Domestic violence in China, like in many other countries, has been a significant issue for a long time. It’s just not one that seems to be very popular to talk about culturally. Victims of domestic violence in China have been encouraged to be silent by their families, friends and the law. Until now.
Domestic violence in China has only just been recognised as a crime. It has only been recently that China has passed it’s first domestic violence law. Chinese feminists fought for decades to get the government to take notice, an effort galvanized in recent years by a string of brutal cases. In 2009, a young woman named Dong Shanshan was beaten to death by her husband after going to the police eight times.
In 2011, Kim Lee, the American wife of a Chinese celebrity, went public with pictures of her battered face and her failed efforts to seek help from police. That a relatively wealthy foreign woman was turned away reinforced a message Chinese women have heard for years: This is your problem. Go home and work it out. Silence and shame; a victim who is further victimised by those who should be helping – including the law.
Domestic Violence in China is A Far Bigger Problem Than Reported Figures Suggest
In December 2015, the Chinese government passed the country’s landmark first bill against domestic violence. But one year on, campaigners warn that not enough people know about it, and victims remain uncompensated.
Lu Yanxia was six months pregnant when her husband beat her so badly that her face was left swollen beyond recognition. The violence started early on in their relationship and didn’t stop. He was also psychologically abusive, stopping her from meeting friends and taking control of her money. The last beating was so severe that, bruised and heavily pregnant, she finally found the courage to flee. Lu is an unusual example because she made it out. She has turned her life around and works as a consultant in family and marriage law, helping other victims of abuse.
“We need this law in China,” Lu says. “It will make couples think before they turn to violence. Because the pain of the victims of domestic violence is not just in their bodies, but also in their minds. And that takes a long time to recover.”
Woman are not just encouraged to stay in abusive relationships by their family, they are pressured. Domestic violence in China is seen as a private, family matter, and is dealt with as such. Domestic violence is almost completely unreported in China for this very reason. Official government figures suggest around one in four married women have experienced domestic violence at least once, but experts place the number much higher – as high as 40 percent, according to research by U.N. Women in China.
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Change Means Nothing If It’s Not Enforced
Helping women to be aware of their rights has been a challenge and many women go on living as victims just believing that this is their lot. The new law means domestic violence is now a valid reason for divorce and marks this type of violence as a recognized offense in its own right, with abuse potentially leading to seven years in prison. The law seems like an excellent step in the right direction, but it means little if it is not enforced. Activists say there is a disconnect between the rights enshrined in the law and the system that implements it. For example, says family lawyer Gao Mingyue, judges have previously been reluctant to consider domestic violence in divorce proceedings, and mindsets are slow to change.
“The judge’s perspective is that if [the couple] is already getting divorced, [the problem] is finished,” he says. “Legal focus has always been on the division of property and custody of children, rather than spending time looking backward.”
The change in law also means that victims can now apply for protective restraining orders, but again these are useless if domestic violence is not taken seriously and abusers are given leniency because they are family. But there was no implementation of a protective restraining order for the benefit of Li Hongxia.
Li was strangled by her husband when she was in hospital. Her family assumed that a poor woman from rural China would not matter and her murder would be swept away like dust, even though her husband confessed and the family sought the death penalty.
The defence asked for leniency on the grounds that Zhang had admitted his guilt and that Ms Li’s death was different than “regular” acts of violence – because she was Zhang’s wife. Yet the court’s written judgment, provided to Ms Li’s family last week, said plainly that Zhang’s penalty was indeed reduced because it was a domestic case. Zhang got a reprieve, not immediate execution, because the case was “caused by family conflict and the defendant Zhang Yazhou turned himself in,” the judges wrote. The ruling illustrates how the Chinese state is struggling to handle a public health crisis often dismissed as private, personal scandal.
Domestic Violence is Not a Lesser Form of Violence
Many involved in the case showed a limited understanding of the ideas outlined in the anti-domestic-violence law. Lu Xiaoquan, a Beijing-based lawyer who specialises in domestic violence but was not involved in Ms Li’s case, said the level of knowledge about intimate-partner violence in China remains “pathetic”. “A law, no matter how good it is, is only a piece of blank paper without implementation,” he said. “If the law cannot be effectively implemented, similar cases will appear.”
If you think someone is a victim of domestic violence then speak up. It’s not okay for someone to be abused physically, sexually, mentally, emotionally or financially. At Divorce Lawyers Brisbane we like to help victims of domestic violence. For a free, 10-minute consultation with one of our experienced family lawyers, please contact us today. For an emergency, please contact the police on 000.