Domestic abuse generally takes place out of public view, which is partially why it’s such an insidious problem. But after footage of a husband assaulting his wife in China was circulated online, it seemed obvious she had adequate grounds for divorce. But according to the Chinese court system, even multiple fractures and temporary paralysis weren’t enough to grant her the right to leave him.
Spouses in China are faced with dual issues: Lax laws against domestic violence exist alongside strict laws against divorce. An anti-domestic violence law enacted in 2016 is only loosely enforced, and marital rape remains legal. On the other hand, obtaining a divorce is difficult, and the government requires a 30-day “cooling off period” for couples looking to separate, the New York Times reports. When you’re living with an abuser, 30 days is plenty of time to get hurt or killed.
Such was the case for Liu Zengyan, whose husband was caught beating her on a security camera in her boutique. But that wasn’t the first time he’d assaulted her; in fact, she’d already decided to leave him on the basis of two prior bouts of violence. But before she could, he beat her for a third time. From the Times:
In August 2019, Mr. Dou was enraged after his mother scolded him in front of his friends as he was gambling. Ms. Liu said his mother, alarmed at how angry he was, sent her a message: “Lock the door and quickly escape.”
Ms. Liu went to stay with her mother that night. But six days later, Ms. Liu returned to her boutique, thinking that her husband was out of town. Instead he stormed into the shop, pushed Ms. Liu to the ground, slapped her, snatched her mobile phone away and said he was going to kill her, she recalled.
The only way she could escape was by jumping out the window, which she did, landing hard on her feet. “He was beating me to fulfill a desire for violence,” she said afterwards.
A 2011 survey found that one in four women in China suffered physical or verbal abuse from their partners, though advocacy groups estimate that the actual number is much higher. But the laws surrounding domestic violence and divorce are largely created by men. “Divorce is regarded as a personal failure, rather than as a remedy for one’s life,” Feng Yuan, the head of women’s rights organization in Beijing called Equality, told the Times.
When Liu presented the video of her husband beating her as the reason for her divorce, the court denied her request, urging her instead to seek mediation. Only after the video went viral did it reconsider.