Sexual harassment and assault

Teachers must respect students, too

Recent scandals including sexual abuse at universities in China bring into question the power imbalance in teacher-student relationships; it’s time to address this issue 

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 5:08am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 5:09am

The need for students to show respect for their teachers is deeply embedded in Chinese culture.

This tradition of reverence is consistent both with Confucian values and the importance attached to education in China. The holding of teachers in such high esteem has, for generations, led to close relationships forming between them and their students.

These relationships often go beyond merely educational needs and are more akin to those of family members.

While there are many positives in such relationships, in which teachers and university professors act as mentors or even life coaches for their students, they are open to abuse.

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Recent scandals at mainland Chinese universities have highlighted the need to ensure that student-teacher relationships remain within proper bounds and that teachers do not take advantage of their exalted positions.

Two scholars have been fired by universities following allegations of sexual abuse.

One is under investigation after being accused of raping a student who committed suicide in 1998. It has been revealed that he was given a major demerit that year for “inappropriate behaviour” towards the student, but was allowed to keep his job.

The other is accused of sexual misconduct with at least six women. Both scholars have denied wrongdoing.

A third professor has been found to have made students clean her house and carry out other chores. One of her students committed suicide, and his girlfriend claimed on social media he had been treated like a slave. 

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Relationships between teachers and students should be based on mutual respect and certainly should not be abused. Mainland colleges are now taking steps to put in place rules to give their staff clearer guidance on the boundaries governing their relations with students. Such moves are welcome.

Clearly, where sexual abuse is concerned, educational institutions must adopt a policy of zero tolerance. Students have been at the forefront of the #Metoo movement in China.

The courage shown by victims in coming forward has raised awareness of an issue that needs more attention. Students need a safe environment in which to develop.

And teachers must have a clear understanding of where the relationship with their students begins – and where it ends.