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China needs to reduce family violence

Updated: 2014-02-25 16:40
By Kim Lee (

With fresh bruises on my face and body, I sat in a smoke-filled, fluorescent-lit Beijing police station with my crying two-year-old in my arms. I was incredulous at the reaction from the duty officers.

If a man jumps on a woman’s back and beats her head into the ground 10 times, that’s not a crime? If someone did this to me on the street outside, you wouldn’t file a report? There is no law against that behavior in China?”

The police officer stammered and said, “Well, of course that is a crime.”

So I continued, “But because the man was my husband, it’s O.K.? Being married makes it legal to beat a woman?”

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A female officer said to me, “You and your husband are both good people, just calm down a little, go home, everything will be fine.” Barely able to see clearly, I pointed to my swelling forehead and said, “Does this look fine to you?”

I was trying to file a report against my husband for assaulting me, but as far as the police were concerned, no crime had occurred. After an afternoon of pressing the police to acknowledge the crime and failing, I went home and posted a picture on Weibo, a microblogging platform, showing only my injured forehead, hoping that some friends among my 23 followers would respond to a cry for help.

My photograph unleashed a torrent of pent-up frustration, agony and support from abused women across China. Within hours of my post, it was forwarded and commented on by more than 20,000 people. I was inspired by the reaction, and the next day went again to a police station and insisted on making an official report. The saga took more than a week and eventually the police officially acknowledged my husband’s abuse.

My now ex-husband is a prominent Chinese businessman, famous for a chain of English-language schools that we built together. I’m an American who has adopted China as my home. Our story was played out in the media, leading to widespread attention on us, and more importantly, on the cause of domestic abuse. In the two and a half years since the attack, I have partnered with the United Nations and a Beijing domestic violence organization to foster awareness of the problem and help victims.

The All-China Women’s Federation reports that nearly 25 percent of married women in China have experienced domestic violence. But the abuse is far more prevalent than those numbers show: A large percentage of attacks go unreported. When women find the courage to go to the police, they most often meet the kind of resistance I did. Meanwhile, the legal system favors men — even abusive men — leaving desperate women few options.

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