Modern-day Kinsey wins legal battle
Taiwanese sex researcher acquitted of obscenity charge

By Steve Hinnefeld, Herald-Times Staff Writer November 29, 2004

Six months ago, Josephine Cheun-jue Ho knew there was a real chance she could serve time in prison for her outspokenness about sex.

The Indiana University-educated researcher and activist had been charged with dissemination of obscenities in connection with the work of Taiwan's Center for the Study of Sexualities, which she coordinates.

"In Taiwan, it is usually 'guilty until proven innocent,' and even proven innocent, the stigma stays on," she said.

So it came as "a genuine surprise," she said, that Taiwanese courts acquitted her - not once, but twice. On June 25, the Taipei District Court, which had conducted hearings on the evidence, found her not guilty. The Taiwanese High Court rejected an appeal by prosecutors three months later.

Not only is Ho not in jail, she is continuing her work - research and teaching as well as advocacy for homosexuals, sex workers and other sexual minorities - with a renewed sense of purpose.

"This is only one round of an ongoing struggle," she said in an e-mail interview last week. "We will continue to put up resistance against infringement of our right to knowledge, our right to do research on difficult subjects, our right to communicate and our right to associate."

Ho and her husband, Karl Yin-Bin Nin, lived in Bloomington in the 1980s. Both earned doctorates from IU, she in English and he in philosophy. She organized the Center for the Study of Sexualities at Taiwan's National Central University in 1995.

But her work - and her freewheeling approach to it - generated opposition in Taiwan, where there is tremendous ambivalence about the fast pace of development and the adoption of Western values of lifestyles.

Conservative groups struck when they found the center's Web page, in a section on bestiality, included a link to an Internet site that portrayed sex with animals. They persuaded prosecutors to charge Ho with offenses that could have put her in prison for two years.

Prosecutors presented their case and Ho got 90 minutes to argue her defense. In June, she went to court to hear the result.

"As all waited in anticipation for the worse result, the presiding judge read out the verdict - 'not guilty' - and quickly retired to the back room," she wrote to supporters. "All stood in awe, for the result came too quickly and too unexpectedly."

Anti-obscenity groups got the prosecutors to appeal, and Ho's lawyer said the High Court was more conservative than the district court. But it rejected the appeal - "a much greater surprise," she said.

Ho credited support from Taiwanese and international academics and activists with making it harder for the judges to find her guilty. She said her opponents hoped to isolate her and stigmatize her work, making it dangerous for people to associate with her. But they had the opposite effect, stimulating an outpouring of support that forced the courts to look closely at the evidence in the case.

Ho said the prosecution was a distraction and a drain on her time, though she kept up her research, teaching and activism. Her university withdrew funding for one of her projects, she said, and she had to submit other funding applications in the name of a colleague.

"The eventual vindication of my case has changed my position in the university dramatically," she said. "Suddenly I am not so horrible after all."

While she fought the legal battle, a new movie was starting to stir controversy in the United States over work that IU professor Alfred Kinsey did more than 50 years ago. Ho said Kinsey isn't well-known in Taiwan, where he is regarded as sex researcher, not someone who changed America's attitudes about sex.

"I will try to organize some panel discussions to educate the public and to highlight his progressive ideas," she said.

Reporter Steve Hinnefeld can be reached at 331-4374 or by e-mail at

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