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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: October 17, 2011 NO. 42 OCTOBER 20, 2011
Secret Shame Now in the Public Eye
A celebrity wife-beating case has sparked concern on the issue of domestic violence in China

LET ME HELP YOU: Workers from the Women's Federation of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, offer advice to residents at an activity marking International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, 2005 (SUN ZHONGNAN)

According to Liu, since her organization was established in 2000, there has been a rapid change in attitudes and an increased awareness regarding the problem of domestic violence across all sections of Chinese society.

However, those working with the network also found patterns of domestic violence in China didn't conform to their original expectations.

"Before, we thought it's rural areas and the lower classes that have a higher incidence of domestic violence," Liu said. "But actually many urban women report being beaten by their well-educated husbands who are doctors, professors or other qualified professionals. That means domestic violence in China not only has an economic dimension but is a more ingrained cultural phenomenon."

Liu admits domestic violence in China is still regarded as a family issue, something not to be discussed outside the home.

This is echoed by Cesar Chelala, an international public health consultant, who published an article in China Daily last October.

"Cultural, economic and social factors such as shame and fear of retaliation from their partners are the cause of women's reluctance to denounce these acts. As in other countries, domestic violence in China is not only widespread, but also considered a private matter, which makes it very difficult for women to get a proper response from the police and the judiciary," said Chelala in the article.

Chelala also said physically tortured women are more susceptible to a variety of health problems such as depression, suicide, as well as alcohol and drug abuse.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly half of the women victims of homicide around the world are killed by their current or former husbands or boyfriends.

Aid channels

"All perpetrators of domestic violence have this or that psychological problem," said Wang Xingjuan, founder of the Maple Women's Psychological Counseling Center, a non-profit organization in Beijing. "We have to provide channels that allow victims to protect themselves before we start treating the abusers."

Wang explained over the last 10 years, more and more social aid channels, such as legal aid and social and medical interventions, have become available to victims.

"We've been trying to launch pilot programs, through which we help women organize their own self-help groups," Wang said.

In August 2008, a court in Wuxi, east China's Jiangsu Province, issued an order prohibiting a husband from beating or intimidating his wife. This was the first time a court granted judicial protection for personal safety within marriage.

In November 2009, Shanghai established an aid center against domestic violence, the first in China, to offer temporary accommodation for victims. Several aid centers of this kind were set up in other regions of the country.

"This is far from sufficient, compared to the number of victims, what we have done is not even close to meeting the need. The aid centers are also facing some operational difficulties," Wang said.

During the first month of its operations, the Shanghai aid center received nobody at all. "I wanted to turn to it for help but the admission procedures are too complex and rigorous," said a woman with the surname Zhu who claimed to be a victim of domestic violence.

It's stipulated to enter the facility, an applicant needs to go to the police to fill in a form and to get proof of he or she having been attacked from the local community office.

"I think it is my privacy and I don't want so many people to know that," Zhu said.

"This is also the reason that it is hard for the police to effectively deal with domestic violence," said Liu, the attorney. "Police officers aren't trained to intervene in domestic disputes; they don't know how to deal with it."

Liu said the most tragic example was that of Dong Shanshan, a 26-year-old woman who was beaten to death last year by her husband even though she called the police several times.

Women's organizations responded to Dong's death by demanding more effective legislation on domestic violence.

On August 14, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, said it had started drafting an anti-domestic violence law. It will be the country's first special law on domestic violence.

Jiang Yue'e from the ACWF said, "The ACWF is assisting in drafting the law. In order to accelerate the legislative process, the federation has drafted a proposed version of the law and hopes it will provide a reference for legislators."

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