Female writer Lin Yihan's suicide brings public attention to child sexual abuse. Photo: IC
Nancy Zheng (pseudonym) tosses and turns at night. Sleep is elusive, and when she finally drifts off, she is tortured by her dreams. They are fragments of a past experience that she struggles with on a daily basis.
When she was 14, her father raped her.
"My whole life changed then. My mother divorced my father and left us. [Later,] I was labeled as a bad girl for being loose because I couldn't form a normal relationship with a man," she said.
Zheng is now 25. The incident happened 11 years ago. Her deeply buried pain has resurfaced over the last few days after she heard the news that Lin Yihan, a famous writer in Taiwan killed herself on April 27 because she was raped by a school teacher eight to nine years ago.
Lin told the painful story of her abuse in her novel The First Love Paradise of Fang Siqi. After Lin had killed herself, her parents released a statement saying that the reason she wrote the book was to shed light on the problem and help minimize such occurrences in the future.
The tragic incident sparked heated discussion on the topic of child sexual abuse on Chinese social media. Peng Xiaohui, a sexology professor at Wuhan's Central China Normal University, told Metropolitan that the incident brought child sexual abuse in China to the public's attention.
"Many children in China have had similarly tragic experiences to different degrees," Peng said.
He explained that this is mainly because the victims are children and the definition of child sexual assault and molestation is not clearly defined in Chinese law.
According to a report by Chinese newspaper the Mirror, the national court processed 7,610 cases involving children who were sexually molested or assaulted between 2013 and 2015.
But there are still many cases that go unreported. Zheng never reported her rape to the police. "My mother said that it was a shameful thing and that it would ruin my and my family's reputation, so we just chose not to mention it," explained Zheng. "[Then] she left my father and me, and I started to live with my grandparents. For a long time, I believed it was my fault that my father raped me and my family fell apart."
Peng said one of the reasons children fall victim to such horrors is a lack of proper sex education for kids.
"In most Chinese families, sex is still a taboo topic, and children are afraid and embarrassed to talk to others about their experiences, so some assaults could last for years," Peng said.
Sexual assault has a profound effect on it victims, and the degree differs from case to case. The Taiwan writer's case is an example of the worst result, Peng said.
Zheng has been suffering from depression for years. She dropped out of university because she was sexually harassed by one of her teachers and sued the school. She would like to find a boyfriend but can't because she doesn't trust anyone.
Chen Zhilin, a psychologist based in Chongqing, said victims first need to rebuild their trust and sense of security in the world. "They need to be not afraid to talk to someone about it to release pressure. A professional could use different measures to help them, for example, exposure therapy, which would let the victim relive the incident in a safe environment to help them heal," Chen said.
Zheng saw a psychologist a few years ago, but the incident is still not completely behind her. She hopes for the day when children will be better informed so that they can protect themselves from ordeals such as the one she endured. "People always say children are innocent. I hope children could be not so innocent so that they can protect themselves," she said.