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Domestic violence is a universal phenomenon and more and more governments play importance on it. There are three major types of domestic violence including violent against women, child abuse and elder abuse. Since domestic violence includes primarily of violence against women, we will going to review the situation of violent against women in Hong Kong in this paper.
In this study, the term of “violence against women” will be used instead of “wife abuse” because “violence against women” consists not only women who are married legally with the abuser, but also the co-habitees or separated partners, since violence could be continued even the relationship ended.
Definitions of violence against women
Although the United Nations found violence against women as the ‘major obstacle’ to the achievement of equality, development and peace for women in 1985 (1), the nations didn’t seem to emphasis it. Research showed that every one of three women in the global had ever experienced violence in an intimate relationship. (World Health Organization, 1997)(12)
Generally speaking, violence against women refers to those acts totally committed violent against women. In the United Nations General Assembly 1994, violence against women had been defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” UN had a rather feminist view that violence against women is an expression of sex inequality and is used to uphold the domination over women and to keep discrimination against women by men. (UN, 1995)
The severity of violence against women
According to the data of Social Welfare Department of HK, there is an increase in the number of spouse battering from 1,906 in 1998 up to 6,483 in 2008. (SWD, HK. 2008) Over 80% of them are women abuse. The researches related to violence against women in Hong Kong were very rare, they asserted that the situation is getting worse and the government should take it seriously, however. It is about two-third of Tang’s survey respondents had at least one time of verbal abuse, (Tang, 1999) Researches showed that around 10% of the survey respondents had experienced at least one time of physical abuse by their male partners. (Tang, 1999; Chan, 2005) Chan (2000, 2005) also noticed that a rather high proportion of victims were having little schooling as well as homemakers. Studies revealed the fact that over 50% of battered women were at the age range of 31 to 40 (Harmony House Report 2007; Chan, 2000) and over 80% were new migrants from Mainland China. (Harmony House Report 2007)
Majority of women who experience intimate violence do not report it to the police. (Backman and Coker, 1995)
Outline of this paper
In the following, we will first go through the forms of violence against women including physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse. Then, the theories related to violence against women – Family perspective and Feminist perspective will be discussed, and the idea of Patriarchal ideology and Confucianism will be addressed. After that, we will look deep into the existing situation in Hong Kong which consist the services provided for the victims and the abusers, the difficulties the victims face, and how Hong Kong government handle domestic violence. In the last part, the intervention strategies like resource allocation, legislation and education that combating this violence issue will be encountered.
Forms of violence against women
There are three forms of abuse: Physical abuse, psychological abuse and sexual abuse, in which physical abuse is the most common form that abuse men give to their female partners.
Physical abuse refers to a physical assault or violent act that attacks the victim’s physical integrity, like pushes, slaps, pinches, punches, spits, kicks, burns, fractures, locked women in the house, put women in an unsafe places or murder. (Chan, 2000) Dobash et al., (1985) stated that only 3% of assaults are ‘low’ in physical severity the rest are ‘medium’ or ‘high’. (as cited in Mullender, 1996) Physical abuse usually accompanied by emotional abuse.
Psychological or emotional abuse
Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional abuse, is a kind of emotional or psychological attacks or the neglect of psychological or emotional needs, described a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that is psychologically harmful. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_abuse) Actually, there is no universal accepted definition for emotional abuse. Here I adopted the definition from U.S. Department of Justice that emotional abuse is “causing fear by intimidation, verbal or non-verbal, threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends, destruction of pets and property, forcing isolation from family, friends, or school or work.”(U.S. Department of Justice, Edleson, 1984) Emotional abuse, differ from physical abuse and sexual abuse, is a continued and repetitive behavior, used to harden fear to reinforce the control of the abuser so as to strengthen the obedience and passive acceptance to the abuser.
