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#MeToo in Taiwan: Over 100 public accusations of sexual violence in the last month

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

One of the most popular shows in Taiwan right now is a Netflix series called "Wave Makers." It's about a fictional presidential campaign and allegations of sexual assault among senior politicians. The drama is making waves by setting off a real #MeToo moment in Taiwan, with over 100 public accusations of sexual harassment against politicians, entertainers and activists in just the last month. NPR's Emily Feng reports from Taipei.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WAVE MAKERS")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, non-English language spoken).

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Netflix's "Wave Makers" is a political drama in which a Taiwanese political operative helps her female colleague confront sexual harassment within their party ranks.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WAVE MAKERS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, non-English language spoken).

FENG: This scene, one of the main characters encourages the colleague to push for justice. "Let's not just let this go this time," she promises. And people have listened. The show's inspired a wave of Taiwanese to publicly share their experiences with sexual violence in real life. One of those who have come forward is Yu-Fen Lai. She says last fall, she was sexually assaulted by a European diplomat in Taiwan. But she says when she reported him to the police, the reaction was humiliating. They asked her...

YU-FEN LAI: Yeah, like, why would you care if you have your clothes on or not? Why don't you - why didn't you just run out? Why didn't you just do this and that?

FENG: And they questioned why she hadn't fought back harder. Two months later, the police dropped the case, citing her behavior as inconsistent with someone who'd been assaulted. The accused diplomat wrapped up his posting and left Taiwan last year. This month, as more people around her shared their stories of assault, Lai decided to go public, writing a lengthy essay on her Facebook page detailing that traumatic September evening.

LAI: And then immediately, I switch off my internet because I was so afraid. How would the society react to this? And what kind of feedback I'm going to receive? So I just post it online, and then I switch it off.

FENG: Lai is among more than 100 people who have come forward publicly in the last month in Taiwan with their own stories of sexual violence and harassment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: Some accusations have been against well-known actors...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Fu Kun-chi, a legislator for the opposition Guomindang, is the latest politician to be accused of sexual harassment.

FENG: ...Others against writers, activists and politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties. At least 10 of the allegations are against politicians in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP. Several officials have stepped down just as Taiwan enters into a heated presidential election season. Taiwan's current president, Tsai Ing-wen, apologized twice for her party's handling of these cases.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: Last year, a survey by Taiwan's Labor Ministry showed only a small percentage of women who encountered sexual harassment had filed reports. But that could be changing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIAO POYA: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: This is Miao Poya, a DPP city councilor in Taipei, Taiwan's capital. She says this moment is an opportunity to change society's culture. She's among a group of politicians that's pushing for stronger anti-harassment enforcement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIAO: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: She says, in the past, because of Taiwan's social norms, these things could not be publicly discussed. As a result, many victims thought it'd only bring them more harm if they reported their cases. But now people who speak out are seeing follow-up, and that may finally embolden others to report their cases, as well. Emily Feng, NPR News, Taipei. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.