On the evening of March 9th, over 90 individuals from all walks of life gathered at XSPACE for Women Up! – kNOw Violence, a forum on anti-violence against women. Attendees included university students, corporate individuals, scholars, and other community organizers.
Statistics from undeveloped to developed countries show that 20% to 60% of women will experience domestic violence in their life time. According to China’s 3rd annual survey on women’s social status, in 2010, 24.7% of married women between the ages of 24 – 60, have experienced domestic violence. In 2015, almost 10% of manslaughter cases were related to domestic violence. The statistics are consistently shocking, both globally and locally, yet dialogue on this topic is lacking greatly in China.
Our first speaker, Tingting Wei, shared her research and fight against sexual violence in campuses. Wei has a Master’s in Sociology and Anthropology from Wuhan University, and founded Guangzhou Gender and Sexuality Education Centre. She was also listed as one of “2015’s Most Influential Feminists” by MS Magazine. In October 2016, Wei conducted a one-month survey with 6592 participants. She found out that 68.7% of the group has experienced sexual harassment, of which 75% were women and 25% were men. However, when it comes to the proportion of sexual coercion type harassment, men do not experience this less than women. She talked about how silence and shame is the most immediate reactions to sexual assault, less than 4% of female students who experience sexual violence in higher education reported their cases, and less than 1.2% of men reported their cases. Over 90% of respondents felt that awareness and policy against sexual harassment was required, but only 5.4% of respondents have received any education from their school. The awareness and education must be improved in university campuses, as Wei said, “Rape doesn’t happen because of what you are or how you act, it exists because rapists exist”.
Our second speaker was Yue Li, who shared with us her work with Common Language and Rainbow Anti-Gender-Based-Violence Intervention Centre for LGBTI individuals. Rainbow Anti-GBV Intervention Centre was founded in 2016, devoted to training counsellor service providers and conducting research on domestic violence amongst gender and sexual minorities. China’s Anti-Domestic Violence Law was passed in December 27th, 2015 and put into effect in March 2016. However, even though this law has included psychological violence, it has yet to include sexual violence, economic control or non-marital relationships such as in the LGBTQ community. Implementation measures were improved: with a mandatory reporting system, warning system, personal protection order, emergency shelter system, and temporary guardianship system. The statistics Li showed was appalling, 69% of lesbian and bisexual women had experienced domestic violence in their lifetime. And 49% of these cases were from original family, coming out is one of the important factors. Amongst survivors in the LGBTQ community, 51% turned to close friends, 25% turned to related organizations and 21% turned to families. Li then showed a heart-warming documentary of the lives of 3 lesbians and their experience with domestic abuse. The last testimonial in the documentary was a mute who told her story with hand signs. The last thing she said in the documentary was “I wanted to stand out to share my story”.
Our third speaker was Maureen O’Connell, a Foreign Service Officer at the US Consulate General in Shanghai and also a retired police officer from California, USA. In her 3 decades in law enforcement, she spent 7 years in investigative assignments, including one year specializing in domestic violence cases at the Alameda County District Attorney’s office in Oakland, California. She has such a personable demeanour; she started by saying “the law will always be playing catch up with society and circumstances”. She shared how the law enforcement training in the 1986 was just a one-time workshop, to what is currently a 174-page training manual. It was relieving to see an officer of the law treat survivors with such empathy and understanding. The law plays a huge role in society to protect civilian rights, but how can survivors be protected in the judicial system when they are consistently re-traumatized by the process of legal action and testifying? What we need is for law enforcers to engage in more dialogue with the community so that the needs of survivors can be treated with greater sensitivity and understanding. Thank you, Maureen, for being a shining example for law enforcers all over the world.
Our last speaker was Xiaoyu Song, a grassroots feminist and interpreter who now works with PhoenixRisen on localizing and integrating resources online and offline to raise awareness on sex education, sexual assault and women empowerment. On November 25th 1993, the UN General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women provided a framework for action against the pandemic. Yet more than 20 years later, 1 in 3 women still experience physical or sexual violence globally (UN Women). PhoenixRisen was founded to create change in what has continued to be such a persistent and universal issue. They fight to address the 3 stages in which violence against women is escalated through: Harmful attitude and language (sexist and misogynist rhetoric, patriarchal structures and gender constructs); Sexual harassment (unwanted sexual advances, threatened or actualized); and Violence against women (sexual assault and domestic violence). Their work includes creating communication guides through various media platforms, partnerships with other anti-violence-against-women organizations, and a letter writing initiative. Song’s passion and dedication was crystal clear, she ended with a quote “Silence is broken with a single voice. Noise is created when many voices come together. Change is achieved when that noise is too loud to ignore”.
We ended with a panel discussion and Q&A, as many members of the audience asked with concern: How do we make more people aware of how important it is to fight against sexual and domestic violence? And what can we do in the community to contribute to this fight? Tingting Wei shared that opportunities are everywhere; we just have to look for them. Whether it be treating a Trans person with respect, or helping a women in need on the streets.
It is humbling to listen to these empowering women and the valuable work they do against a global and local issue. However, at the end of the day, they are just people with more people behind them pushing the movement against sexual violence forward every day. For transformative change to occur, all aspects of society with be challenged, government institutions, law enforcement, educational institutions, media, social understandings, etc. we all have a part to play. At the end of the day, love yourself, love your body, and love each other. It is through every act of support and love that we fight against the horrors of physical, sexual and psychological violence. Though love and support will never erase the traumatic experiences of survivors, it is through awareness and rebuilding trust that we can create a safer world for all women, men, LGBTQ individuals and gender-minorities together. The time is now.