Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Taiwan's defamation laws can silence sexual assault victims
Much has been made in the foreign community recently about Taiwan's insane defamation and personal insult laws, what with some guy who got flipped off acting like a massive can of Tender Pieces and suing over it, among other things that I won't write about here.
In Taiwan, you can get sued for flipping someone off, shouting a swear word at them (including "fuck"), writing something critical that the person criticized simply doesn't like, or less. According to this interpretation, telling the truth (or believing you are) is a valid defense, but to be frank, I've been privy to court cases where that didn't seem to play out as cleanly as the text would imply it ought to.
I mean, I thought we'd gotten rid of authoritarianism and suppression of freedom of expression in Taiwan, but clearly not entirely. There have been times when there were things I know to be true that I would have liked to have published here, which I feel were in the public interest and have refrained knowing that being right isn't necessarily enough. Honestly, the implications for freedom of speech for this are horrifying - you can be telling the truth about some awful people or organizations that should be publicly known, and still have it come back to bite you. I have more than one gut-wrenching story that I will only share in private.
So, what to do if you are a victim of sexual assault? I've written about this elsewhere as part of a longer piece, and after much thought, still don't have a good answer.
Sexual assailants often strike where there are no witnesses or cameras. It's your word against theirs. Even if there are witnesses, they might not come forward for you. It's hard to press charges in such situations, especially when it's not the type of sexual assault that leaves physical evidence behind.
Leaving aside cultural taboos that prevent victims from coming forward (a different topic), let alone pressing charges, the law is not on the side of anyone assaulted in this way. In the US, if your goal is to warn others about someone's predatory behavior and see that there are natural consequences to their actions, but don't want to or can't press charges, you can still come forward. Your speech is protected by law unless it can be shown that it was intentionally false and malicious. The burden of proof is on the accuser.
In Taiwan, all you need to do is get flipped off or have someone say "fuck you" in your general direction because you did something to piss them off to win. If you sexually assault someone but they can't prove that you did so, the burden of proof is on the accuser-turned-defendant if they want to speak out.
What do you do in Taiwan, then, when you have been sexually assaulted and you want to #MeToo the hell out of it - warn other women, make it clear that there are social consequences for such actions - but cannot or don't want to (or can't afford to) press charges?
If you speak out, you could very well be slapped with a defamation lawsuit. Literally, some guy grabs your ass, you talk about it publicly (but don't want to press charges) and he sues you for defamation. He might not win the case, but he's cost you quite a bit of money in lawyer's fees even if it never goes to trial. There is no guarantee, however, that it won't go to trial and you won't lose. I've seen weirder, less well-argued verdicts handed down.
A reliable source of mine says the laws protect those who speak out about being sexually assaulted or harassed, but to be honest, I've looked and I can find no such explicit legal protection. If anyone does a better research job than I have, please feel free to let me know.
No wonder there is no #MeToo movement in Taiwan. Beyond the tendency to not report due to cultural pressures - don't rock the boat, you'll ruin his career over a pat on the ass, what were you wearing anyway, don't make waves, it will make things difficult, just let it go - one simply cannot report without fear of entirely unfair legal repercussions.
In this particular way, I cannot say that Taiwan deserves credit for having robust freedom of speech protections.