Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org
A Chinese state-affiliated media outlet released an email on Wednesday purportedly from missing tennis star Peng Shuai that was sent to the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chair and chief executive Steve Simon, but it only raised his concern "as to her safety and whereabouts."
"I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her," Simon said in a statement. "Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government. The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe. I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communications, to no avail."
The email said, in part, "Regarding the recent news released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself and it was released without my consent. The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true."
This is the first public accusation of this nature against a senior Communist Party official. Since Shuai’s Nov. 2 post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, the WTA veteran has reportedly not been heard from directly.
Simon told The New York Times earlier this week that WTA received confirmation from the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) and other sources that the tennis star is “safe and not under any physical threat." However, he added that no one at WTA had been able to speak directly with Shuai yet.
From 2012 to '17, Zhang Gaoli served on the party's Politburo Standing Committee, the "top ruling body" of the country, per The Times. Shuai detailed in her post that Gaoli forced her to have sex with him.
The post, which also described an on-and-off consensual relationship with Gaoli, was removed within minutes, according to The Times, and searches of Shuai's name and "tennis" reportedly "appeared to be blocked."
"Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source," Simon said Wednesday. "Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.
The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to."