The forgotten male victims of domestic violence

Updated 2016-11-26 08:46:31 Xinhua

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which falls on Friday, Cao Bo (a pseudonym), finally opened up about why he divorced his wife.

"For years I lived in fear of my ex-wife's emotional and physical outbursts," Cao said. "From a young age men are taught that they must tolerate and protect women. The unspoken rule is that victims of domestic abuse are women or children, as a man, it was not a topic I felt comfortable talking about."

China's law on domestic violence, the first piece of legislation specifically for domestic abuse, took effect in March. Even though the law clearly stipulates that all victim should be treated equally, the reality is that male victims are more likely to be overlooked.

According to southwest China's Sichuan Province Women's Federation, of the 1,845 cases of domestic violence reported in 2015, two percent involved adult male victims.

"Weighed down by traditional views, men are more inclined to stay quiet, even less seek legal support," said Ouyang Yanwen, an expert on domestic violence at Hunan Police Academy.

While the new law has been lauded for defining what constitutes domestic violence, there are still gray areas.

"'Legally,' there is no such crime as emotional abuse," said Ouyang. "It is just too hard to define and even harder to collect evidence."

Article Three of the domestic violence law "forbids domestic violence of any form," which, according to Yang, covers emotional or non verbal abuse.

While physical abuse often leaves marks, emotional abuse inflicts invisible scars, but the victim is damaged nonetheless.

Cao has been divorced for four years but he has struggled to establish close relationships with women. Any attempt at dating has reopened the wounds of his past relationship.

Due to lack of evidence, Cao lost the divorce lawsuit and had to settle with his ex-wife.

"Usually the court is inclined to protect women and children. A doctor's certificate doesn't even hold up in court," Yang said, adding that the new law needs to be continuously revised and improved.

Wu Ning, a psychologist at the No. 187 Hospital of the People's Liberation Army, said male victims of abuse often struggle with anger, fear, anxiety and depression.

"If not properly dealt with, such emotions could deteriorate and hurt the spousal relationship, or most commonly, be unleashed on the children at home," Wu said.

The Domestic Violence Law has helped educate the public about the definition of "appropriate behavior" and gives victims legal backing should they want to file criminal charges against their abuser, Ouyang said.

Courts in many Chinese provinces including Hunan, Hubei, Anhui and Guangdong have issued protection orders to male victims of abuse.

Ouyang said the law clearly outlines the responsibilities of various departments, and will help multi-institutional cooperation.

"In practice, it has been noted that intervention and prevention needs the support and coordination of all levels of society. The abused must know their rights, the abusers must understand the legal consequences, and law enforcers must take the offences seriously."

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