Women sign their names on a board whose headline reads, "Say 'no' to domestic violence" [China Women's News]
"Speak up when you are beaten down," says Zhang Xiu (pseudonym) to a woman who comes to seek help at a women's shelter in southwest China's Yunnan Province.
As a victim of domestic violence herself, Zhang knows too well that silence leads only to more violence.
Currently volunteering at the women's shelter of the Lianxin Community Care Service Center in Kunming, capital of Yunnan, Zhang often shares her nightmare of a life that she has endured for the past four years as well as her story of how she ultimately turned herself from a domestic-violence victim into a dedicated volunteer tackling the very issue.
When the 44-year-old got divorced for the first time in 2009, she wanted to remain single for a while. But soon she fell in love with Zhou Lei (not his real name), a migrant worker from the nearby province of Guizhou.
As Zhang recalled, Zhou at that time was "perfect"— he didn't drink or smoke, and was always romantic.
"I thought I had finally found true love and was ready to live happily ever after," said Zhang.
Because Zhou was five years younger than her, their plan to get married was opposed by Zhang's family members; but after a row with her family members, Zhang married him anyway.
However, her dream was soon broken into pieces. When she was three months pregnant, Zhang began experiencing violence from her formerly gentle husband.
"He beat me only because he felt displeased," Zhang recalled.
One night, Zhou dragged her out of bed and smashed her head into the wall. She never in a millions years expected that her Prince Charming would one day become the devil.
During the following four years, Zhang kept wondering to herself, "Why hadn't I been able to detect before that he was so terrible?"
Nevertheless, Zhang never thought about divorcing him. "We would be having a baby together; so I thought, 'so be it,'" said Zhang.
But things began escalating. Her husband refused to get a proper job, spending every day gambling. When he lost all his money, he forced Zhang to give him more.
"In the beginning, he only called me names, but soon he resorted to physical abuse," said Zhang.
When she was five months pregnant, Zhang was frequently beaten by her husband. But, for the sake of her baby and for the fear bringing her child into a broken home, Zhang chose to bear the periodic violence.
Zhang reported the incidents to the police on several occasions, but the police merely examined her injuries and went on to criticize Zhou. Without any proper punishment, Zhou's violence grew even more brutal.
In May 2013, Zhang finally filed for divorce. However, as Zhou guaranteed to the court that he would never beat Zhang again and Zhang had failed to provide what the court deemed sufficient evidence to support her claims, Zhang lost the divorce case.
When Zhou once again lost all his money gambling in March of 2014, he took to Zhang with a steel bar, beating her to a bloody mess in mere minutes.
Zhang ran out of her home but was followed by her husband to the nearby farm where she sought cover. The abuse continued, lasting for two hours and leaving her in critical condition.
When the police showed up, Zhang was taken to hospital and was found that she had fractures in both of her legs.
After learning about Zhang's tragic story, the legal department of the Yunnan Women's Federation offered legal aid. The social workers of the Lianxin Community Care Service Center came to the hospital to provide Zhang with psychological counseling and to encourage her to take legal measures to protect herself. A lawyers association in Kunming also expressed their will to offer help.
In September 2014, Zhang filed for divorce again, and this time her husband was detained by the local police.
Though she is finally free from domestic violence, her harrowing past still lingers on her mind like a ticking time bomb bursting with torment, often leaving her scared and sleepless.
What worries Zhang more is her son's growth. Having witnessed on so many occasions his mother being abused by his father, her son is not as happy as his peers.
"It took him until the age of 3 to be able to talk, and he is afraid of playing with other children," said Zhang.
Her son's kindergarten teachers told her that her son was unwilling to talk and often fought with other kids.
One day, when Zhang walked down the street with her son and came across several construction workers with steel bars, he suddenly burst into tears and ran off.
"It reminded him of his father beating me with a steel bar," said Zhang.
Combating Domestic Violence
Benefiting from the help of the social workers of the Lianxin Community Care Service Center, Zhang is recovering from the trauma caused by domestic violence.
In August 2014, Zhang registered herself as a volunteer at the Center and began offering help to other victims of domestic violence.
Having gone through similar experiences as them, Zhang often shares the same feelings and emotions as the other victims she helps in her volunteering. Using her tragic stories as a way for them to relate to each other, she comforts them and often goes shopping and cooks together with them.
In December 2014, the Xishan District People's Court in Kunming heard Zhang's case. The public prosecutor charged her husband with the crime of intentional injury.
However, the court did not announce its ruling that day. And while waiting for the verdict, Zhang continues to help combat domestic violence.
"In the women's shelter, Zhang has become a close friend to the victims. They are willing to confide in her and share with her their difficulties," said a social worker at the shelter.
Zhang plans to commit herself to combating domestic violence, encouraging and helping more women to stand up for their rights.
"Through helping others, I am gradually letting go of my past," said Zhang.
"Actually, Zhou himself was a victim of domestic violence. From an early age, he began receiving beatings from his father."
(Source: China Women's News/Translated and edited by Women of China)
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