Sexual abuse is a dissented and pressurized sexual behavior or acts, forced by one person upon another. Sometimes the abuser compels unwanted sexual activity without physical force by using their position of trust but mostly physical abuse comes with sexual abuse. According to Chan (2000), those behaviors includes rape or sexual assault, incest coerced by force, inappropriate touching, exposure of genitalia, force the partner to have sexy dressing or ignoring one’s sexual character. Russell (1990) reminded us that spousal sexual abuse is one kind of domestic violence which may sometimes constitute marital rape or an assault.
Causes of the problem
Theories related to Violence against women
The universality of domestic violence caused many scholars to explore the reasons for violence against women.
Family perspective is one of the perspectives the scholars like to adopt. This approach believed that the behavior of a family member is influenced by the responses or feedback of other members. It seemed violence as a symmetrical between both sexes, and viewed individual and family relation as the core for the explanation for domestic violence, suggested a reduction in structural stresses and work on individual pathologies in dealing with the problem. Obviously the Hong Kong government had adapted this perspective in explaining the causes of domestic violence as it stressed on maintaining the function of the family or improving marital relationships. (Leung, 2008)
On the other hand, some scholars explained violence against women abuse from the view of feminist theory which locates the root of violence against women in a social-structural context rather than a private or family problem. (United Nation, 1989; Adam, 1998) This approach believed that women do not have equal rights and do not have institutional power, instead, women are considered as inferior and subordinate, and more serious, the properties to men. (United Nation, 1989)
As the tolerance for violence act against women are vary across culture, the feminist give explanation that it is due to different levels of patriarchal values across cultures. (Bui & Morash, 1999; Nayak et al.2003) The endorsement of the beliefs regarding rape and spousal physical violence and the tendency of blaming the victim showed that both gender and sociocultural factors had great impact on the attitudes toward violence against women. (Nayak et al. 2003) Tang (1999) recommended patriarchy theory in explaining violence against women in Chinese societies.
Patriarchy is a system of society in which men holding the determination power over women and children of the household. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy) Feminists believed that violence against women is rooted in a patriarchal system which men keep women in a subordinate position through the use of control, usually enhanced through existing economics, social, and political, and legal dimensions. Socialization process help strengthen men to subordinate women. (Sugarmen and Frankel, 1996) Many scholars agreed that the social structure created and maintained under the patriarchy keep on justified the male dominant beliefs of women’s inferior status. (Tang, 1999; Anderson, 1988; Sugarmen and Frankel, 1996)
Patriarchal ideology and Confucianism
Confucianism which strengthens patriarchal system had great impact in Chinese society. Women lived under the ethical norms of Confucianism were suppressed into inferior, dependent, and submissive status, and are expected to obey the men. In the past thousand years, Chinese women followed womanhood decencies like san cong si de (three obedience and four virtues) and xian qi liang mu, (a virtuous wife and a good mother) (Tang, 1999) see contributing male offsprings to their husbands’ lineage and serving her husband as her responsibilities.
The social norms in Chinese society accept using physical force to discipline female family members, for those fail to live up their prescribed roles will result in patraiarchal brutality under the “rules of the family”. Therefore, it is legal for a man to afford all forms of violence against women, usually physical abuse. On the other hand, the Chinese culture of interpersonal harmony forced wives to keep on tolerating the inequality so as to protect the reputation and stability of their families. Research showed that around half of the surveyed women mentioned cultural reasons for staying with their partner. (Adam, 1998) Therefore, the extent of violence against women has been largely hidden and widely denied by our society.
Though Chinese women had greater opportunities for education in recent decades, and there is an increase in the acceptance of a greater flexibility of gender norms, decision making power in the household matter still holding in the men’s hand. More and more female go out to work, yet they have to do most of the housework. (Choi and Lee, 1997) Chan and Lee believed that traditional patriarchal values are deeply permeated into Chinese family system. Therefore, when wives ask for more gender equality, the husbands may understand as their domination and superiority in the family had been defied, and may react with use of violence. Tang (1999) As the society tolerate towards domestic violence, and the experience of being discrimination when seeking for help, the abused women remained in the relationship.
