Where violence in home is just a private affair

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2011, 12:00am


'You knocked me to the floor. You sat on my back. You choked my neck with both hands and slammed my head into the floor. When I pried your hands from my neck you grabbed my hair and slammed my head into the floor 10 more times.'

Kim Lee wrote this on her microblog on September 5, describing what her celebrity English teacher husband Li Yang did to her during a heated argument. A few days earlier, she had posted photos of herself showing her bloodied forehead with an egg-sized lump and bruised ears and knees.

'My three-year-old was next to me, I thought: What am I teaching her?' Lee, 40, said in a phone interview yesterday.

She decided to speak up, determined she could not let their three daughters - aged nine, five and three - see domestic violence as normal.

Li, founder of the 'Crazy English' language learning method which has millions of young followers, publicly apologised, but still insisted wife-beating was only a problem because Lee was American and did not understand Chinese culture, she said.

'He continues to hold up this banner that this is Chinese culture... My kids are half Chinese and spent their whole lives here, but I don't want them to have that idea,' said Lee, whose divorce trial is set for December 15. According to a recent survey by the official All-China Women's Federation, one in four women on the mainland has experienced some form of abuse within marriage - 24.7 per cent of the respondents suffered verbal humiliation, restriction of personal freedom, control of their finances or forced sex, while 5.5 per cent reported physical assaults.

Surveys carried out by academics suggest the situation could be worse. A 2004 survey of more than 3,500 married men and women in Zhejiang , Gansu and Hunan provinces showed that 34.7 per cent experienced domestic violence.

As the UN marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women today, women's rights activists blame the high rate of abuse on the lack of domestic violence laws and the traditional mindset that family abuse is a private affair not to be discussed openly or dealt with by law.

Feng Yuan, head of Beijing-based outreach group the Anti-Domestic Violence Network, said the statistics were only the tip of the iceberg. The problem is more widespread than people realise because many victims often dare not speak up out of fear of being accused of airing their family's dirty linen in public.

'Domestic violence has long been considered a 'private affair' and was never subjected to legal or societal intervention, that's why it has been allowed to get to this stage,' she said.

Guo Jianmei, a lawyer at the Beijing Zhongze Women's Legal Aid Centre who specialises in helping abused women, said a comprehensive set of domestic violence laws was urgently needed to protect victims. She said the existing laws that touched on domestic violence issues tended to be vague guiding principles rather than specific legislation that could be implemented.

'People's mindset is a big problem: be it police, courts, lawyers or neighbourhood committees, they don't think domestic violence is a big deal,' she said. 'They think it is a private matter between couples.'

When women did report abuse to the police, they were often interrogated harshly and made to feel like they were troublemakers, said Li Hongtao, a founder of the Anti-Domestic Violence Network. 'Wife beating has been tolerated under a patriarchal culture, but we need to see this as a matter of human rights.'

Last month, Xinhua reported that China's top legislature was looking into the feasibility of legislating against domestic violence, although no timescale had been announced.

Activists hope that this move will at least send a signal that domestic violence is a crime not to be tolerated and will compel law enforcers to take it more seriously.