Footage shows bystanders doing nothing as Chinese woman is attacked in hotel

By Xu Jing reported from Beijing

The video is hard to watch.

A woman exits a hotel elevator. Pauses. Searches for her key.

A man approaches from her left. He grabs at her arms, throat and hair.

As he attacks, a member of the hotel staff enters the scene. He stands over her as she is pushed to the ground, as the elevator opens, as people emerge. He stands there as they walk away.

It is more than three minutes before someone - anyone - offers help.

Over the last two days, this video has gone viral in China, sparking a heated conversation about the status of women, the role of bystanders, and what some see as routine sexism - and ineptitude - from authorities.

It's a conversation that's drawn in hundreds of thousands, giving voice to anger and spurring calls for women's rights - a conversation that's sparked a misogynistic backlash of its own.

On Tuesday, someone using the screen name Wanwan and identifying herself as the woman in the video posted a detailed account on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging site, as well as a video - a clip that shows her watching the footage of her own attack and describing, through tears, what she sees.

Wanwan said she exited an elevator in a Beijing hotel at about 11 p.m. on the night of April 3. As she looked for her room key, head down, a man lurched at her. He continued to hit, grab and drag her for more than three minutes; the hotel worker and at least four other people witnessed the escalating violence, but did not help.

Eventually, after the attacker tries to drag her into a stairwell, a female onlooker reaches out. Others gather around her. The attacker flees.

The woman's story has called fresh attention to two issues that frustrate and outrage many Chinese: violence against women (more on that here) and stories of bystanders failing to intervene (here is a good read on that).

In her account of what happened, Wanwan says the hotel worker, whom she identifies as a cleaner, not only failed to step in, but said to quiet down.

"I kept asking the cleaner for help and said, 'I don't know him, he can't even say my name,' but the cleaner didn't pull him away," she wrote. (The security footage does not have sound; this is her account.)

A minute and half into the violence, when the elevator opens and people see the woman sprawled on the floor, they do not help. When she makes a dash for the elevator and is tackled, she's left alone.

"Some people got out of elevator and thought the man and I were a couple who were having a quarrel," Wanwan wrote.

Here, as elsewhere, instances of violence against women are too often dismissed as "lovers' quarrels," or seen as private matters to be solved quietly, at home - not as crimes.

When the People's Daily picked up the story, the account suggested it would be different if the two were a couple.

"Just imagine: A woman, alone in a hotel, stalked - when the stalker eventually started using violence, passers-by look on indifferently, as if this had been just another brawl between lovers," the story read.

Chinese feminists fought for more than a decade for anti-domestic violence measures. Recently, the country finally passed a law. While the new rules have helped raise awareness, activists say the legal update has yet to spark real change at the grassroots level.

Part of the problem is that the authorities, particularly the police, don't necessarily see this type of violence as unusual or worthy of a swift and thorough investigation.

The woman, Wanwan, said she was disappointed by the response from the hotel and police. When she first called the authorities she was told investigators for "such cases" would be in the office next Thursday, she wrote.

When Chinese reporters called the local police they were told the investigation found "the attacked woman has suffered neither property damage nor personal injury, and the attacker 'seemed drunk,'" according to the People's Daily report.

As the post was circulated, netizens took the chance to vent their frustration. Initially, posts focused on how women can or should stay safe. Many expressed outrage at those who walked by without helping. Still others targeted Wanwan - coldly commenting on her looks ("only pretty people get robbed"), or implying she was in it for fame ("new online celebrity").

Chinese feminists responded by rallying outside the hotel. They said it was not up to women, alone, to find ways to not be targeted, according to a Facebook post by Li Tingting, a prominent Chinese feminist.

"We don't need any speeches to teach women how to protect themselves - we need hotels and other public spaces to take responsibility for protecting women from violence," she wrote in the post, paraphrasing a speech made by fellow attendee, Xiao Ting.

"Many people didn't intervene because they thought it was domestic affair," the post reads, "Even if it was domestic affair, people should not stand by, but stand up to the violence."

- Washington Post

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