The existing situation in Hong Kong
Violence against women in Hong Kong
In the past 10 years, there was a rapid increase in spousal abuse. Importantly, more than 80% of victims of spousal abuse in 2008 were female, 60% of the female victims were suffering from physical abuse (SWD, HK, 2008) Harmony House reported that 71% of women had been subjected to violence for over three years. (Harmony House Annual Report 2008-2009) Pahl(1985a) and Binneyet al. (1988) got similar findings. (As cited in Mullender, 1996) Harmony House (Harmony House, 1996/1997 Annual Report) pointed out 41.7% of female victims suffered from both physical and sex abuse, and 24.1% suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse at the same time. Chan (2000) found that 63.6% of his survey respondents viewed male chauvinism as the major cause of domestic violence which request obedience of the women. It is concluded as influenced by the traditional culture of patriarchal ideology in which female were in an inferior status.
It is rather problematic that the mass as well as the front-line professionals such as police officers and social workers were likely to endorse that wife abuse is a private matter or family issue. (Tang, 2005; Leung, 2008) Leung (2008) stated that the occurrence of domestic violence, in the current view of Hong Kong society, is due to lack of communication between family members or because of individuals under pressure. The mainstream believed that both men and women have equal chance of spousal abuse. Therefore, the government did not consider the hidden gender power imbalances in domestic violence during the policy formulating process.
Under such ideologies, the services related to domestic violence focus on how to maintain the unity of the family rather the safety of the victims; the police officers view domestic violence as low priority to handle, and discouraged abused women to file their complaints (Leung, 2008), and legal system continue to treat battering as an individual problem rather than criminal behavior (Ferraro, 1989; Leung, 2008) In result, the victims who are in the subordinate status would rather keep quite, while the abuser’s violent act was intensified. (Leung, 2006)(Tam and Tang, 2005)
Service provided for the victims and the abusers
There are certain NGOs in Hong Kong care and pay effort in the fighting against domestic violence, providing shelters and services for victims and male batterers, arranging prevention programmes and community education. Due to limited resources, their services are unable to handle the needs.
Leung (2009) explained the Hong Kong government has increase the budget on family service in the past years in order to recruit more staff to carry out the family support projects, nevertheless, the fund did not specifically designate to the use of handling cases of domestic violence. SWD had increase resources on the accommodation beds in the shelter from 180 in 2007-2008 to 260 in 2008-2009, and to prolong the working hour of the shelters so as to provide better service for the victims. But it is regrettable that there are too little resources for measures to combat gender-based violence in the home.
The difficulties the victims face
Researchers found that the abused women in Hong Kong had great difficulties in seeking help from neither police officers nor social workers. (Leung, 2008; Hong Kong Women’s Coalition on Equal Opportunities, 2005; Tam and Tang, 2005) It is very common for the front-line professionals to endorse that wife abuse is a private matter or family issue. (Tang, 2005; Leung, 2008) Leung (2008) pointed out that abused women always had bad experience when they seek help from the police. Most of the police perceive violence against women as a family issue and pay less attention to it, they usually persuade the victims to close the files. Even though the police are willing to handle the case, for domestic violence usually seems as family disputes which may not involved in criminal act that the police could take action, the case would most be disregarded. On the other hand, some front-line social workers paid inadequate support and empathy to the victims. It is largely because of the common bias attitudes towards the abused women especially those came from Mainland China. Some other social workers use family therapy that emphasis unity of the family to handle domestic violence cases that force the abused woman to go back to the abuser. It is inevitable that rare of legislator, social worker or police may suggest the abused women to apply injunction order. It revealed that the front-line professionals were lack of gender sensitivity in dealing the cases.
The abused women often found housing problem. Compassionate rehousing could only offer by the social workers of SWD which relied on strong social ground defined by the social workers themselves. However, most social workers had bias that those women were taking advantage during the process. The policies of CSSA restrict the application for those new arrivals that were lived in Hong Kong for less than seven years even those they suffered from abuse.
