Private detectives cash in on China’s rampant marital infidelity

By The Beijing Times – Global Times Source:The Beijing Times – Global Times Published: 2016-4-25 20:08:01

China's divorce rate has been growing and extramarital affairs have become the main cause of the splits. To obtain evidence of adultery - to teach partners a lesson or to get more money in the divorce - more and more heartbroken spouses are turning to illicit private detectives.

Waiting, tracking and secret filming has been Afeng's job for the last five years. Neither a police officer, nor a paparazzo, he is paid to catch cheating spouses in the act.

There may be thousands of people who do this job. Even though China has banned private detectives, demand for their services is growing.

Due to the popularity of mobile chat apps, such as WeChat and Momo, extramarital affairs are increasingly common, according to Shu Xin, director of the National Research Center for Marriage Counseling Services, who also leads the Shanghai Weiqing Marriage Company marriage counselors.

Shu told the Global Times Monday that in the cases they have dealt with, 23 percent of extramarital affairs involved these apps.

He disclosed that extramarital affairs have become the top marriage killer - accounting for 75 percent of divorces, followed by domestic violence and long-term separation.

Getting proof of a partner's affairs can give one a great advantage in divorce proceedings. According to the Chinese Marriage Law, if one party's bigamy or affair leads to the divorce, the unerring party has the right to claim compensation if they can prove the other's misdeeds. In addition, the unerring party can win more support from family members and seize the moral high ground to gain a greater share of the couple's property.

The work is well paid, with Afeng raking in at least 40,000 yuan ($6,160) on each job, but he still finds it hard to take pride in his career. "The feeling is complex. Every successful capture will likely mean a broken home," Afeng told the Beijing Times.

Joy of the hunt

Early in the morning of April 9, Afeng waited at a Beijing subway station where a target was supposed to appear. But after half an hour, he checked his mobile phone and suddenly rushed into a train just as its doors shut. "It seems that he's going to change place. Will he go to his office?" Afeng told the Beijing Times reporter.

At noon, he saw the target driving out of his office with a woman sitting in the passenger seat, possibly his mistress.

Hiding behind a tree, Afeng made a gesture of silence to the reporter and took out a video camera and started to shoot. The car disappeared from view after turning a corner but Afeng didn't worry. He took out his mobile phone and tracked the car through a GPS device placed on the vehicle.

He followed the target into a nearby residential community but was unable to find the car. At last, he returned to the front gate and waited. He had just started this job and needed to be patient. "At this moment, it's not proper to follow too closely. Otherwise, I would be easily discovered," he said.

At 1 pm, the car went back to the office. An hour later, the target drove out of the office, but the passenger seat was empty. Later, at a crossing, Afeng found the car and spotted a woman and a girl getting in. "I can finish this job  today," he joked.

The woman turned out to be his client and the girl was their daughter.

Most of the time, investigators need to wait like hunters. The wait can range from a week to months. Even when they confirm that the cheater and the third party will meet, they must wait until the two are physically together before reporting it and getting the evidence they need.

The client's presence is vital. No matter if the adultery happens at home, at a hotel or in a car, the investigators must have the client with them while recording the adultery. "If the client is not with us, the targets can sue us for breaking in, bullying or threatening them," Weng Yu, another investigator, told the Beijing Times.

Weng is a veteran of the business. After getting the idea from some lawyer friends, she established an investigation team in 2008 that focuses on helping women.

Adulterers are usually caught in the wee hours. Besides the client, the investigator often takes three or four team members with them, with some taking charge of filming, some protecting the client and the investigators.

Sometimes it can get violent. A video that went viral shows investigators bursting into a room to film a couple having sex, the man's wife grabbing the naked woman's hair and beginning to curse and beat her, while several men grab the naked man.  

Getting their comeuppance

Weng believes she is helping vulnerable wives. In many cases she has dealt with, the husbands were "human scum" that needed to be punished, Weng said.

They denied they had extramarital relations and demanded proof of their infidelity. Some husbands responded by suing for divorce, listing a number of their wives' defects but never mentioning their own faults. "One husband even said that she was at fault because their child failed to pass the college entrance exams. Ridiculous!" Weng said.

She cited a client who caught her husband sleeping with a woman in their home. The husband confessed his misdeed to his wife and promised not to do it again. But several days later, the husband denied it ever happened.

Not all the wives were motivated by money, some of them just want to meet the mistress or to teach their husbands a lesson, Weng said. The clients are always from relatively wealthy families, some are successful executives, some are housewives.

Directly after Spring Festival and the start of the new school year are the busiest times for Weng's business, she explained.

Before each job, Afeng and Weng will first check the client's identity and their marriage certificate, and then meet with them to raise a series of questions.

"Will you live with him or not [after revealing his adultery]? If you divorce, will you want the custody of the child? How much money [compensation] do you think is acceptable?" Weng asked a client named Xiaoxin (pseudonym). This process forces clients to consider the possible consequences of what they are about to do.

Xiaoxin caught her husband sleeping with another woman with the help of Weng's team. Her husband, a bank's vice president, immediately agreed to pay her 1.5 million yuan.

Occasionally, the client changes their mind. One time, after a successful job, the client reconciled with her husband. At a meeting with Weng, the husband scolded Weng for undermining their family and threatened to teach her a lesson. Weng doesn't fear these threats, saying the profession can't be well maintained without "both white and black" connections.

Ballooning breakups

Divorce has traditionally been taboo for women, but in recent decades it has become more common. According to the latest statistics released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs in June last year, a total of 3.6 million Chinese couples broke up in 2014, a year-on-year increase of 3.9 percent. One out of every four new marriages will end in divorce.

An article published by The Economist in January attributed the soaring divorce rate to China's massive economic and social change. "In the past 35 years, the biggest internal migration experienced by any country in human history has been tearing families apart," said the article.

It also says women are becoming better educated and more aware of their marital rights. "Greater affluence has made it easier for many people to contemplate living alone - no longer is there such an incentive to stay married in order to pool resources."

According to surveys conducted every five years since 2000 by the Institute of Sexuality and Gender, Renmin University of China, the rate of extramarital affairs has been growing in the past 15 years. Pan Suiming, the sexologist who lead the surveys, released Saturday the results of the 2015 survey on his blog. The adultery rate has tripled since 2000, which means one in every three husbands and one in every 7.5 wives are having extramarital affairs.

The demand for investigators like Afeng and Weng Yu will likely increase. But they have been controversial. China's first private detective organization was founded in 1992, but the Ministry of Public Security issued a ban prohibiting any form of investigation conduct by private organizations or individuals in 1993.

The service didn't vanish but went underground or reemerged as consulting firms.

Hu Rui, a lawyer from Beijing Haoqin law firm, told the Beijing Times that what investigators like Afeng are doing is an invasion of privacy, and the evidence they have obtained could be rejected by courts.

According to Weng, the evidence works as a bargaining chip for the woman to seek a private settlement.

To avoid more trouble or out of fear that the film could be made public, the husband will always meet his wife's demands, according to the Beijing Times.

The Beijing Times - Global Times

Newspaper headline: Caught with their pants down

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