Domestic violence is a long-standing problem in China, where an estimated one in four women are subject to physical abuse by their spouse. But without a national law addressing the problem, authorities often are ineffective in stopping the violence.
Kim Lee put a face on the otherwise anonymous stories of domestic violence in China, when she posted photos of her bruises online. They reveal what she said were chronic beatings by her then-husband, the celebrity English teacher Li Yang.
Her story went viral in a matter of hours.
“I had no idea that overnight it would be ten and twenty thousand people and I also had no idea that it was so endemic here, I thought it was really my personal problem and not something so widely spread,” she said.
China's official women protection agency estimates that one quarter of women are abused by their spouses, but the actual figure is likely to be higher. Many episodes likely go unreported because authorities seldom take action.
"The unifying theme that gave me strength to carry on this long journey was no one does anything, no one helps us, I've been to the police they don't care, I went to the women's federation they did not call back," Lee said. "I tried to talk to my mother and mum said what are you going to do, he owns the house he owns the car, just this sense of helplessness in the face of this problem.”
Lee won her divorce case on the grounds of domestic violence, a result that legal workers hailed as a landmark decision.
But, without a national law defining domestic violence, police, social workers and the courts are not equipped to handle such cases.
Liu Xiaoquan, a women's right lawyer in Beijing, said, "The police which is the first help victims get, they also have the misconception that domestic violence is a family issue, at times they would even fail to write a report, or they would just write ‘family quarrel, is fixed by itself.’”
Women rights' organizations had urged the government to pass a domestic violence law during this year’s annual National People's Congress. A draft was discussed during the meetings but was not passed. Activists expect such a law will be adopted - eventually - in the coming months or years.
Sexologist Fang Gang said the underlying culture also needs to change, and men need to be a part of the process.
“If we only condemn them and critique them, how can we help them change? I think that an important element in fighting domestic violence is that we have to educate, and not just punish them,” Fang added.
Fang said many abusive husbands want to change but need help. He started a hotline in 2010, where he and volunteers speak with men who confess to beating their partners.
By talking with them about what is behind the violence, Fang believes he has a chance of stopping it.