Domestic violence is a serious problem in Russia

Usually the law works this way – until no one is killed or badly injured, it’s very difficult to punish a perpetrator under the existing law. Source: Alamy/Legion-media

Usually the law works this way – until no one is killed or badly injured, it’s very difficult to punish a perpetrator under the existing law. Source: Alamy/Legion-media

The country has a shameful record when it comes to aggressive and violent behaviour against women by their husbands and relatives.

The gang-rape of a 23-year old girl that occurred in Delhi on December 16 was on top of the agenda of the day back then and is still one of the most passionately discussed subjects.  It must be a good sign that so many people of both genders and different ages were deeply shaken by this brutal attack on the girl and were unanimous in their quest for justice.

But unfortunately, abuse cases against women occur so often that they rarely fall in the limelight.  Russia is no exception. The number of cases of domestic violence against women is very shocking. Unfortunately, the majority of the cases where women are abused by their husbands or relatives are just stuffed under the carpet and forgotten.

According to a survey published by RIA Novosti, daily about 36,000 women suffer from domestic violence in Russia, and anually 12,000 women are killed as a result of it (that’s one woman every 40 minutes). It should be noted that in 97% of the cases the victims don’t seek judicial redress and in 60-70% of the cases the victims don’t seek any help whatsoever. 

What could be the reason why the victims of domestic violence prefer not to file a case in the court?

Lack of faith in law enforcement

Irina Sokolova, Vice-Chairwoman of the State Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children, spoke of the inefficiency of the Russian administrative and penal legislation in regard to the problem of domestic violence. She is convinced of the necessity of a specific law that will not only provide the appropriate punishment for the perpetrators of such crimes but will also guarantee real help and protection from the state to victims and help prevent similar incidents. 

A draft on “control and prevention of domestic violence” may be sent for consideration to the State Duma (Russian Parliament) by the end of the spring session. The document envisages maintaining a record of domestic violence victims, as well as developing of a network of crisis centres, where women can seek help.  

Such laws are active in 89 countries; in particular they were introduced in some CIS countries and proved to be efficient. For example, in Moldova the rate of domestic violence cases diminished by 30% since the introduction of the law and in Ukraine this number reduced by 20%.

Drafts on prevention of domestic violence were suggested in Russia before but with no success. The first one was introduced in the State Duma as early as in 1995 but in 1999 it was withdrawn. In 2007 one more attempt was made but to no avail.

Meanwhile, the official statistics show that the crime rate in families is growing. For instance, in 2011 in the Russian city of Kaliningrad the rate of domestic crimes grew by 20%, in Chelyabinsk by 35.8% and in Nizhny Novgorod by 53%.

The opponents of the “control and prevention of domestic violence” draft say that the Russian Penal Code has all the necessary prerequisites for punishing the aggressors and quote the article of the code on intentional infliction of harm to health (part 1 article 115), on beatings (part 1 article 116), on threat of murder (part 1 article 119) and on torture (article 117).  

But Salia Murzabaeva, member of the State Duma Committee on protection of health, concludes, that “usually the law works this way – until no one is killed or badly injured, it’s very difficult to punish a perpetrator under the existing law.”

Articles 115 and 116 stipulate initiation of criminal proceedings only at the request of the aggrieved party and the law enforcement authorities are not obliged to intervene. This means that the onus to collect all the proofs of guilt of the aggressor and to obtain the witness statements is on the victim. It’s possible to hire a lawyer but this is quite expensive and not everyone can afford it.

Also, the punishment for violating those articles is quite mild. This way an aggressor can be sentenced for 3-4 months imprisonment and be back home and continue physical intimidation. Articles 117 and 119 dealing with graver crimes can be applied only in aftermath of an actual threat on life or a grave physical injury which is quite hard to prove.

In addition to the legal confusion around the issue, there is reluctance of the police to handle the home violence cases. Their attitude is based on prior experience; there are plenty of cases when victims revoke their complaints on the following day due to emotional reasons. 

And thus, the psychological aspect is probably an even bigger issue that the legal one. Why do the victims of domestic violence condone the behaviour of their partners? Why do they keep silent about it?

The problem of domestic violence, in particular, the problem of men’s violence towards their partners or spouses is on the agenda in many countries. But in Russia the situation is especially distressing. For example, in Spain according to statistics around 400 women died because of domestic violence in 5 years. In Russia the corresponding figure is around 12,000 women for just one year. 

Some psychologists and sociologists say that partly the reason may be traced to the Russian mentality, the age-old way of accepting family as basically patriarchal where the wife is not supposed to speak up even if she felt oppressed by her husband. Patience was seen as the main virtue of a woman, and standing up for her rights was condemned as rebellion, which should be punished. The foundation for such a family model is believed to have been laid in “Domostroi”, the book published in the 16th century that can be considered the Bible of family relationships in Russia.

Although the times changed and women became much more independent from their spouses, many of them still stick to this conviction and the media too often feeds them the idea of their own guilt for cruelty displayed towards them. Women are blamed for “provoking” men to harass them. And many of them grow to sincerely believe that they are to blame so they keep silent about the horrible things done to them and harbour the feelings of guilt and fear for years.

A famous Russian writer, psychoanalyst and women’s rights activist Maria Arbatova finds that one of the reasons for the high rate of home violence crimes is society’s tolerance towards this phenomenon.

“There is a saying in Russia “if he beats you it means he loves you”, and this idea is still alive in Russia’s collective subconscious,” Arbatova says. “So even if neighbours or friends know about a husband beating up his wife they are unlikely to call the police because it’s their personal business. If someone is beaten in the street, then people will interfere but not when it happens in a family.”                              

Conservative members of society claim that as it happens with many accepted norms, the concept of “Domostroi”, the centuries-old guidance book on family relationship in Russia, was distorted. As Tatiana Chernikova, lecturer and Russian history chair at MGIMO (Moscow’s State Institute of International Relations), says in an interview to a Russian religious magazine “Foma,” the basics of “Domostroi” meant cherishing traditional values, with husband being head of family, guiding his wife and protecting her, and in no way promoting violence as a norm in family. 

Probably, fanaticism and distortion of values play their role in the current situation with domestic violence in the country. Hopefully, along with preserving its cultural traditions Russia’s society will become mature enough to embrace the necessity of changing some of its outdated dogmas.  

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