According to China’s Criminal Law, sexual intercourse with a girl under 14 is considered child sexual abuse, regardless of circumstances. As Xingxing was over the age of consent police treated her report as a rape case.
According to Nanfengchuang, Xingxing first turned to Beijing police for help in 2016 after she consulted with an online doctor about “pain in her private parts,” who told her that she might have been raped. According to police reports, an initial search of Bao’s residence in Beijing revealed no evidence of rape, and the case was closed.
In April 2019, Xingxing turned to the police in Yantai following a suicide attempt. This time, she presented evidence including tissues containing her blood and Bao’s semen, several photos and chat records that showed Bao’s control over her. Police refused to take on her case, saying there was not enough evidence to press rape charges.
Xingxing again attempted suicide by jumping into a river. She was then sent to hospital where she was diagnosed with severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In October 2019, Yantai police reopened the case under pressure from Xingxing’s first lawyer.
But Xingxing’s current attorney Lu said their case still hinges on evidence proving that the sexual relationship was against Xingxing’s will.
“I noticed that the case has led many people to blame the police for being indifferent and neglecting their duties. I have no idea whether there is some corruption involved [as some netizens claim], but in my experience collecting evidence in a rape case is truly difficult, especially when the victim did not report it immediately afterward,” a former police officer in Shaanxi Province told NewsChina on condition of anonymity.
“For example, it takes a lot of money and resources to verify chat records with online platforms,” he said. “But if a 13-year-old was raped, settling such a case would be much easier,” he added.
Media reports said that Xingxing once told police in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, where she and her mother lived, that she was younger than her ID shows. Nanjing officers ordered Xingxing to undergo a bone ossification test to determine her age and visited her mother’s midwife at her hometown, which verified her ID.
China’s legal age of consent derives from a previous version of the Criminal Law on the rape of girls aged 14 and younger. In March 2002, China's Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued a supplementary rule that defined sex with a girl under 14 as rape no matter whether the sex was consensual or not.
In her blog in 2012, Chinese sexologist Li Yinhe commented on a case involving a 16-year-old boy who was sentenced to one year and three months in prison for having sex with his 13-year-old girlfriend. Li appealed for the courts to consider whether the sex was consensual instead of judging it based on age. She even suggested canceling the age of consent.
“Compared to other countries, China’s age of consent is low. It seems that China values children’s rights as a sexual subject rather than merely regarding them as potential victims,” she wrote. “We should feel proud that we are more advanced than Western countries in the legislation.”
Xingxing’s case, however, has reopened debate about adolescent sexuality.
Shao Mingyan, an associate professor of law at Beijing Union University, told NewsChina that in his view, given China’s laggard sex education and the later physical maturity of Asians compared to Westerners, 14 is not old enough for minors to have legal sexual autonomy.
In a commentary for news portal The Paper, contributor Zhu Guangxing wrote China’s age of consent was “too low” for Chinese society. “The age of consent should match the sexual maturity and knowledge of the defined group... While in China, lack of sex education has made many minors ignorant of sex and its consequences,” he wrote.
Jiemian, a news portal based in Shanghai, cited a study from the Sociology and Sex Education Research Center, Chengdu University of Technology that says in some cases minors between 13 and 17 have trouble clearly refusing sex or even unknowingly consent to it because of lack of awareness or sex education. For similar reasons, Yuan Ningning, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law and expert on juvenile law, told Jiemian he supports raising the age of consent to 16.