Thursday, 17 November 2011

Domestic violence casts an ugly shadow

It never occurred to Li Wei that her second marriage would collapse, and be even uglier than the first. The “reliable, honest and loving” husband she had been looking for turned out to be an ill-tempered bully who beat her repeatedly over nine months.

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Guanyu 道 said...

Domestic violence casts an ugly shadow

By Jiang Xueqing and He Dan in Beijing/China Daily
17 November 2011

It never occurred to Li Wei that her second marriage would collapse, and be even uglier than the first. The “reliable, honest and loving” husband she had been looking for turned out to be an ill-tempered bully who beat her repeatedly over nine months.

“You can’t imagine what I’ve suffered,” the 45-year-old said between sobs, tears streaming down her face.

About 25 percent of Chinese women have been abused by their spouses, verbally and physically, including having their freedom restricted and raped.

The All-China Women’s Federation and the National Bureau of Statistics released the figure on Oct 21 following a national survey of 105,573 people aged 18 and over and 20,405 teenagers aged between 10 and 17.

Most of the victims could not prove the abuse in court during divorce hearings because evidence is difficult to produce, experts said.

After her first marriage failed, Li quit her job as a government employee in Linyi, Shandong province, and sold her three apartments for more than 900,000 yuan ($141,700). She moved to Beijing, fleeing her unhappy past.

Soon she was introduced to Fan Changlin, a 52-year-old Beijing native who also was divorced. She married him a year later, in December 2008, and moved into his dilapidated, eight-room courtyard house north of the Fragrant Hills.

As her husband was also unemployed, Li spent more than 230,000 yuan of her own money to renovate their home, at his request. The work was finished in April 2009, and Fan wrote an agreement granting the house to Li as a gift.

A month later, Fan’s ex-wife suddenly showed up, claiming she had been given one of the rooms in their divorce settlement, and moved in. From then on, Fan’s attitude toward Li changed entirely.

She said he started beating her savagely with whatever was at hand - sneakers, wooden sticks, iron hammers - and caused injuries including arthritis of the knees and narrowing of the lumbar spinal canal.

Whoever tried to stop him would be threatened. Once during a fight, he put a kitchen knife to the throat of a neighbor who came to help her, Li said.

Numbers rising

The All-China Women’s Federation received 51,171 complaints from women about domestic violence by their spouses in 2010, after seven years when complaints totaled 40,000 to 50,000 annually.

“When we first began to calculate the number, a woman would only file a complaint after she was physically abused by her husband. But now, verbal and sexual abuses are also counted in,” said Zhen Yan, vice-president of the federation.

“With the growth of legal consciousness, many women revealed their horrible experience to us in the hope of protecting their legal rights,” she said.

According to the survey last year, 83.4 percent of people are aware that China has a special law to protect women’s rights and interests, rising 9.6 percentage points from 2000. But the legal system does not protect the victims effectively, experts said.

“Previous laws and regulations concerning domestic violence are difficult to practice. They only demonstrate that our society and government are against such violence,” Zhen said.

“That’s why our federation is calling for a national law especially devoted to contain domestic violence, to clarify definitions of the offenses, pinpoint responsibilities of relevant departments and ensure the intensity of punishment of violators.”

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Mediate or abet?

During her nine months of agony and humiliation, Li called the police 10 times. At first, they would send a policeman to her home to find out what happened and make peace between the couple.

Later, Li said, as they kept receiving her phone calls, the police recognized her voice and refused to help anymore. They said it was inconvenient for them to get involved in family disputes.

“Chinese policemen in general think it’s very common for a man to beat his wife and do not take such behavior as a form of violence,” said Lu Xiaoquan, a lawyer and director of the research department of Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center.

“This attitude determines that their approach to handling domestic violence cases is often unprofessional and unfair,” he continued. “Some police officers even stand by the side of the offenders and treat them with indulgence. They don’t realize that they have actually encouraged repeat violence.”

In many cases, police officers acted as mediators, rather than interrogating both sides and taking a clear record of what happened. Even if they did, the record usually lacks critical information to prove that the victim had suffered domestic violence.

