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  • Chris McMillan

Out of Her Hands: Trials and Trauma of a Blind Masseuse

Sixth Tone

30th January 2018

Out of Her Hands: Trials and Trauma of a Blind Masseuse

Visually impaired women in China’s massage industry face sexual assault by male clients and few career alternatives.

Editor: Jessica Levine.

Zheng Ting never feels safe walking alone at night. It’s not because she’s visually impaired: After years of orientation and mobility training, the 30-year-old has little trouble navigating the streets of the capital.

But the repeated sexual assaults and harassment she has endured since childhood have taken their toll on the former masseuse, who now works at a disability rights NGO. “I never look behind me, because I don’t dare to check who is there,” she tells “Sixth Tone”.

Over the 10 years that Zheng worked in the massage industry — the default vocation for blind and visually impaired people in China — she says she faced frequent sexual assault from clients. Male customers would grope her chest or thighs without warning; in one scarring incident from her teenage years, she recalls, a customer barged in and grabbed her breasts while she was resting in the staff lounge. Her colleagues rushed over when they heard her struggling, but the man had already escaped through the back door.

The system has never been kind to Zheng. In a country that struggles to protect the rights of disabled citizens, address urban-rural inequality, and hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable, she was dealt the worst possible hand.

Zheng and her brother were “left-behind” children, their parents away for most of the year working in the city. Growing up in central China’s Hubei province, she was not welcome at the public school in her small mountain village, as it couldn’t accommodate visually impaired students. Instead, children with disabilities were pushed to learn a trade through apprenticeship. When Zheng was 10, her parents arranged for her to study under a renowned fortuneteller and live at his home.

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