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[16days_discussion] Bride's Death in China Spurs Anti-Violence Bill

KATHLEEN SLOAN kathleen.sloan at
Wed Aug 3 14:37:32 EDT 2011

 Covering Women's Issues - 
Changing Women's Lives  
Wednesday, August 3, 2011 
Read Today's Story: Bride's Death in China Spurs Anti-Violence Bill

Bride's Death in China Spurs Anti-Violence Bill
By  Jia You
WeNews correspondent
Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The death of a young Chinese bride in 2009 under the fists of her husband 
shocked the public about the lack of protection for victims of domestic 
violence. Now, lawmakers have a national anti-domestic violence bill to 
SHENZHEN, China (WOMENSENEWS)–When other brides would have been enjoying their 
honeymoons, Dong Shanshan was calling the police.

In the next 10 months, her calls became more and more desperate as her husband, 
Wang Guangyu, repeatedly beat her till she passed out and kidnapped her when she 
escaped. Her eight calls to the police did nothing. They declined to intervene 
in the affairs of a married couple. 

It wasn't until Dong was lying on her deathbed with a belly swollen from 
hemorrhage that the police were ready to listen to her account. By then, it was 
too late.

Dong's story, widely reported in late 2010, became a catalyst for national 
legislation on domestic violence in China. On July 14 The National People's 
Congress Standing Committee included an anti-domestic violence law in its 
legislative agenda. This followed four years of urging by the All China Women's 
Federation, the government agency in charge of women's affairs.

The new legislation, if passed, will provide a clear definition of domestic 
violence, including physical, mental and sexual abuse. It will also specify 
punishments. Existing laws prohibit domestic violence but only in vague terms.

Lv Xiaoquan is research director at the Center for Women's Law Studies and Legal 
Services of Peking University, a nonprofit organization providing legal aid to 
women.  "Dong's case revealed so many hidden problems about domestic violence in 
China," he says. "The biggest question is the police: Should they intervene in 
violence in the family, and how?"

He adds that the new law will only be effective if those executing it truly 
understand the severity of violence against women.

A third of Chinese families suffer from domestic violence, according to a survey 
by the All China Women's Federation in 2007, but few victims find protection 
from the law.
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Most Lawsuits Fail
A 2010 study by the Shenzhen Intermediate Court found three-quarters of domestic 
violence lawsuits fail in court. Most cases fall apart because of insufficient 
evidence, says Lai, a judge at Shenzhen Intermediate Court who declined to 
provide a first name.  "Many victims don't save the evidence or call the police 
in time, which makes it difficult to differentiate domestic violence from normal 
family quarrels," Lai says.

But Lv, who has represented victims in lawsuits, argues that the court puts too 
much burden of proof on the plaintiff. The court requires victims to show police 
records of violence and medical records proving abuse-related harm. As a matter 
of practice, most police records simply say "family conflict, reconciled" 
without any mention of the violence committed, Lv says. Others tend to be a 
one-sided record of the victim's story without any input from the spouse, which 
disqualifies them as evidence.  As a result, many victims turn elsewhere for 
help; sometimes to the local Women's Federation or the employer of their abusive 
spouse. Some resort to violence against their abusers.

Even in a successful lawsuit, victims have a slim chance of getting any 
compensation. The country's marriage law stipulates victims of domestic violence 
can get more property in a divorce. But most victims only get a one-time payment 
of their medical bills or a mental-damage compensation of around $1,500, says 
Tuo Hongmei, a lawyer at Guanghe Law Firm in Shenzhen.  "Most judges will 
automatically go for 50-50 in property division for fear of complaints," Tuo 
says. "Clients are already lucky to get a divorce."
Victims Inhibited
The grim economic prospect after a divorce inhibits victims from seeking help, 
especially in big cities where jobs are tight and living expenses are high, says 
Li Xiaofeng, a sociologist at Shenzhen University. The national inflation rate 
is expected to hit 5 percent this year, and prices of oil and pork are soaring.  
"Many victims are housewives without any job skills," Li says. "Without economic 
independence, their hardship will continue after divorce."

Peking University's Lv says raising awareness among judges must go hand-in-hand 
with the legislation. He had a successful case this year where his client got 
about $8,000 for mental-damage compensation, a rare sum among domestic violence 
cases. The key, he says, was a sympathetic female judge.

"Of course we want judges to be fair," Lv says. "But judges with a gender 
consciousness tend to do more justice in these cases."

In 2010, after the high-profile death of Dong, the Center for Women's Law 
Studies and Legal Services started projects in Hu'nan and Yunnan provinces to 
educate judges and the police about domestic violence. The government needs to 
step in and spread the training across the country, Lv says.  "Dong's tragic 
death shocked the police as well," he says. "She was a victim herself, but 
hopefully her tragedy will bring some real progress."
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Jia You, currently reporting from China, is a rising sophomore at the Medill 
School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
For more information:
"Critics call for more protection following bride's beating death," China Daily:
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