Women are the main victims of domestic abuse: especially rural women who seldom take legal action to stop the violence. Most only escape to their parents’ homes when they cannot take it any longer.
Last Wednesday must have been the darkest and most miserable day for Gao Qingzhi, 36, a woman in Luping village, Anhui Province.
Her anus, vagina, urinary bladder and rectum were penetrated with a reinforced steel bar, her right eyeball was ruptured and her limbs were broken. The damage was caused entirely by her husband Bao Zhaonian, 42, a migrant worker.
A Sudden Nightmare
Gao was kidnapped by four men while sending her 7-year-old daughter to school in the morning. Local police found her several hours later lying unconscious in a growing pool of blood: the steel beam still inside her.
Zhao Tao, a doctor in Anhui Provincial Hospital, said the emergency surgery, ophthalmology, orthopedics, urology and gynecology and obstetrics had to work together in an eight-hour surgery to save her life. The doctor removed her crushed right eyeball and patched her bleeding organs. But the orthopedic procedure had to be postponed due to her weakened state.
“(She) is still not out of danger. Treatment may require nearly half a year,” Zhao said.
“He dragged me into the house, and locked the door. Then he took a steel bar to beat my arms and legs a dozen times. I cried for help but no one heard me. Then he tore off my pants and used the bar to pierce my genitals,” Gao said after she regained consciousness.
Years of Mistreatment
This was not the only time Gao was abused by her husband. Kicks and blows were common occurrence since they married in 2006.
According to her brother, this was the second marriage for both of them. The couple fell in love at first sight when they were introduced three years ago. Gao soon married him despite her family‘s protest.
She was sent to the hospital two months later to receive eight stitches in her head after she was beaten on Lunar New Year‘s Eve 2007. The treatment came under a fake name her husband fabricated so she had no proof of abuse when she sued for divorce.
Gao experienced countless beating. Her hand was fractured and black and blue bruises covered her face and body in place of make-up. Once, her husband prevented her from leaving the house for half a year after being badly beaten. He cut the phone lines so she could not call for help.
In order to avoid his endless abuse, Gao moved to her parent’s home in August 2008.
“My sister wants a divorce, but Bao threatens her frequently. He said if she insists on divorce, he will kill her, his stepdaughter and even her relatives,” her brother said.“This was all done because she asked again to divorce.”
Too Shameful to Share
Though she has been abused for years, she kept it a secret.
Neither the local Women’s Federation, the police nor the village committee have ever received her appeal for assistance. “The local villagers are all afraid of him, so it is no use to ask for help. No one wants to offend him,” Gao said.
According to her brother, Gao is an introvert. She is afraid of others’ gossiping about how this is her second marriage. Remarriage is looked down upon in many rural areas. “I knew her husband was brutal, but I never knew he was so dehumanizing to her. But she never talks about this with our relatives,” her brother said.
Gao is not the only rural woman to silently suffer domestic abuse. According to a survey conducted in 2007 by the Family Law and Women Study Center of Southwest University of Political Science and Law, 61 percent of rural women are unwilling to make their abuse open to the public and fewer than 30 percent are willing to ask help from the village committee, the police or other organizations.
“Compared with urban women who have regular work and stable income, undereducated rural women are passive. Especially those women who suffer from domestic abuse who give in and tolerate abuse: it only inflates the arrogance of the abuser,” Chen Wei, the director of the center, said.
Effort Urgently Needed
Understanding of domestic abuse is weak in rural areas. People consider abuse a private domestic matter and rarely seek public assistance. The idea of domestic shame remains deeply rooted.
“Most women are reluctant to tell this kind of thing to others. It is difficult for related organizations to aid victims. In order to resolve such problems, the continuing education of rural people is indispensable and urgent,” Chen said.
The inferior family status is another main reason for domestic abuse against women. Most rural women are economically dependent on their husbands, so they are forced into a subordinate position in the family. The idea that men are superior to women is prevalent in rural China.
“The concept stems from gender inequalities. But if rural women have regular work and independent income, their inferior condition may change. Government must create more job opportunities for them in the local area. That is a good way to enhance their status in the family,” Chen said.
The frequency of domestic abuse in rural areas also reflects shortcomings in the legal system. The private nature of the abuse shuts out law enforcement from preventing it.
“Current laws attach more importance to the aftermath of a violent episode, but do nothing to prevent and curb continuous violent behavior,” Shi Jimin, a lawyer at the Yancheng law office, said.
The national legal code still lacks laws to deal with domestic abuse. Presently some 25 provinces have added domestic abuse regulations to their own legal codes.
Seven government departments, including those connected to public security, justice, civil affairs, health and law, as well as the All-China Women’s Federation, issued a legal guidebook on the prevention and ending of domestic violence last year. However, without national laws and courts to hear cases of abuse, the guide is just paper.
Psychological counseling is also limited in rural areas. Many village committees, rural women’s associations and many other NGOs only function as legal consulting rooms. “If the psychological intervention is accessible to both abusers and victims, it may help to ease households in which abuse is a frequent problem,” Liu Yuxiang, a sociologist in Hengyang Normal University, said.