Domestic violence casts an ugly shadow

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Burden of proof

Lu represents Li in her second attempt to divorce Fan. The court ruled against her in what is called her trial of first instance, saying she did not provide enough evidence to prove her husband had beaten her.

Kim Lee posted this photo of her swollen forehead online as an accusation against her husband. [Photos/China Daily]

Kim Lee posted this photo of her swollen forehead online as an accusation against her husband. [Photos/China Daily] 

The lawyer recalled another woman he represented who accused her husband of domestic violence in her divorce lawsuit. She called the police after a terrible beating and was questioned at home.

Lu made great efforts to photocopy the written record of interrogation and took it to court. However, the record contained nothing but these few words: "A domestic conflict occurred and was solved through intermediation."

"The judge asked me, 'How can you prove she was beaten by her husband with a police record like this?'" Lu recalled.

In the end, the terms of property division were unfavorable to the woman, but at least she could present the police record of interrogation as evidence in the court. In most cases of domestic violence, the police do not allow plaintiffs and their lawyers to photocopy written records of interrogation.

Sometimes, police officers also ignore the letter issued to a plaintiff by the court, asking for police assistance during an investigation.

Too much burden on the plaintiff to provide evidence makes it hard to win a domestic violence case, Lu said. The center he works for has won less than 10 percent of such lawsuits handled by its lawyers since it was founded as the Center for Women's Law and Legal Services of Peking University in 1995.

Law and perception

Although the police contribute to that low success rate, they are not solely responsible for it.

"The marital law in China does not define domestic violence, so the police cannot decide which behavior falls into the category of domestic violence and which belongs to family disputes," said Chen Min, a researcher with the China Institute of Applied Jurisprudence of the Supreme People's Court of China.

"In the past, many people thought that domestic violence was a kind of family dispute and the public power had better stay out of it. Otherwise, intervention would possibly lead to divorce," she said.

"But now more and more people have realized domestic violence is a serious social problem and intervention by public power will maintain family stability by stopping the violence."

An example is the case of Dong Shanshan, a 26-year-old woman in Beijing who was beaten constantly by her husband. Dong and her parents called the police eight times, but the police were reluctant to intervene because they took such violence to be family disputes and the couple was still a family, said her attorney, Li Ying, director of the Yuanzhong Gender Development Center.

Finally, Dong died of internal organ failure in 2009 after a severe beating. Her husband was found guilty of abusing her and sentenced to six years, six months in prison.

"People's perception of domestic violence is the biggest challenge to solving the problem," Chen said.

By the end of 2010, the Supreme People's Court had picked 72 courts across China for a trial project on restraining domestic violence. The courts issued 48 orders of protection in 2010, forbidding the abusers to get close to the victims, their home and workplace, or to contact them. These orders of protection stopped the violence effectively and many women dropped their petitions for divorce.

Considering that domestic violence is often invisible outside the family and therefore difficult to prove, some legal experts have suggested that the court distribute the responsibility of raising evidence more evenly between the plaintiff and the defendant.

"As long as a victim can present evidence of injury and identify who caused it, the responsibility of raising evidence should be transferred to the defendant," Chen said.

'I will not fail'

During the past 10 years, domestic violence has caught wider public attention, thanks to more exposure of cases in the news media and online.

Kim Lee, the American wife of Li Yang, a popular English teacher and founder of the Crazy English franchise, posted photos of her swelling forehead and bruising knees on the Sina Weibo micro-blogging service in August.

Lee accused her husband of beating her in front of one of their children and filed a petition for divorce in October. China Daily tried to contact her by different means but received no reply.

"A man who beats you once will beat you again. I know this now," she wrote in a message posted on Nov 8. "I also know that the thought of being pregnant and alone is frightening enough to keep a woman silent."

In spite of the hardships, she made a firm statement in a letter she wrote to Li Yang and also sent to the Anti-Domestic Violence Network of China Law Society:

"I may fail to bring you to justice, and your fame may protect you from consequences for your reprehensible actions.

"I will not fail... in my mission to help millions of Chinese women gain the legal protection that they deserve. Even if you beat her, it is impossible to defeat the woman who never gives up."

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