Burden of proof

Lu represents Li in her second attempt to divorce Fan. The court ruled against her in what is called her trial of first instance, saying she did not provide enough evidence to prove her husband had beaten her.

The lawyer recalled another woman he represented who accused her husband of domestic violence in her divorce lawsuit. She called the police after a terrible beating and was questioned at home.

Lu made great efforts to photocopy the written record of interrogation and took it to court. However, the record contained nothing but these few words: “A domestic conflict occurred and was solved through intermediation.”

“The judge asked me, ‘How can you prove she was beaten by her husband with a police record like this?’” Lu recalled.

In the end, the terms of property division were unfavorable to the woman, but at least she could present the police record of interrogation as evidence in the court. In most cases of domestic violence, the police do not allow plaintiffs and their lawyers to photocopy written records of interrogation.

Sometimes, police officers also ignore the letter issued to a plaintiff by the court, asking for police assistance during an investigation.

Too much burden on the plaintiff to provide evidence makes it hard to win a domestic violence case, Lu said. The center he works for has won less than 10 percent of such lawsuits handled by its lawyers since it was founded as the Center for Women’s Law and Legal Services of Peking University in 1995.

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Law and perception

Although the police contribute to that low success rate, they are not solely responsible for it.

“The marital law in China does not define domestic violence, so the police cannot decide which behavior falls into the category of domestic violence and which belongs to family disputes,” said Chen Min, a researcher with the China Institute of Applied Jurisprudence of the Supreme People’s Court of China.

“In the past, many people thought that domestic violence was a kind of family dispute and the public power had better stay out of it. Otherwise, intervention would possibly lead to divorce,” she said.

“But now more and more people have realized domestic violence is a serious social problem and intervention by public power will maintain family stability by stopping the violence.”

An example is the case of Dong Shanshan, a 26-year-old woman in Beijing who was beaten constantly by her husband. Dong and her parents called the police eight times, but the police were reluctant to intervene because they took such violence to be family disputes and the couple was still a family, said her attorney, Li Ying, director of the Yuanzhong Gender Development Center.

Finally, Dong died of internal organ failure in 2009 after a severe beating. Her husband was found guilty of abusing her and sentenced to six years, six months in prison.

“People’s perception of domestic violence is the biggest challenge to solving the problem,” Chen said.

By the end of 2010, the Supreme People’s Court had picked 72 courts across China for a trial project on restraining domestic violence. The courts issued 48 orders of protection in 2010, forbidding the abusers to get close to the victims, their home and workplace, or to contact them. These orders of protection stopped the violence effectively and many women dropped their petitions for divorce.

Considering that domestic violence is often invisible outside the family and therefore difficult to prove, some legal experts have suggested that the court distribute the responsibility of raising evidence more evenly between the plaintiff and the defendant.

“As long as a victim can present evidence of injury and identify who caused it, the responsibility of raising evidence should be transferred to the defendant,” Chen said.

‘I will not fail’

During the past 10 years, domestic violence has caught wider public attention, thanks to more exposure of cases in the news media and online.

Kim Lee, the American wife of Li Yang, a popular English teacher and founder of the Crazy English franchise, posted photos of her swelling forehead and bruising knees on the Sina Weibo micro-blogging service in August.

Lee accused her husband of beating her in front of one of their children and filed a petition for divorce in October. China Daily tried to contact her by different means but received no reply.

“A man who beats you once will beat you again. I know this now,” she wrote in a message posted on Nov 8. “I also know that the thought of being pregnant and alone is frightening enough to keep a woman silent.”

In spite of the hardships, she made a firm statement in a letter she wrote to Li Yang and also sent to the Anti-Domestic Violence Network of China Law Society:

“I may fail to bring you to justice, and your fame may protect you from consequences for your reprehensible actions.

“I will not fail... in my mission to help millions of Chinese women gain the legal protection that they deserve. Even if you beat her, it is impossible to defeat the woman who never gives up.”