EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Invisible victims

Writer: Lin Min  | Editor: Jane Chen  | From:  | Updated: 2019-12-10

Late last month, video footage showing a woman lying on the floor and being violently dragged out of an elevator by a man while she desperately resists went viral in cyberspace, bringing much-needed public attention to domestic violence in China.

The man, Chen Hong, was later given a 20-day detention and a 500-yuan (US$71) fine for repeatedly abusing her during their one-year relationship. The woman, He Yuhong, is a vlogger better known as Yuyamika, who became famous for mimicking the looks of the Mona Lisa and Albert Einstein through her makeup.

If not for Yuyamika’s fame, the case might not have aroused so much media attention and heated public discussion. However, such public discourse may die down very soon if we do not give the issue enough attention it deserves.

While awareness of animal rights has been soaring in recent years, domestic violence has caught little public attention even though it is pervasive in China. According to the news website under All-China Women’s Federation, domestic violence occurs in 25 percent of the 270 million families in China. Every year, about 157,000 women commit suicide, 60 percent of them doing so because of domestic violence, according to the federation.

China did not have a law against domestic violence until 2016. Under the law, acts between family members such as assault, frequent insults, threats, mental harm and restricting personal freedom are identified as domestic violence. Many people did not realize they were victims of domestic violence until the law was made public.

However, many cities have not introduced regulations to implement the law effectively. The law, which contains 38 clauses, only addresses the problem in principle. It doesn’t provide details on how to deal with perpetrators who repeat an offense after being warned for the first time. And no detailed stipulations are provided on the provision of shelters.

In many cities, such shelters are provided as part of an existing elderly care facility or even a shelter for vagrants. This, compounded by the lack of social workers and psychological counselors, has led to the low occupancy rate of shelters for domestic violence victims.

Even with the Law Against Domestic Violence taking effect in 2016, public awareness of the issue has remained low. The United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which falls on Nov. 25, remains little known in China.

Domestic violence seems to be an invisible issue in China because most victims choose to keep silent. In Chinese culture, most people regard family disputes and violence as “dirty linen.” So the centuries-old saying “Don’t wash your dirty linen in public” is still widely accepted today. According to the All-China Women’s Federation, on average, a female victim would seek police help only after having been abused or attacked by her spouse or partner 35 times.

Such victims usually suffer in silence, living in fear, shame and stigma.

Even since the domestic violence law was enacted in 2016, few victims have taken to court to protect themselves. By the end of last year, only 5,860 people in the country had filed for restraining orders since the law was enacted.

In the United States, domestic violence is also a pervasive problem. “One in four women (24.3 percent) and one in seven men (13.8 percent) aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime,” according to the country’s CDC.

October has been designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States since 1987. During the month, advocates and victims of domestic violence against women and children come together to raise public awareness.

China can also designate a similar week or month to raise public awareness of domestic violence. Public awareness campaigns will encourage more victims to speak out and seek legal help. Public support to victims will also help eliminate the stigma and low esteem plaguing many victims and boost their confidence to seek a better life.

More effective implementation of the law is also needed. According to the U.S. Justice Department, intimate partner violence had dropped 64 percent in the 20 years since the Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994.

News media outlets should fulfill their responsibilities of agenda-setting by publishing more investigative stories and documentaries concerning the issue as a way to maintain a vigorous discourse and spur all sectors of society to tackle the problem. U.S. media’s lengthy coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial — although some reports contained misinformation — thrusted domestic violence into the national spotlight and prompted Americans to think about the issue.

(The author is head of the Shenzhen Daily News Desk.)