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Chinese teen’s sex abuse charge test for #MeToo movement

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At 14 years old, she was sent by her mother to live with a successful businessman in Beijing, who was supposed to serve as her caretaker and guardian. Instead, over the course of several years, she says, he repeatedly raped her and held her in his home against her will.

Now 18, the young woman, using the pseudonym Xingxing, has gone public with her account of abuse. Her story, published in the Chinese news media in recent days, has become one of the most widely discussed topics in China, unleashing a wave of anger about the country’s patriarchal culture and the authorities’ reluctance to intervene in cases of sexual abuse.

The episode has become a pivotal test for China’s small but spirited #MeToo movement, which has gained traction in recent years despite the ruling Communist Party’s strict limits on activism and its tight control over the courts.

The man at the center of the case is Bao Yuming, a lawyer who studied in the United States and has advised some of China’s most prominent companies, including ZTE, the telecommunications giant. Mr. Bao, who is in his late 40s, has acknowledged that he had a close relationship with Xingxing but has denied any wrongdoing.

After Xingxing took her case to the news media, he was dismissed from his job as the vice president of a large oil company in eastern China, and he has since resigned from his role as a board member at ZTE.

On Monday, as public anger grew amid reports that the police initially ignored Xingxing’s complaints, the central government in Beijing said it would investigate. A hashtag about the case on Weibo, a popular social media site in China, had been viewed more than 790 million times as of late Monday.

Dozens of women in China have come forward in recent years with stories of abuse at the hands of powerful men. Some have won justice against prominent figures in business, the media and academia, while others have struggled to be heard, blocked by lawsuits, harassment and government censors.

The experience of Xingxing highlights the challenges many Chinese women face in trying to report sexual abuse. The authorities often side with men in such cases, activists say, and rarely investigate accusations of rape and sexual assault.

“There are too many cases like this,” said Guo Jianmei, a lawyer who is assisting Xingxing. “Only when a case this vicious is exposed can it touch people’s nerves.”

In her account, which was first published last week by South Reviews, a Chinese magazine, Xingxing said she first came into contact with Mr. Bao in 2015. Xingxing’s mother connected with Mr. Bao online after seeing that he was looking to adopt a child, according to Chinese news reports, and thought that her daughter would be better raised by a successful businessman.

Such informal arrangements are common in China, where adoption is strictly regulated. But the practice can lead to abuse, activists say, giving parents incentive to sell their children for financial gain and providing a vehicle for human trafficking.

In her account, Xingxing said Mr. Bao presented himself as a father figure but quickly turned abusive. He tried to justify his intimate behavior with her by showing her child pornography, she said.

She said he installed a camera in the living room to ensure she did not leave and warned her against telling others of his behavior. Frightened and distraught, she said, she tried to commit suicide several times.

Mr. Bao, who also goes by the name Robert Y. Bao, could not be reached for comment. He has described himself as a graduate of the University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, who has advised prominent multinational companies, including Cisco and News Corp.

In an interview that was posted last week by several Chinese news sites, he accused Xingxing of fabricating the accusations against him. “I want to refute it from beginning to end,” he said. “What she said is all recklessly concocted.”

Xingxing said she reported Mr. Bao’s behavior repeatedly to the police during the several years she lived with him and provided evidence, only to be turned away.

The police in Yantai, a city in eastern China where Mr. Bao worked, said in a statement posted on social media last week that they had reopened an investigation into the case.

ZTE, the telecommunications company where Mr. Bao was a board member, said in a statement it was “concerned” by the reports.

Activists in China said the publication of Xingxing’s story was an important development in the country’s #MeToo movement.

“People’s awareness of feminist issues is becoming stronger and stronger,” said Hu Jiawei, the founder of a sex education site. “But there are legislative loopholes and attention is still needed.”

As reports about Xingxing’s accusations spread on social media, lawyers, activists, intellectuals and celebrities took to social media to express support for her. Many said China should do more to prevent sexual assault of children.

“It is exposed time and time again, and vanishes without a trace again and again,” Zhang Ziyi, a well-known Chinese actress, wrote on Weibo. “No severe punishment, only protection. Don’t the policemen’s hearts ache?”

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