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Not a family matter: Combating domestic violence in China


Anti-domestic violence publicity in a community in Shushan District, Hefei, east China's Anhui Province, November 24, 2023. /CFP
Anti-domestic violence publicity in a community in Shushan District, Hefei, east China's Anhui Province, November 24, 2023. /CFP

Anti-domestic violence publicity in a community in Shushan District, Hefei, east China's Anhui Province, November 24, 2023. /CFP

Lawyers in China are relieved to see that victims of domestic violence are widely encouraged to report and seek help nowadays, but they are also aware that these traumatized people need well-established support from society to truly survive the plight.

"In order to escape from an abusive relationship, the victim needs systematic support from the whole society," said Zhang Jing, deputy director of Marriage and Family Affairs Professional Committee of Beijing Lawyers Association, during an interview with CGTN.

Zhang noted that, due to shame or traditional bias, most victims of domestic violence would suffer from self-doubt and self-degradation, and couldn't get strong support from their social networks, such as parents, relatives, friends or colleagues.

She said it's necessary to provide these victims with a temporary shelter where they can recover both physically and psychologically, so that they can gather the courage to seek legal help and apply for a personal safety protection order and free legal aid.

Zhang, who is also the deputy director of Beijing Lianggao Law Firm, began to pay special attention to cases of domestic violence about 15 years ago, when she joined in a non-profit organization focusing on gender equality. At that time, it was believed that domestic violence against women is gender-based violence from men who usually have more physical strength.

"The core of domestic violence is control. The abuser controls the victim through violence, and the victim, utterly intimidated, obeys the abuser unconditionally, daring not to resist, escape or seek help," Zhang said, after recalling details of several cases that she previously handled.

Speaking of the high-profile case of Dong Shanshan, a 26-year-old woman whose newly married husband beat her to death in 2009, Zhang pointed out that her tragic death was partly due to poor response of the police.

Things started to change after China's first anti-domestic violence law came into effect in 2016. When the abuse occurs, Zhang said, the first step is to seek help from the police and prosecutors, who are now capable of issuing written warnings and personal safety protection orders against domestic violence.

Data released in August showed that more than 15,000 personal safety protection orders against domestic violence have been issued by Chinese courts since 2016.

It is challenging to obtain orders due to the difficulty in collecting sufficient evidence, according to feedback from some victims, so the Supreme People's Court lowered the threshold of proof collection in a guideline last year. 

The number of such orders approved among applications increased from 52 percent in 2016 to 77.6 percent in 2022, indicating that the orders are useful and have been more widely applied in the anti-domestic violence fight nationwide, according to the top court.

Tolerance against domestic violence in China has been declining through years of education. People realize that, instead of being a private family matter, domestic violence is a violation of human rights.

The profound psychological trauma

Zhang Yu noticed how domestic violence was involved in divorce cases as soon as she started her career as a lawyer about a decade ago.

Five years ago, Zhang told CGTN, she was surprised when a seriously-ill woman wanted to sue for divorce after she was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer.

"Her appeal was a little contrary to common sense, because she needs the care and comfort of her family. I later learned that she was suffering from serious domestic violence," said Zhang, lawyer of Yongwen Law Firm based in Beijing.

Zhang pointed out that the harm of domestic violence is greater than that of ordinary violence because the place where domestic violence occurs is generally at home, and it is usually difficult for the victim to seek help from the outside world.

"Victims of domestic violence will suffer from greater psychological trauma as well, since they expected care and love from the family," said Zhang, while explaining the difficulty of rebuilding one's life after such trauma.

"Victims will have irreparable psychological trauma, and can not easily recover in most cases," she added. 

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