Out in the open

By Xie Wenting Source:Global Times Published: 2012-10-30 22:18:04


Performance artists wearing wedding dresses splattered in fake blood take a stand against domestic violence on February 14 in Qianmen, Dongcheng district. Photo: Guo Yingguang
Performance artists wearing wedding dresses splattered in fake blood take a stand against domestic violence on February 14 in Qianmen, Dongcheng district. Photo: Guo Yingguang

When many people think of domestic violence in China, they invariably think of battered women who have suffered abuse at the hands of their husbands. A quarter of married women in China suffer domestic violence, according to a 2011 joint study conducted by the All-China Women's Federation and National Bureau of Statistics of China.

But violence does not just affect straight couples. Common Language, a Beijing lesbian support group, reported that in 2010 over 40 percent of women in same-sex relationships were abused by their partners or parents.

Scars of an abusive cycle

Domestic violence is more than just physical abuse, and can include emotional or sexual violence used by one partner to control another, said Xu Bin, director of Common Language.

"Lesbians are often abused by their parents, partners and, for those in [heterosexual] marriages, their husbands. They have to bear unspeakable hardships, but there is little they can do because of the absence of legal protection for gay people in abusive relationships and insufficient social support networks," Xu told Metro Beijing.   

Due to social and family pressure, many lesbians enter marriages of convenience with heterosexual partners. But this doesn't spare them from abuse by their partners. Common Language's report found a quarter of lesbians interviewed had endured harassment from their husbands.

Ai Xiaoxiao (pseudonym), 30, first experienced domestic violence when she came out of the closet to her husband and decided to end their three-year marriage in 2008.

"I was terrified the first time he beat me and dialed [emergency service hotline] 110 for help," Ai recalled, saying she was slapped around her face.

Shortly after the attack, Ai had second thoughts and redialed 110 to tell the operator she was "mistaken." Asked why she didn't want police to become involved, Ai said she "didn't want to lose face."

Ai would go on to suffer six more beatings before her marriage dissolved. "I tried to escape during this period, but I came back every time because I worried for our 1-year-old son," she said.

While not excusing her husband's violent behavior, Ai acknowledge there had been no winners from their broken marriage.

"Before our marriage, I had no idea I was a lesbian. When I confessed this to [my husband], I knew I had devastated his whole world," she said. "Every time he beat me, I felt he viewed me as an object - an object to vent his anger."

Legal loopholes for lesbians

Much like domestic violence in heterosexual relationships, it's difficult to determine its actual rate among same-sex couples because many cases go unreported.

Common Language found in its study that 13.6 percent of domestic violence cases involving lesbians are unreported by victims to "save face."

After Ai's divorce in 2008, she began her first relationship with a lesbian in Beijing. Despite initial bliss, history repeated itself after two years when the relationship spiraled into domestic violence.

Broke and with her son living with her ex-husband, Ai felt isolated. Her partner was also an outsider, having migrated to Beijing from a small ethnic Miao village in Southwest China's Guizhou Province.

"We both felt unsafe and struggled to even have three meals daily due to our lack of money. The pressure caused us great stress and led to petty arguments that would escalate and become violent," Ai said. "Being gay is still not widely accepted in society. Even if I talk about my problems with other people, they usually think I am insane and deserve this."

Earlier this month, Metro Beijing reported the capital had opened its first government-funded shelter for domestic violence victims in Mentougou district. The shelter offers services such as legal assistance, free meals and accommodation for victims of family violence, but does not welcome victims from same-sex relationships.

The shelter's director, Chen Feng, explained it could not assist lesbians because their relationships are not considered "family" ones under Chinese law. "Since same-sex couples aren't deemed 'family' under law, we cannot help them," he said.

Violence from parents

Abuse not only comes from partners in lesbian relationships, but also from parents who refuse to accept their daughters' sexuality.

Xiao An (pseudonym), an 18-year-old high school senior in Changchun, capital of Northeast China's Jilin Province, has allegedly been repeatedly beaten by her parents since she announced she was a lesbian. In August, her relationship with Yu Xuan (pseudonym) was discovered by Xiao's parents.

"Her parents could not accept our relationship when they found out. They locked her in her room and severely beat her," Yu, 28, told Metro Beijing.

Yu was eventually told by Xiao's parents that they would try to accept their relationship, and asked Yu to accompany them to the hospital with Xiao.

"They did not let me into the doctor's room. After an entire afternoon of tests, they told me she had been diagnosed as mentally ill," said Yu, adding Xiao was then sent to a mental health clinic.

Three days later, Xiao was discharged and returned to live with her parents."Nothing has changed," said Yu. "They still beat her and don't allow her to contact anyone on the outside."

Under Chinese law, people diagnosed as mentally ill who aren't institutionalized must remain in the custody of their family, according to Hou Jiyan, a lawyer and domestic violence expert from the Zhongqin Law Firm in Beijing.

"If a person is diagnosed with a mental disorder and is single, their parents are deemed custodians. But as custodians they have a duty of care. Only if this is proven to be violated can custody be transferred to other relatives," Hou told Metro Beijing.

Common Language's report found 55 percent of battered lesbians seek help, but only 18 percent feel such help is useful.

One of the possible reasons help is elusive is that gay marriage and civil unions are not recognized under Chinese law, meaning there are no clear punishments for same-sex domestic violence perpetrators. 

Anima Song (pseudonym), 28-year-old lesbian from Taiwan studying in Beijing, noted there are few support networks for lesbians on the Chinese mainland compared to Taiwan.

"Lesbians in a relationship cannot be legally defined as a 'family,' which can fuel disharmony in relationships. In Taiwan, there are more organizations that provide support and services for gay people," said Song, adding Taipei had held its annual gay pride parade on October 13.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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