Domestic violence is a widespread issue in China, where a staggering one third of women report experiencing violence in their current relationship. Since 2007, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has been a leader in providing technical assistance in support of domestic violence prevention initiatives in the country. Together with local partners, we have left an indelible impact on the demand for and supply of justice in this critical field by supporting China’s first pilot programs to educate legal professionals about domestic violence, promoting the use of court orders to protect survivors, and advocating for new laws and policies to address domestic violence.
In December 2015, China reached an important milestone with the passage of the country’s first national-level legislation on domestic violence. The new Anti-Domestic Violence Law is a foundational step toward meeting the needs of domestic violence survivors and preventing domestic violence. The new law brings a previously private topic into the public sphere by clearly defining what acts constitute domestic violence, outlining available remedies, and assigning responsibilities to actors such as the police and medical professionals. Among its more comprehensive protections, the law expands the definition of domestic violence to include psychological abuse and also covers violence between unmarried couples. Furthermore, the law includes detailed provisions on the use of protective orders, which survivors may obtain to prevent further contact with their perpetrator.
The new law went into effect on March 1, 2016 and it is up to civil society actors and their government counterparts to ensure that the law extends real protections and remedies, such as the expansion of the protective order mechanism to courts nationwide. The Anti-Domestic Violence Law broadens access to protective orders so that individuals experiencing domestic violence anywhere in China may request one. Because protective orders are a new mechanism, legal practitioners require additional training to understand the dynamics of domestic violence and how to petition for and enforce protective orders. ABA ROLI worked closely with China’s Supreme People’s Court Institute for Applied Jurisprudent to create a protective order pilot project, which began in nine civil courts and expanded to over 200 courts. We played an instrumental role in the pilot’s success, by conducting targeted research, training the judiciary, and assisting in the development of a widely relied-upon civil judicial benchbook on handling domestic violence cases.
With protective orders now available in all courts, ABA ROLI is poised to expand its capacity building efforts. Thus far, ABA ROLI’s training program has reached over 1,000 judges, prosecutors, and lawyers, and many of the participants have gone on to train their peers. Judges who have completed our training have issued inaugural protective orders in their courts. They have also contributed to a societal shift in the way that domestic violence is viewed and treated. For instance, one judge invited a domestic violence expert to testify in a case involving a survivor who harmed her abuser. This was only the second time that a Chinese judge accepted testimony from a domestic violence expert. The judge recognized the need for expert insight into the complexities of domestic violence so that she could arrive at a fair judgment. Since then, two more judges have followed her lead and called in expert testimony. Because the use of expert testimony is uncommon in China, the cases have received media coverage that has prompted further public discussion about domestic violence.
The Anti-Domestic Violence Law is the result of more than a decade of efforts by advocates to provide access to justice for survivors and reduce instances of domestic violence. ABA ROLI has steadfastly worked with partners in China to advance survivors’ rights and strengthen the capacity of justice sector actors. Continued international engagement and technical assistance will be critical to ensure meaningful implementation of the Anti-Domestic Violence Law. We hope the new law bolsters China’s commitment to meeting the training and resource needs of judges, lawyers, and other advocates and increases access to justice for millions of citizens.