Gay people seek protection under China’s first domestic violence law

By Xie Wenting Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-15 0:12:28

China's first anti-domestic violence law will officially take effect on March 1. However, a legislative official said that the law will not protect those in same-sex relationships. In reality, statistics show that because of the lack of protection and recognition, the domestic violence rate among gay couples is higher than among heterosexual couples. To achieve equal rights, LGBT groups are considering using legal measures to get the government to amend the law's blind spot.

A woman demonstrates against domestic violence in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, December 10, 2014. Photo: CFP

"We were so in love. But we didn't know how to build a healthy relationship. Very often we resorted to violence to settle arguments at home," said Ye Bei (pseudonym), a gay man in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province.

In one of the most serious incidents, Ye's ex-boyfriend went to the kitchen and grabbed a knife to fight with Ye.

Ye had a three-year relationship with his ex. They started dating when they were still in college and the man was Ye's first lover.

However, instead of feeling nostalgia for the loving moments in the relationship, Ye finds that he can only remember harm and abuse. 

"Our situation got worse when we began living together after starting work in Guangzhou. I was employed but he was jobless then. So we had lots of arguments. And fighting became a kind of daily ritual," recalled Ye.

Almost every day when Ye went to work, bruises and scratches could clearly be seen on his skin. "My life sucked at that time. But I couldn't get help from outside and I didn't know how to seek help," said Ye.

In late December, Chinese lawmakers passed the country's first anti-domestic violence law, which will take effect on March 1. The law stipulates that any form of domestic violence is prohibited, including psychological abuse, and it protects both unmarried cohabiters and married couples. But for gay people like Ye who suffer from domestic abuse in same-sex relationships, there is still no legal protection.

Guo Linmao, a legislative official from the National People's Congress Standing Committee's legal affairs commission, said in a news conference that same-sex relationships are not included in this law and he had never heard of domestic abuse happening in gay relationships. 

A rampant phenomenon

"Domestic violence is a common problem among LGBT groups, which have a higher rate of violence than those in heterosexual relationships," said Xu Bin, the director of Common Language, a Beijing-based NGO that advocates equal rights for LGBT groups, especially lesbians. 

In a survey on domestic violence among lesbians by Common Language which was published in 2014, 68.97 percent of the 419 respondents reported that they have suffered domestic violence and 49.16 percent said they have been abused by their parents. A total of 42.64 percent of the 401 respondents that have been in gay relationships said they have suffered abuse from a partner, while 45 percent of the 163 respondents that have previously been in heterosexual relationships said they have been abused by their partner.

Those who suffered abuse in gay relationships experienced physical violence, mental abuse, economic control and sexual assaults.

In China, same-sex marriage is still illegal.

The statistics also show that lesbians are far more likely to suffer domestic violence than heterosexual women, among whom, according to a survey conducted by the All-China Women's Federation in 2011, 24.7 percent have suffered abuse. 

According to Xu, when lawmakers were seeking public consultation for the anti-domestic violence law, she completed their survey and sent a petition with more than 2,000 signatures to legislative officials, intending to attract their attention to domestic violence in gay relationships.

"Maybe they were too busy to take a look at it," she said.

Wan Zi, (pseudonym), a 33-year-old lesbian, was both an abuser and a victim during her seven-year relationship with an ex-girlfriend.

Wan would beat her ex-girlfriend when they were quarreling and her ex liked to put physiological pressure on Wan.

"When I tried to talk to her to solve the problem, she just turned her face away, sneered, and started the cold war. I can't stand the type of psychological violence she did to me. So I can't stop myself from beating her," Wan said.

She confessed that she had never realized that her behavior was domestic violence or wrong, as she often saw her father beating her mother when she was young.

One time, when Wan's girlfriend tried to call police after taking a beating, Wan snatched away the phone.

"I didn't think police will intervene in other people's family matters. Even if the police come, he may just laugh about our sexuality," Wan told the Global Times.

Lack of recognition, protection

In China, the recognition of gay people in society is still low. It wasn't until 2001 that homosexuality was removed from the country's list of psychological diseases. But still there are many media reports of gay people being sent for "convention therapy" or to psychiatric hospitals for treatment by their family members.

Ah Qiang, a well-known gay rights activist and founder of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG) China, an LGBT advocacy group, told the Global Times that because of the secrecy that is typically part of same-sex relationships in China, many gay people have suffered "breakup violence," a kind of mental abuse. As many do not come out of the closet to their family or coworkers, their partners threaten to out them if they dare to break up.

Each year, his organization receives many calls from people who complain that they are facing psychological torture from "breakup violence." 

"Without social recognition and family support, gay relationships are comparatively more vulnerable, thus leading to the occurrences of more domestic violence," Xu noted.

Wan said that although she is now in a healthy relationship, she feels strongly that gay relationships are full of uncertainty as they can't get married.

Because of the lack of recognition, most gay people find it is hard to tell others about their domestic abuse experiences to seek comfort and support.

Many years later, Ye met his old boss and the two talked about this. The boss said, "I saw your scars. But I thought these were the products of sadomasochism, the game that gay people like to play. I've never thought this could be the domestic violence and you need help."

"Chinese people lack sexual education. Most of them have no idea about LGBT groups and they are extremely ignorant about us," Ye said.

Before the new law came into force, China referred to other laws and regulations including the Marriage Law and the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women when dealing with domestic abuse. But these are not applicable for people in gay relationships.

According to Xu, the most useful things that victims of domestic violence in a heterosexual relationship or from their family can do is apply for a restraining order.

However, this is also not an easy thing. Getting a restraining order requires victims to file a lawsuit first and they will later be granted a restraining order by a judge.

Under the new law, victims can apply for restraining orders against their partner or family members without filing a case first and the order will be valid for up to six months.

However, People in gay relationships cannot get restraining orders against their partners.

Promoting legal progress 

In Ye's opinion, if gay relationships were included in the anti-domestic violence law, it will help to raise public awareness and let people know that such troubles do exist.

Xu Bin said that she is not surprised that officials neglected gay people in the domestic violence law, given that the overall recognition of LGBT people in China is still low.

But this won't stop them from trying to solve the problem.

"We are planning to mail our survey and petition letters once again before March 1 to the legislators and courts to gain their attention," said Xu.

Xu hopes that through this gesture, when China's Supreme People's Court gives judicial interpretations of the law, there is still a possibility for the court to include gay people.

When the first draft of the law was released, it did not include non-married couples that live together but after public consultation, it included them. "So I am still optimistic," she said.

If this fails, Ah Qiang told the Global Times that they will consider using the courts to protect their rights and "to make government acknowledge" their rights.

In recent years, more and more LGBT people have adopted legal measures to push forward the LGBT movement in China, he noted.  

In late August, Qiu Bai, a student at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education over textbooks that describe homosexuality as a psychological disorder. In the following month, Fan Popo, a gay director, sued the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television for removing his LGBT-themed movies from the Internet. Both of them got wide exposure and feedback from the government.

In Ah Qiang's plan, gay people who suffered domestic violence will file a lawsuit against the abuser after the enforcement of the anti-domestic violence law.

"In this way, we can get the problem exposed to the public eye and also let legislators and law enforcement officers realize that there are loopholes in the law that fails to protect gay people," he said.

Newspaper headline: Same-sex, same abuse

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