How Hong Kong government handle Domestic Violence
There was a great reaction in the society after Tin Sui Wai Family Tragedy happened in 2004 and the government was forced to deal with it. According to the ‘Report of Review Panel on Family Services in Tin Shui Wai’ (2004), 25 suggestions were addressed, including the measures of three-tiered structure established by the police provide a graded response to investigating domestic violence. Relevant information is input into the Central Domestic Violence Database, district supervisory officers will look into those repeated cases occurring within 12 months. However, the prosecution rate of spouse battering remains low. In 2005, the police recorded 1,274 cases of spouse battering, in which 1,159 cases were arrested due to their criminal act, but only 10% were finally convicted. (Hong Kong Amnesty International, 2006)
The Domestic Violence Ordinance (DVO) was enacted in 1986 in Hong Kong. At that time, the scope of definition of domestic violence is narrow to those live in matrimonial home, but excludes some other intimate relationships like co-habitees, separated partners or same sex partners. And the domestic violence is seemed as ‘molest’ in this ordinance that restricted domestic violence to civil act. The limited scope of definition of domestic violence led to low utilization rate of DVO and low application of injunction order. Amendments of DVO came after more and more criticism in recent years in 2008 and 2009. Amendments includes the scope of definition of domestic violence extend to co-habitees, separated partners and same sex cohabitants and the Batterer Intervention Programme was enforced.
The Women’s Commission, a central mechanism plays a strategic role in advising Hong Kong Government on policy direction on women issues, addressed a policy paper in 2006 to outline a strategy to address victims’ empowerment, prevention of violence, timely and effective intervention, community education and support. The paper provided a lot of suggestions related to various aspects, including legislation reform, services, promotion, database, training for professionals, training on gender mainstream, early identification and intervention and community networks. The paper is comprehensive, yet the Commission has not legal authorities to implement the suggestions.
In response to the rapid increase of domestic violence in past decades, Working Group on Combating Violence (WGCV), coordinated by the SWD, comprises representatives from related bureaux, government departments and non-governmental organizations, is formed for mapping out strategies to address the problem of spouse battering and sexual violence. (www.swd.gov.hk) Due to limited authority, the WGCV seems unable to coordinate the cooperation among different sectors of the government departments that no body function in policy making, coordination, and supervising (Leung, 2008)
Leung (2008) criticized that the work done by the Hong Kong government in the fighting against domestic violence was unsatisfactory, the most critical problem is that the Hong Kong government and most of the policy makers did not view violence against women at home as a gender issue or human right issue but only family issue. For this reason, no comprehensive policy base on the gender mainstream was set to handle the domestic violence. (Leung, 2006; Hong Kong Women’s Coalition on Equal Opportunities) The SWD report (2005) confirmed that domestic violence is a family matter by mentioned that ‘family violence …amongst those who used violence, such as low self-esteem, lack of empathy, alcohol or drug addiction, a history of abuse and neglect as a child, social isolation etc…..’ Such viewpoint makes people ignore how serious women abuse is in Hong Kong, and force the abused women to remain in the relationship. Actually domestic violence rooted in patriarchal ideology that is widespread over the community that the violent act of the abuser is literally an offense of manipulation of male against women.
Leung (2008) found that there are two main obstacles in putting the concept of gender mainstream into the domestic violence policies. The first one is that both the front-line professional and the policy makers were lack of gender sensitivity; secondly, inadequate resource and service coordination is put and insufficient staff and authority of coordinating framework to organize, and to coordinate and supervise the policies of domestic violence and its implementation. (Leung, 2008, P70) Besides, the government has not made any specific action plan on how to carry out the gender mainstreaming policy.
