Why Taiwanese can't get over the death of writer Lin Yi-han

PHOTO: Video screengrab

Two weeks on and news surrounding the death of young novelist Lin Yi-han have yet to cool down.

Social media has turned into a battlefield where netizens comment, argue, and debate the rights and wrongs of nearly all parties involved: the Chinese literature cram-school tutor who allegedly seduced the novelist into sexual relations; public figures who have spoken up for or against him; and even Lin's parents, who are under a state investigation for withholding the secret of her alleged rape for the past eight or nine years and possibly playing a role in her suicide last month.

Lin herself is at the centre of it all, with curious onlookers combing through her novel and debating questions like what she had wanted out of the book, how much of her writing reflected real life, whether she had wanted the world to probe into the details of her narrative, and whether she had truly loved the abusive tutor at the novel's heart.

Also up for debate is whether frenzied attention from mainstream society, government agencies, to politicians and legislators were a disgrace to the novelist rather than a delivery of justice.

But the answers to these questions should at this point be less of a priority for us.

What Taiwan's media, politicians, and more importantly its public should be concerned about most right now is what we want from society and what we can do to achieve it.

A sexual assault case involving a 7-year-old victim late March shocked the country when the court sentenced the perpetrator to just four years in prison when the maximum sentence for sexual assault against a minor under 14 years old is 10 years.

In the verdict, the judge wrote that the sexual relation was "consensual" and that therefore the Civil Code's Article 228 applied.

The article stipulates that the maximum sentence is five years in prison in cases where the abuser receives the victim's consent by means of seduction or authority.

A High Court interpretation of the Civil Code in 2010 stipulated that only children under the age of 7 cannot consent to sexual encounters. In other words, the current law finds that victims between 7 and 14 years old are capable of consenting to sexual relations.

The public was infuriated when the abuser of the 7-year-old victim "got away" with just four years in prison.

The public is once again infuriated that the current law may not be able to indict, let alone convict, the cram-school teacher in the case of the novelist.

Both cases lead to this question: Are children mature enough at the age of seven, eight and nine and even 14 able to agree to participate in sexual relations?

If not, are the laws flawed? Or is Taiwan's education system poor at providing children with sufficient knowledge about sex? Perhaps the answer is a combination of the two.

Parent groups, many of which are supported by religious organisations, have protested the inclusion of sex education in primary and secondary schoolbooks over the past year.

Many claimed that sex education being taught too early would result in children eager to "try out" sexual relations.

Ignorance is one of key factors that produce sexual trauma in children.

How can anyone identify danger when they don't recognise the signs? How can we expect a child to think about the consequences of sexual relations when they were never taught about it?

How do we expect a victim to cry for help when society still leaps to analyse the victim's appearance, behaviour and motivations before looking at the perpetrator?

Respect for oneself - the body, soul and mind - is instilled through clear education.

The courage to not internalize trauma, to speak up, and to really move on from tragedy requires confidence in the judicial system, the laws, and even the public.

While the death of the novelist has triggered a rash of debate about her story, it is about time to move away from the protagonist - the one in the book and in real life. Let's start focusing on ourselves and what needs to be done to build the society we want.

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