More and more women saying no to abusers
In China today, some believe a husband cannot "rape" his wife, and some wives erroneously believe they cannot report their husbands for sexual or domestic abuse.
However, as domestic violence is apparently drawing wider attention in China, more and more Chinese women are coming forward to expose the physical and emotional sufferings they endure from their husbands.
Chinese courts have heard more than 20 cases involving marital rape in the last decade, the Beijing-based Maple Women's Psychological Counseling Centre show.
A husband, for example, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for raping his wife by a local court in Daqing of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province in September 2003.
Domestic violence has been on the rise in recent years, which many times is accompanied by sexual abuse or forced sex, said Wang Xingjuan, director of the centre.
The centre has been operating two women's hotlines (010-64033383, 64073800) for the past decade and has been studying women's issues.
The hotline received roughly 230 complaints about domestic violence in 2002, much more than its average annual 50 cases over the past several years.
Researchers say domestic violence comes from the centuries long stale belief that some hold that men are superior to women. The rising pressures of modern life have triggered an increasing number of urban domestic violence cases which, in the past, were believed to have occurred most often in rural areas, Wang said.
A 32-year-old woman in Beijing's Pinggu County acknowledged that she once decided to kill her husband and almost committed suicide because she saw no way out after suffered years of sexual abuse and beatings by her husband.
A mother of an 8-year-old child, the woman said she could no longer bear her husband's 10 years of sexual abuse, which caused her to fall prey to serious physical suffering and serious gynaecological diseases. Sometimes her husband forced her to have sex even as their relatives and children were present.
Luckily, the woman sought help from the Maple's women's hotline before taking extreme measures. She decided to resort to legal aid to solve her problems after talking with phschological experts affiliated with the hotline.
"Since many people believe that we'd better not wash our dirty linens in public, most of the domestic violence victims - and more than 90 per cent of them are women - choose to keep their silence," Wang said.
"Since sex is still a taboo word in Chinese society, women who suffer from sexual abuse in particular dare not expose it," she said. "Early and proper sex education can help youngsters form the right values and concepts of sex and love, which can help reduce sexual abuse and domestic violence in the future."
Deng Weizhi, a social science professor with Shanghai University, argues that Chinese Criminal Law does not exclude husbands as from being accountable for acts of rape on their wives.
However, the law has yet to provide a clear explanation of what constitutes rape within marriage.
"To better protect women's rights, a clear judicial explanation needs to be made on rape within marriage," Deng said.
The amendment of the Marriage Law in 2001 provided judicial explanations on domestic violence which can cause damage both physically and psychologically.
"Much of the psychological damage a victim receives comes not from the assault itself, but from the post-assault reactions from others and the aftermath," Deng said.
"Some wives risk losing their shelter or living support after divorce or putting their husband in jail," he said.
A community interference network, which involves police, neighbourhood committees and hospitals needs to be built to help protect domestic violence victims, experts urge.