Intervention strategies to combat the violence issue
Legislation and judicial procedures
It is necessary to review the current measures on domestic violence if we want to resolve the issue of violence against women in the long-run. In the aspect of legislation and judicial procedures, the government should take a deep review the law on domestic violence so that violence against women could be classified as criminal act. Simplify and improve the judicial protection orders like lengthen the duration of injunction order would be helpful. Also, improvement to the measures of support for victims of domestic violence would reinforce the prosecution. It is rather difficult for the victims to testify against their husbands face to face in the court. The Hong Kong Council of Social Service (2007) thus suggested providing supporting worker for the victims who would accompany with victims during the hearing, provide relevant legal information actively, and contact with the prosecutors and the court to keep updated the process of the case. Comprehensive information for victims is vital. For most of the victims do not know their right, it is rather helpful if the front-line professional would provide appropriate information and service such as shelters and application for injunction order.
It is certainly that government should enhance the availability and accessibility of the shelters at the same time. For the perpetrators, compulsory batterer intervention program (BIP) seems to be effective and should be enforced. On the other hand, Tin Sui Wai Family Tragedy revealed that professional training for handling domestic violence must be strengthened. As a matter of fact, social welfare agencies are lack of resources and support from the government to combat gender-based violence in the home. Therefore, it is unable for them to deepen the intervention and therapies on domestic violence. The government should add the specific matching grants of domestic violence. Although extra HKD 22 million has budgeted to recruit additional staff to implement family support projects, no designation for the fund to handle cases of domestic violence, in result, no advancement to the service on domestic violence.
The change of ideology
Other than resource and legislation and judicial procedures, the change of ideology is most significant. In recent years, governments in many western countries agreed that domestic violence is a gender issue and bring it to the criminal level. Similar arguments also found in Hong Kong (The Women’s Commission, 2006; Leung, 2006, 2008)
Leung (2008) stressed that the best way to protect women from abuse is to take the concept of gender mainstream into account when handling the issue of domestic violence. The concept of gender mainstreaming having been developed after the 1985 3rd World Conference on Women in Nairobi and was formally featured in the Platform for Action of the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. (centers.law.nyu.edu) Gender mainstreaming is defined as the public policy concept of ‘the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.’ (United Nations, 1997)
In response to the ineffective of WGCV, Leung’s suggestions are worthy to mention. Leung (2008) suggested the government should adopt the definition of gender mainstreaming and its practice guidelines offered by international organizations; to develop a comprehensive policy of domestic violence and strategy execution according to gender mainstream; and to establish a high ranking coordinating body to work out an action plan for combating and preventing domestic violence; to improve the central data collection and the information dissemination systems; to consolidate the collaboration system between government and NGOs to ensure the resources had been used in combating against violence, to set up crisis intervention team with the collaboration of police and social workers; to meliorate the service coordination within different social service organizations; to strengthen the education on gender sensitivity for the frontline professionals.
- Chan, K.L. (2000) The Impact of Family Violence to Women and their Children, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Christian Family Service and Hong Kong University, Department of Social Work and Social Administration.
- Leung, L.C. (2008) The possibilities of Gender Mainstreaming Domestic Violence Policy in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong, Department of Applied Social Science. (centers.law.nyu.edu/jeanmonnet/papers/00/000201)
- United Nations. “Report of the Economic and Social Council for 1997”. A/52/3.18 September 1997.
- Backman, R., & Coker, A. (1995). Police involvement in domestic violence: The interactive effects of victim injury, offender’s history of violence, and race. Violence and Victims, 10(2), 91- 106.
Definitions of domestic violence
Intimate partner violence (IPV), also termed domestic violence, is the most common form of violence against women. (Watt and Zimmerman, 2002) Wesley defined domestic violence as “any behavior which is intended to cause unwanted harm, either physical (e.g., sexual or physical assault, and murder) or nonphysical (e.g., intimidation & malicious insults) to a romantic partner”. (Wesley et al, 2006) Adams gave a rather completed definition, “the repeated, habitual or random use of aggression, whether physical, verbal, social, sexual, emotional, psychological or economic, by an individual on a partner or ex-partner in an existing or previous domestic relationship to force submission to that person’s demands, thus depriving the partner of personal liberty and basic human rights”. (Adam, 1998)
Continuums of abuse
Apart from the forms of abuse, we should consider the level of severity of abuse when we look into a case whether it is an abuse or not. The following table showed different levels of abuse from least to most severe.
