Domestic Violence Against Women in Russia
Photo by Anastasia Rudenko as part of her ‘Domestic Violence’ exhibition. This was taken in a rehabilitation centre for battered women. The picture on the right was drawn by 14 year old Andrei and it reads: ‘I am against domestic violence’.
The issue of domestic violence is complex and deep-rooted in the history and culture of Russia. The most common form of domestic violence in the country is by the patriarch on their wife, followed by father on child. To tackle this problem, we must first ask ‘why do people abuse?’. Research suggests that there are three main reasons: being themselves abused, mental issues and addiction. The cycle of abuse is ingrained in the fabric of Russian society and creates an internalised relationship dynamic where a person either takes on the role of the controlling abuser or helpless victim. This is developed from childhood where victims of abuse realise they prefer the position of control which is furthered by a sense of invincibility with the majority of cases of domestic violence being unreported. Secondly, mental illness is heavily stigmatised in society and many issues remain untreated due to fear of mental institutions, ‘internats’ in Russian, being unconstitutional and punitive. Finally, Russia is the 4th most alcohol addicted country in the world with 31% (2010) of the male population having an alcohol use disorder, which is over four times the World Health Organisation’s European standard statistic. Overall, in the battle against domestic violence it is important tackle these causes and remember that they are never excuses for violence towards women.
The statistics about Russia from the UN report are shocking. Violence is observed in every one in four families with 36,000 women being beaten by their partners every day. 40% of all violent crimes are committed in families and two thirds of all homicides are linked to domestic issues with 14,000 women dying in the hands of their partners annually. These statistics are getting worse: the number of domestic assaults on women and children has grown by 20% in 2015 compared to 2010.
Considering these horrific facts it would be expected that the Russian government would take a vigorous approach in finding a solution but this could not be farther from the truth. As of now, Russia is one of the twenty countries which doesn’t have a law directly criminalising domestic violence despite 50 drafts being discussed by Gosduma. Article 117 on Torment of the Russian Criminal Court has come close but is rarely used for prosecution. Russia also has not signed or ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The UN has spoken about Russia doing little to implement change or address the issue since the report came out.
Certain legislation even permits bride-kidnapping which is an issue mostly seen in the Northern Caucasus region. Article 134 allows a perpetrator to escape liability for statutory rape of a girl under age 16 if he marries his victim or is less than four years older than her and a note to Article 126 exonerates a man from all criminal liability for abduction if he voluntarily releases his victim. This makes prosecution of bride-kidnapping very difficult and often leaves the victim feeling helpless in the eyes of the law.
Luckily, there has been some recent improvement in legislation, before early July of this year law enforcement bodies could not initiate prosecution of an offender. The new law put battery of family members on the same ground as hooliganism and hate assaults as a criminal offence to be investigated and prosecuted by the state. This is helping protect the wives and mothers who are unwilling to press charges against their partners in order to keep the family together and for fear of disownment by relatives, therefore sacrificing their safety for societal approval.
The effect of society on domestic violence is immense and ultimately must change to eradicate violence towards women. The most damaging rhetoric comes from upholders of traditional family values in Russia such as Russian politician Yelena Mizulina who has said that domestic violence “should be an administrative offence” punishable solely by fines. This mentality goes back to the 16th century when the book of ‘Household’ values was written which dictates that ‘if he beats you, he loves you’, still a saying in modern day Russia. Also, the argument of victim blaming is prevalent and suggesting that the assailant was “most probably provoked” by the victim is still accepted as an excuse for violence. Gender inequality has created an atmosphere where many believe that a man “has the right to beat you” because he is smarter and stronger.
Met with all of these statistics, it is easy to forget the story behind each abuse and leaving many frustrated and thinking that women should just go to the police. It is never that simple, for example police stations have been known to dismiss victims’ complaints as one’s “internal family manner”, but this is only part of the problem. Having spoken to Russian women who have been abused, it is clear that the problem is a deep gash which greatly affects their self worth and confidence. A woman I spoke to had said that she would forgive her husband just three days after the abuse took place. Despite her friends trying to help her, she would always go back because of love and a notion of duty. This woman had accepted her situation as standard and normal. I cannot imagine the fear she felt standing in their shared Moscow apartment with a gun pointed at her by her partner. Or the helplessness, when she arrived at an abortion clinic, pregnant with her assailant’s child, marked with near fatal bruises from an iron. She was one of the lucky ones, she fled Russia and she did not become one of the 14,000 who are killed each year. But this should not be a matter of luck, it is the government’s job to protect its citizens and until this happens violence against women will prevail in the country.
There are many solutions, such as adopting specific legislation and establishing more shelters for women affected by violence. And as a Russian citizen and a woman it is so disappointing to see a country, that I was raised in, do nothing.
Antonina is currently attending High school in the UK and she is a D4C Ambassador for Russia. She frequently visits her hometown Moscow where her extended family lives. She is passionate about discussing legal systems and legislation of foreign countries and aspires to pursue a career in law. She attends Model United Nations and is part of the Law Society at her school. She is especially concerned with violence against women, human rights violations and unjust laws. Her goal is to give people the most factual version of the news possible, undistorted by bias or an agenda.