Just a year into her marriage, Emi Yoshida realized she might not survive it. Her violent, drug-addict husband had tried to strangle her, then beat her unconscious outside their Tokyo home. When she came to, he was threatening her with a knife.

Police offered no protection for her or her children. Instead of whisking her away to a battered wives' center, they tried to talk her into staying with her violent spouse, saying he "didn't mean" to inflict harm. "They said 'It's best the two of you talk it over,' " she recalled.

"If you beat up someone on the street, the police arrest you. But you're supposed to 'talk it over' when your partner is trying to kill you."