Assumed relationship between Patriarchal ideology and Attitude towards violence against women
Sugarman and Frankel (1996) in their study examining how wide the patriarchy ideology molds the individuals’ experiences in terms of domestic violence, showed that previous researches on wife abuse done by Dobash and Dobash (1979), Kurz (1989) and Schechter (1982) conjectured that “acceptance of traditional gender ideals and expectations about women serves to maintain subordination of women and is a primary source of violence against women” (Sugarman and Frankel, 1996) Pagelow (1984) even suggested that traditional gender belief system could be retain since the assaultive husbands adopt the patriarchal conception of family. (Sugarman and Frankel, 1996) Findings verified that assaultive husbands showed more positive attitudes toward marital violence than nonassaultive husbands (Sugarman and Frankel, 1996)
However, until 2005, the United Nations still found that women subjected to violence, including physical violence, psychological violence or sexual violence is a very common phenomenon. Research report
Health Canada (1996) tended to believe that “emotional abuse is based on power and control” and characterized it into six forms: rejecting, degrading, terrorizing, isolating, corrupting/exploiting and “denying emotional responsiveness”
Tomison and Tucci (1997) mentioned that “emotional abuse is characterised by a climate or pattern of behaviour(s) occurring over time’. Physical abuse always accompany with emotional abuse contains words and actions to break the woman’s spirit and destroy her self-image and self-esteem. (Mullender, 1996)
It also includes imposing any kind of intimacy while the woman is still hurting from the violence, and physical or verbal harassment. (Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2001, Alic, Margaret; Burstow; Mullender, 1996; Wikipedia)
Most of the scholars explained violence against women from mainly two different views of theories, one is from the view of individual or family ground, and another is from the view of society or social structure. Psychological theories emphasis on assertively uncontrollable anger which “is seen as rooted in unresolved family conflicts, primitive aggressive reactions, the submerged fear of the bully, insecure dependence on women, or any other form of internal stress” (Mullender, 1996, summarized by Dobash and Dobash, 1992, p237)
Feminists view that violence against women as a typical behavior and brooked by the society with the approval of social rules supporting male domination. (Adam, 1998) United Nation (1989) believed the interconnection of economic, social and political factors creating a structure placed the women with low economic status in a weakness position to violence within the household. Adam stressed that the masculine values in capitalist system apt to value women as “mother, housewives or sexual objects”
Nayak et al. (2003) examined the attitudes of undergraduates from four countries toward violence against women, and discovered that groups with different values or attitudes also differ in violence acts, and would have different level of acceptance of violence.
It refers not only the power of male in the household, but also refers to the dominance of men in social or cultural systems. Feminist theory stresses that the structure of modern cultural and political systems under patriarchy are totally ruled by men. (Wikipedia) (Castro, Ginette. American Feminism: a contemporary history, p. 31.)
Obviously, violence against women seemed as ‘normal’ under the development of dominant-submissive power relations.
“such that they have little or no independent status and transgressions outside the family and male authority expose them to swift retributions and confirm their vulnerability.” Adams (1998)
Researches demonstrated that patriarchy involves concepts of feminism and male domination in society and within the family. (Tang, 1999; Adam, 1998; Sugarmen and Frankel, 1996)
The violence against women is the product of the interrelated and complex values wherein women are considered as inferior and subordinate to men, in result male is allowed to view female partners as his properties, and ‘handling’ it within the privacy and autonomy of the family. (United Nation, 1989)
Adams (1998) agreed with Mama that women are strongly fixed into the familial structure and hierarchic gender relations in the socialization process.
Yllo also found that there is a positive correlation between more patriarchal social structure and higher level of women abuse. (Yllo, 1983, 1984) Research also found that traditional gender role soc
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