Shelter has little to offer domestic violence victims
Published: Nov 30, 2014 07:08 PM
Chinese people are familiar with a TV series called Don't Talk to Strangers, which tells the story of a woman who was frequently beaten by her husband, who kicked her out and left her with nowhere to go.

Domestic violence is a problem people know about, but don't often discuss, especially about themselves or their own family members. It's something that happens to other people.

Still, it can be a deadly serious problem. In 2010, for example, 26-year-old woman Dong Shanshan was killed by her husband in Beijing, only one year into their marriage. During that year, Dong frequently suffered from abuse. She had called the police for eight times but all failed to receive any useful help.

One of the ways to deal with the problem is to provide battered women with a place to go to escape from an abusive husband. In Shanghai, the local women's federation opened a domestic shelter in 2009 to give victims a temporary refuge.

But surprisingly, only 18 women have actually gone to the shelter for help over the past five years, according to a Shanghai Morning Post's report on Thursday. Worse, the number of women who enter the shelter has been steadily dropping since it opened. This year, it took in just two women.

These numbers don't mean that there are fewer women suffering from domestic violence. Earlier this year, Supreme People's Court's spokeperson Sun Jungong said 24.7 percent of Chinese families have been affected by domestic violence.

Rather than seeking help from police or women's rights groups, the vast majority of domestic violence victims choose to bear the pain alone. "They tend to remain silent, or share their troubles only with their parents or close friends," said Lu Ronggen, an official with the Shanghai Women's Federation.

There is an old Chinese saying: "Family quarrels must be settled behind closed doors." It is a widely held belief that domestic violence is kind of a scandal that would only bring shame to the family.

It's quite common to hear about a battered wife who escapes to her mother's houses, only to end up returning to her husband on her mother's advice, as an abused wife surnamed Zhou told the Global Times in 2010. 

Many traditional Chinese parents believe domestic violence is a trivial matter and persuade their daughters to endure it, as obedience has long been regarded as a good trait for a wife. Ding Tong, a psychologist, once told the Global Times that some women have become so good at following their parents' advice that they have become numb to the violence. Seeing tolerance for physical violence as a virtue contributes to women's reluctance to go to a domestic violence shelter.

Sadly, even willing women might not get what they want at Shanghai's nearly deserted shelter.

According to a Youth Daily's report Friday, the shelter has two rooms and seven beds for battered wives. Women also usually need to provide written materials before they are allowed to stay at the shelter. The materials include a medical report and a certificate signed by the women's federation. And even then, they can stay there for no more than seven days.

It's hard to know what happens to these women after seven days at the center. All that the staff there can do is persuade husbands not to beat their wives, or persuade the couples to get divorced.

According to media reports last week, China has drafted its first anti-domestic violence legislation.

The legislation, which defines domestic violence for the first time, will make it mandatory for police to investigate domestic violence reports. Hopefully, it will make domestic violence something you can only see on TV.