Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Domestic violence - China perspective

It is difficult for anyone who has had even the briefest contact with the writings of those that are often labelled as communist, socialist, or merely Marxist that Chinese justice system would have such difficulties in confronting domestic violence. For a representative perspective see Marxism, Communism, and Women.

Thus, I find it odd that China has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century concerning domestic violence. Case in point: A Landmark Domestic-Violence Case in China.

In a Beijing court, a woman "was granted a divorce on grounds of domestic violence, an issue widely overlooked in China, and the court issued a three-month restraining order against her husband that the state media described as unprecedented."

Her husband's attorney defined domestic violence: “Domestic violence is when a man hits and injures his wife frequently over a long time but has no reason, but my client did that because he had conflicts with his wife.” His client did hit and injured his wife, but it is okay because he has conflicts.

It is not just gender inequality, that is, the admission that such violence between a man and a woman would be wrong. But it is the assertion that in a marital relationship husband is supreme and his violence inflicted on his wife is justified as long as it is with cause. Apparently "conflicts" is enough justification.

But while one might chastise the Chinese social/political system - it is hardly different in the western world. There is a similarity in the categorizing a special form of violence as domestic. The mere fact that there is a special category "domestic violence" indicates that without it violence between husband and wife was sanctioned by the state.

Grappling with domestic violence is a recent effort in the United States. Before that effort, men, just like in China, were quite free without fear of criminal prosecution to beat their wives. In fact it was even sanctioned in an "intimate" relationship outside of marriage. And for the most part, domestic violence didn't receive social, political or even religious disapproval. [Domestic violence in the United States and see too IWF - Domestic Violence: An In-Depth Analysis].

And while laws and disapproval of this category of violence has became common - enforcement was, and maybe still is, difficult for the wife or woman to obtain. It really was common for the police to respond to a domestic violence call and take the husband for a very brief detainment, maybe only in the police car, then permit the husband to return to scene after he had "cooled off."

Social and religious pressures kept women from even filing complaints much less calling the police for help. In religious faiths like Christianity and Islam, men are the supreme rulers in a family context. Worse yet, women were treated, and in fact saw themselves, as being responsible for their injuries. Conventional wisdom: they must have done something to deserve the violence.

If you read the New Yorker piece - it is a scenario that was, and is, often replicated in the US. Make the location California and time as late as early 2000s - it reads true. Domestic violence is, assuming some exceptions, treated as a civil matter, not criminal, in specialized courts, e.g., divorce court or courts set aside to hear domestic restraining order requests. And, it wasn't that many years ago that California passed legislation that mandated that police officers make an arrest in a domestic violence call.

But it is disconcerting that the New Yorker author by inference believes that the US is far beyond the Chinese in prosecution of domestic violence arising out of the marriage. While the US may be leading the world, and I believe it is, in reforming attitudes and laws on domestic violence, China is not significantly far behind - certainly not far enough to be criticizing them without a certain amount of introspection.