Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis player who posted allegations earlier this month of sexual assault against a former vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, has reportedly gone missing.
The two-time Grand Slam doubles champion disappeared after posting a since-deleted message on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform, stating that Zhang Gaoli forced her into having sex three years ago.
After the Women’s Tennis Association’s (WTA) silence, and lack of reporting as to Peng Shuai‘s current whereabouts, many worried tennis stars reached out on social media, starting the hashtag “WhereIsPengShuai.”
“These accusations are very disturbing,” wrote Chris Evert, 66, a former world No. 1 and 18-time Grand Slam singles champion. “I’ve known Peng since she was 14; we should all be concerned; this is serious; where is she? Is she safe? Any information would be appreciated.”
French tennis player Nicolas Mahut also spoke out on social media, writing that, “The fact that Peng Shuai is missing is not only the WTA’s problem. We are all concerned,” adding the hashtags #whereispengshuai and #stopthesilence.
Tennis players asking the WTA to end their silence finally got an answer on Sunday, though many are still concerned as to what happened to Peng Shuai.
“Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored,” said WTA Chairman Steve Simon. “Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness.”
“In all societies, the behavior she alleges that took place needs to be investigated, not condoned or ignored,” the statement continued. “We commend Peng Shuai for her remarkable courage and strength in coming forward. Women around the world are finding their voices so injustices can be corrected. We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship.”
According to The Guardian, Chinese censors have disabled comments on Peng Shuai’s Weibo page, and she has not posted since coming forward with her allegations on Nov. 2. Keyword searches such as “tennis” were also blocked, yielding no results, as well as any references made to Peng Shuai.
An activist group, Free Chinese Feminists, wrote that she has “vanished from the public eye ever since she came forward and made her claims,” and that “Chinese feminists and #Metoo activists are deeply concerned about her safety. #WhereIsPengShuai.”
In her post, Peng, 35, said that Zhang Gaoli, 75, forced her into an on-and-off again extramarital relationship that she had to keep secret. After becoming a prominent member of China’s communist party, he stopped contacting her until three years ago, when they met to play tennis with his wife and he allegedly sexually assaulted her.
“I never consented that afternoon, crying all the time,” she wrote on Weibo. “Like an egg hitting a rock, or a moth to the flame, courting self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you.”
According to WTA Chairman Steve Simon, he has received confirmation that Peng Shuai was “safe and not under any physical threat,” however no one has been able to reach her. Sources from the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) stated that she was in Beijing, but Simon told The New York Times that he was not going to “back off” trying to contact Peng.
“We have an athlete that’s part of the WTA family that’s come out with serious allegations,” he said. “We’re going to be 100 percent supportive of that, and we want to see a full investigation on this.”
“If that isn’t the case and if they are not cooperative, then we’ll have to make some decisions, and we’re prepared to do so, and that’s the best we can do,” he stated as of Monday morning. “But we’re not going to back off this position. It’s the right place to be.”