Many people in Taiwan have prejudiced views about migrants who have settled in Taiwan through marriage, believing that they often enter into fake marriages to find jobs in Taiwan or work as prostitutes. Just recently, another outmoded idea has been added to this list, namely that immigrant spouses often fabricate cases of domestic violence in order to get permanent residency and obtain a Republic of China (ROC) passport and the identity card that goes with it.
This idea has been voiced in various major newspapers. Such reports invariably make the partner accused of abuse appear to be the victim, for instance by sympathizing with men as being innocent, but provoked to anger. They suggest that immigrant women’s real purpose is to get an identity card and that their marriages are just a means to this end. According to this way of thinking, these migrants use civil protection orders issued by the courts as a crafty way of getting to stay in Taiwan.
This theory about “fake domestic violence” basically goes as follows. The first idea is that female immigrants, having received their ROC identity cards, often lodge a complaint of domestic violence and sue their husbands for divorce, and that their allegations of spousal abuse are all made up — otherwise why would they have put up with the abuse until that point?
The second notion is that, even if there really has been violence in the home, the woman “made it happen” by intentionally provoking her husband to make him lose his temper. Again, the theory goes, the purpose is to obtain a protection order as a way of staying in Taiwan.
A lot of people in Taiwan think that when women file domestic violence lawsuits they are a kind of “trap” or “setup.” This idea is a reflection of how little most people understand about migrants’ precarious position with regard to residency rights and citizenship. In fact, the process involved, starting with the occurrence of domestic violence, through applying for a protection order to filing for divorce, either in court or through negotiation, is a long and tedious one. Furthermore, getting a protection order does not necessarily guarantee that a migrant can keep her residency rights or become naturalized.
In practical terms, there are some obstacles involved in reporting domestic violence and getting the authorities to deal with it. People are constrained by traditional notions such as the idea that one shouldn’t wash one’s dirty linen in public and by their wish to maintain the integrity of their families. In addition, those who have not yet obtained ROC passports find themselves in a precarious situation in which they could lose their residency rights at any time if they get divorced from their Taiwanese spouses. In such a predicament, most migrant women who experience domestic abuse choose to suffer in silence.
To make matters worse, the departments responsible for dealing with domestic abuse have greatly varying standards as to how they handle such matters. In some places police officers are not very clear about what constitutes violent behavior. They may dismiss incidents of mental abuse or even physical violence. Some police officers even try to fob off women who report abuse with talk of preserving family harmony, or make them feel humiliated, or give them a lecture about how to get on with their husbands’ families, and so on.