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Her Husband Abused Her. But Getting a Divorce Was an Ordeal.


Ms. Liu went to stay with her mother that night. But six days later, Ms. Liu returned to her boutique, thinking that her husband was out of town. Instead he stormed into the shop, pushed Ms. Liu to the ground, slapped her, snatched her mobile phone away and said he was going to kill her, she recalled.

The only way to stop the beating, Ms. Liu said, was to jump out the window, landing hard on her bare feet. Video footage from security cameras showed Mr. Dou sauntering out and looking quizzically at the window upstairs as shocked passers-by tried to help Ms. Liu.

“You can see that he’s almost become a psychopath,” said Ms. Liu, who is using a wheelchair while she recovers. “He was beating me to fulfill a desire for violence.”

Mr. Dou, who is in police custody now, could not be reached for comment. Ms. Liu said his parents had changed their mobile numbers and there was no way she could reach them. Her lawyer said he did not have contact details for Mr. Dou’s lawyer.

It was only in recent years that domestic violence came to be seen as a significant problem in China, where laws are largely made and enforced by men, and families are discouraged from airing their problems in public. Several high-profile cases have drawn attention to the issue, and one city in eastern China recently began allowing people to check if their partners have a history of abuse before marrying them.

But victims often meet resistance in the legal system, which can discourage them from seeking help. Though China’s marriage law specifies that domestic violence is sufficient grounds for divorce, many courts encourage couples to try reconciling in the name of social and family harmony.

Similarly, the domestic violence law made it easier to obtain restraining orders, but judges often ask for evidence of physical violence, discounting verbal and emotional abuse. From March 2016, when the law took effect, to December 2018, Chinese courts received only 5,860 applications for restraining orders and approved fewer than two-thirds of them, according to Equality, a women’s rights organization in Beijing.

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