Chinese college student mapped sexual assaults on his campus, to warn female classmates

Awareness of the problem is growing on China’s campuses.
Awareness of the problem is growing on China’s campuses.
Image: Reuters/Aly Song.
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A Chinese college student has created a map showing where sexual harassment and assaults occur on his campus, in an attempt to help his female schoolmates avoid predators.

Kang Chenwei, 23, a senior at Beijing Normal University (BNU), released a lengthy report detailing the nature, time, location and frequency of sexual assaults on the over 10,000 student campus last week, after collecting information about 60 cases reported by students over the past decade. His 13,000-word report was first published (link in Chinese, registration required) Aug. 29 on social networking site Weibo, and has been widely shared among thousands of BNU and other colleges’ students since.

During his four months of research, Kang interviewed dozens of victims and a handful of offenders, and at one point arranged a sting investigation of a professor who was accused abuse. “There are many articles about campus sexual harassment on the internet, but no one really discusses the reasons behind it,” Kang told Quartz.

Most sexual harassment cases at BNU involved indecent exposure or acts of voyeurism, including photographing or peeping into women’s restrooms. All the offenders were male, and most were not from the university itself. Three were students at BNU and one was a professor.

The report includes a colored map showing the frequency of sexual harassment at different locations on campus. The two red areas—one women’s dormitory building and one teaching building—are offenders’ most frequent spots. That’s because the pathway outside the women’s dormitories is too dark at night and not covered by surveillance cameras, and the teaching building is close to an unguarded entrance, Kang explained.

Kan mapped all the sexual assault cases that took place on campus between 2007 and 2016.
Kan mapped all the sexual assault cases that took place on campus between 2007 and 2016.
Image: Kang Chenwei

Campus sexual assaults, once rarely discussed in China, have become more visible in recent years, partly because Chinese women are more willing to speak about attacks. In 2014, a history professor from Xiamen University was expelled from the Communist Party (link in Chinese) and disqualified from teaching, after reportedly sexually harassed two female students. But overall, such cases are still believed to be vastly under-reported, as they are in the US.

Beijing Normal University is a prestigious teachers’ college, and for every seven female students at the university, Kang said, there are only three men. The university often advertises its high number of women, especially on social media and in interactions with neighboring universities, where male students are the majority. This might encourage offenders to harass BNU students, Kang said in the report.

From BNU’s official website.
From BNU’s official website.

The Chinese literature major, who says he is interested in minority populations, wants to study campus sexual harassment from the offenders’ perspective, and offer advice on how to combat the issue. Previously, he spent almost a year interviewing sex workers around the BNU campus, and wrote a detailed report on that.

In the case of one professor, Kang’s BNU report goes beyond research. In June, a female student told Kang that a vice dean sexually harassed her after they met at a tea house. She said she thought she was drugged after drinking tea offered by the professor. During the meeting, after she got sleepy, the professor forced her to hug him, and kissed her face and neck, she said.

Kang initiated an undercover investigation with another female student who volunteered to meet the professor and shoot the scene with a hidden camera. During the second meeting, the professor offered the student a suspicious drink, and tried to hug her for no reason. Kang, along with the two female students, reported the two cases to BNU’s disciplinary watchdog.

BNU said in an Aug. 31 statement on Weibo (link in Chinese, registration required) that the school has installed emergency alarms on campus and will tighten security measures to combat sexual harassment. The professor named by Kang is now under investigation, the statement added. Kang said the university hasn’t contacted him in person so far.

Kang’s report also attempts to offer a look into the mind of sexual abusers. One student offender, who was forced to quit school after taking pictures in women’s restrooms, told Kang that he had never received any sex education—or any information about sex at all—before he came to university. A sophomore from a poverty-stricken village in northern China, the offender said that after viewing some porn sites recommended by friends, “he couldn’t help himself anymore,” Kang wrote. He “got lost in temptations he had never experienced before in the rich, big city of Beijing.”