Consequences of domestic violence are detrimental to women. It is crucial to ensure that we aim to limit this form of abuse, if not eradicate it completely. Although protection of women from domestic violence is addressed by several international human rights documents, most notably the United Nations’ Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, it remains a prevalent issue worldwide. Russia is no exception but rather, the opposite – acts of domestic violence are frequent. Too frequent.
Decriminalisation of domestic violence in Russia:
In early February, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a set of amendments which decriminalise certain types of domestic violence. Before it reached Putin’s office, the law was passed by the Duma – the lower house of parliament with a unanimous support as reflected in the votes: 380 members of parliament in favour and 3 against. The amendments would ‘decriminalise any violence that does not cause serious medical harm, which is defined as requiring hospital treatment’. This implies that any violence which does not result in serious medical consequences, such as broken bones or serious head injuries, is…ultimately legal. So if you happen to be a victim of domestic violence and end up with multiple scratches and bruises on your body, quit considering reporting it. What would follow is a cruel reality check: the lack of any serious medical injury would be insufficient evidence for your partner to face severe consequences. According to the government, a fine or a few days of community service would teach him a lesson and you wouldn’t be in danger anymore. What is more likely to happen? He pays the fine out of your shared savings and screams at you for reporting anything in the first place, leaving you discouraged and afraid to report future incidents.
Although the law decriminalises violence committed on all family members, including children and grandparents, women are the most common victims. The national statistics agency states that in 2015, there were 49.579 violent acts committed within the family of which 35.899 involved violence committed on women. In 2013, around 9.000 women died due to violent behavior of their partners or other relatives. However, it has been expressed that the incidents of domestic violence are vastly underreported and the issue is happening on a much larger scale.
The attitudes towards domestic violence within society can have a crucial impact on the issue. Jacqui True states that: ‘Gender constructions of women as inferior or subordinate to men within and across societies have made violence against women both acceptable…and invisible’. These gender constructions and the practice of domestic violence on women seem to be embedded in Russian culture. During the debate leading up to the passing of the amendments, various prominent figures, politicians, and media outlets shared their controversial views. One of Russia’s most popular newspapers advised women to be “proud of their bruises” since they are more likely to “give birth to boys”. Some of the MPs gave ridiculous statements such as: ‘You should not point at this problem from the liberal point of view. That’s like having three in a bed. You are sleeping with your wife – and a human rights organisation’. Others claimed that the amendments help protect the family and ‘build strong families’.
These wide-spread attitudes are especially problematic since they influence the way the criminals are dealt with – or what is more frequently the case, not dealt with at all. A woman who ended up on a wheelchair as a result of domestic violence decided to report the following incident to the police. Although she had visible signs of domestic violence on her body, the police did not act and sent her home to her abusive partner. This case is indicative of the frequency of reporting and attitudes within the police towards domestic violence. According to the Centre for the Prevention of Violence, ANNA, 72% of women who called the National help line never sought help from the police. Moreover, 80% of the women who did were ‘unsatisfied with police response’. Furthermore, out of all the reported incidents, 90% are ‘dismissed for technical reasons’ leaving only 3% of cases result in a criminal conviction.
Every action has a reaction
Perhaps, we should not despair. As Newton’s third law states: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In this case, it was the online campaign with the hashtag ‘I am not afraid to speak’ and 300.000 signatures on a protest petition against the law run by an activist campaigning against the amendments, Alena Popova. It seems that when the international norms and national governments fail to ensure the safety of women, the fight against domestic violence moves on to the people. Let’s hope the governments will listen.
 True, J. (2012). “From Domestic Violence to War Crimes”. In: The Political Economy of Violence against Women. Oxford University Press.