For my final project, I am going to focus on how sexual assault and rape affects women in China. I am going to center my project on how China’s society chooses to deal with these assaults from different perspectives. Using the Feminist Anthropological Perspective, I will heavily focus on how China’s society views rape from a gendered standpoint (how men view rape versus how women view rape) and the impact this has on women who are being victimized. I will also focus on how economic status affects the sexual assault victim’s experience. Even though China has been deemed as a miracle economy, there are clear disparities in income and wealth between the urban and rural areas, between the eastern and regions, and between households. The level of income inequality in China is very similar to the United States now, and is comparable to other countries (such as Philippines and Thailand). Income inequality has very damaging effects for China as a society. Societies with large income inequalities generally generate more damaging psychosocial stress levels throughout the population, especially for those who possess lower income and are considered lower-class (Lynch 2000). In the case of women who experience sexual trauma in China, it is a lot harder for those who are poor to afford the treatment necessary to heal from their abuse.
This topic is extremely important to talk about because countless lives are being endangered through this act of violence. Not only do the victims of this assault have to endure physical harm, they also deal with immense emotional, psychological, mental, and even financial trauma. Sexual violence creates a lasting impact on those who are abused, and I feel that more light needs to be shed on the trauma that the victims go through. In the case of China, shedding light on sexual assault/rape is important because of the role of women in their society. In China women are taught to be quiet and not speak up about their sexual trauma. They often have to suppress the pain that they have gone through in order to stay in accordance with the expectations of their society.
Post-Mao economic reforms brought changes in political and economic structures and created new social problems and tensions. Strict Confucian social customs and traditions and Communist puritanical codes of sexual morality (which weakened during the Cultural Revolution) was loosened further by the cultural opening of China to the outside world, the shift from a heavy emphasis on law through morality to a codified legal system, and the growing number of people who abused their official privileges. When the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, Chinese leaders established an end to all political movements, deeming them as the cause of the turmoil and violence that had characterized the decade before. The new administration announced shortly after coming to power that its policies would usher in a period of stability and unity. By doing this, it appealed to the deeply rooted traditional Chinese ideals that disliked violence as an indicator of governmental chaos. Instead, the administration promoted harmony as being critical to society’s well-being. However even with this re-establishment of social order, there was an unprecedented number of reports in the Chinese press about violence against women (such as beatings, rapes, murders, and infanticides). Beginning in 1979, these accounts started appearing more in newspapers, legal journals, national and provincial women’s magazines, and special collections of court cases. Rape especially became a subject of public discussion in 1983, as a general crackdown on crime. Starting this public occurrence, the government named rape as a serious criminal offense that was on the rise. As a solution to remedy the problem, legal penalties for rape were stiffened, the death sentence was imposed in certain circumstances, and newspapers and journals carried stories of the harsh circumstances and punishments handed out to the worst offenders. The increase in reporting of rape cases reflected an increased awareness of the acts and their impact. (Gilmartin, 1990).
There are different types of sexual violence in China (as in other countries around the world). These violences include sexual violence in spousal relationships, sexual harassment, sexual violence in dating relationships, rape, child sexual abuse, violence against sex workers, and internet sexual violence to name a few. The cultural values and attitudes that the society within China possess have fostered violence. Patriarchal social forms have been reported to play an important role in violence against women. Within the family, men have been reported to use physical and/ or psychological violence to exert a position of dominance over their partner or their children. There is a lack of legal and social support for the victims, and this is an indication of the social isolation that makes it difficult for victims to disclose violence (this is particularly true for victims in rural areas of China). For instance, even though victims of spousal sexual violence have used divorce to end their abuse in many countries around the world, it is highly uncommon for battered women in China to do the same. Divorce has been strictly controlled by the Chinese government and social norms, and battered women often lack the personal resources to get help. (Chan 2009)
The social and cultural acceptance of women’s subordination is an important component that contributes to violence against them as a group. Studies have reported that patriarchal forms of authority have strong beliefs in patriarchal gender relationships to have significant correlations with spousal violence in Chinese populations (Chan, 2004). In Chinese culture, male dominance and patriarchal forms have been regarded as core family values and even treated as proverbs of life. They have even been reported to promote traditional values and to hold on to the belief that there may be good reasons to beat a wife, especially as a way of preserving the “face” of the male partner (Chan, 2006). Chan (2006) found that abusers held a traditional gender role assumption that the man should be the provider and the woman the caregiver. In order to look good in the public eye and to save “face”, there are men who reportedly believe they must dominate their wives. Cultural acceptance of wife abuse and in particular, the lack of legislation defining family violence as illegal force a victim of spousal violence to stay in the abusive relationship (Wu et al., 2005). Patriarchal norms affect the way that women cope and thus reinforce the patriarchal structure.
