A series of cases in which husbands reportedly killed their wives in China have prompted online outrage over persistent domestic violence and the lack of legal protection for women.
Domestic violence has been a persistent problem in China, and a new generation of feminists are pushing back against what they say is structural gender inequality that leads to women’s vulnerability to spousal violence.
More women are reporting domestic violence incidents and expressing outrage over a new law that mandates a 30-day cooling-off period for couples seeking a divorce. They argue that the rule would make it harder for women to escape abusive marriages.
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The recent string of murders has only galvanized young women in China.
The first case that caught people’s attention was the killing of a 51-year-old woman surnamed Lai, who went missing in the eastern city of Hangzhou in early July. Police found human tissue containing Lai’s DNA in a septic tank on July 22.
A few days later, internet users were shocked to learn that the police had arrested Lai’s husband on suspicion of murdering his wife and dismembering the body. He had initially reported the woman’s disappearance.
The man said he killed his wife while she was sleeping after a family dispute, local police said at a press briefing.
The next week, reports of other women dying at the hands of their partners intensified the anger on social media.
In Anyue county in the southwestern province of Sichuan, a man surnamed Qu reported that his wife, 27, went missing on July 19. Police later identified Qu as a murder suspect because he admitted to killing her while she was asleep, according to an online statement on July 27.
On July 24, police in the southern island province of Hainan arrested a man who was suspected of killing his wife with a kitchen cleaver after the couple quarreled.
Referring to another US TV series that became a hit in China in 2019, one Weibo user wrote “The TV series is called ‘why women kill. But in reality, it’s always the husband.”
According to the United Nations’ annual global homicide study, women worldwide face a greater threat from their family members than men. Women and girls account for a smaller share of total homicide victims than men, but they are more likely to fall victim to intimate partner homicide.
Among the 87,000 deaths of women and girls resulting from intentional homicide worldwide in 2017, an estimated 58% of the victims were killed by their family members, and 34% were killed by their intimate partners. It means about 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day.
Africa is the region where women are most at risk of being killed by their intimate partner or family members, followed by the Americas, Oceania, Asia, and Europe.
The killing of women by their intimate partners usually results from a culmination of prior violence, the study says, but such domestic violence is heavily under-reported.
In China, the social stigma against divorce and the tendency for courts to deny divorce applications make it challenging for some victims to leave their spouses.
Liu Siyao, a criminal lawyer in the southern metropolis of Shenzhen, said Chinese women, especially those in the older generation, are often reluctant to report violent acts by their partners because they consider it a family matter.
Liu said homicide cases committed against women in China are not always categorized as assault crimes. Instead, they are covert, and often result in being categorized as a missing person case. Chinese police usually do not start a criminal investigation until someone finds a body.
“Report to the police whenever you feel you have been hurt,” Liu advised. “Even if it is a slap on the face.”
Liu said a police record would help victims obtain a restraining order from the court or win a divorce case in the future.
A separate UN report in 2015 showed that fewer than 40% of the women who experienced violence sought any help. Fewer than 10% of those who asked for assistanc…