Poverty is a huge social determinant that affects sexual assault victims. In general, poverty in the form of material deprivation (dirty water, poor nutrition) along with the lack of quality medical care can account for shortened life spans all over the world. However, solving the problem of poverty isn’t as easy as giving individuals clean water and food. It is socially determined who gets these resources. (Marmot, 2005). For example, if you come from a long line of farmers and you live in a rural environment with less access to health care, you a less likely to get treated for diseases and illnesses as someone who lives in an urban area with more funding being put into hospitals and clinics. On the other hand, those who are poor and experience sexual trauma usually can not afford costly doctor’s visits and therapy sessions. Although these types of services are needed to improve the overall health of these individuals, they often must go without them because of the lack of access to them.
Women in poverty–especially from rural areas and work in cities–are more vulnerable to sexual violence. These women lack the resources and social support necessary to protect themselves from sexual assault and to recieve help. They also have no knowledge of the fact that they can be protected by the law and legal services. There is also a lack of national teaching that corrects the social shaming that is inherently attached to sexual victimization. So even if women have legal protection against sexual violence, their the deprivation because of their economic status, unawareness of available legal resources, and lack of support ultimately mean that they are not protected from sexual violence. There is also cultural belief that family problems should be kept solely within the family, and this causes even more problems with prevalence of sexual trauma. The combination of cultural factors and inadequate resources for victims create a system of double victimization. The behavior of victim-blaming is also incredibly prevalent in Chinese institutions. For example, In a study of 175 medical doctors working in emergency in Hong Kong, 36% agreed that “a woman should be responsible for preventing her own rape,” and a majority of female doctors agreed that “a woman can successfully resist rape if she tries hard enough” (Chan 2009). Such ideas on rape have contributed to victim-blaming. Many women do not report when they are sexual assaulted. The main reasons for not reporting these incidents were low expectations for the outcome (they felt that reporting would not do anything or would cause trouble), feeling that the police would be rude or violate their confidentiality, embarrassment, and fear that the offender would take revenge on them for reporting.
Overall, sexual assault against women in China is an extremely important issue that doesn’t get enough attention. Chinese culture promotes women to be docile and subordinate to men, which in turn makes women feel as though they can not speak up for themselves. The combination of cultural views and economic status creates an embedded system of double-victimization that works to harm Chinese women, and this is especially true for women who live in rural areas and immigrants. Sexual trauma and the harm that it creates is incredibly complex, and it creates a lasting impact on those who are abused. Not only do the victims of this assault have to endure physical harm, they also deal with immense emotional, psychological, mental, and even financial trauma. In China women are taught to be quiet and not speak up about their sexual trauma. Moreover, many of these women are unaware of the resources and legal services that they can use for help. This contributes to them ultimately having to suppress the pain that they have gone through in order to stay in accordance with the expectations of their society.
Chan, K. L. (2004). Correlates of wife assault in Hong Kong Chinese families. Violence and Victims, 19, 189-201.
Chan, K. L. (2006). The Chinese concept of face and violence against women. International Social Work, 49(1), 65-73
Chan, Ko Ling. “Sexual violence against women and children in Chinese societies.” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 10.1 (2009): 69-85.
Gilmartin, Christina. “Violence against women in contemporary China.” Violence in China: Essays in culture and counterculture (1990): 203-225.
Lynch JW, Smith GD, Kaplan GA, House JS. Income inequality and mortality; importance to health of individual income, psychosocial environment, or material conditions. BMG 2000; 320: 1200-1204
Marmot, M. (2005). Social determinants of health inequalities.
Retrieved from http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/Social-determinants-of-health-inqualities-Marmot-2005.pdf
Wu, J., Guo, S., & Qu, C. (2005). Domestic violence against women seeking induced abortion in China. Contraception,