The Most Dangerous Place For Russian Women
Author: Kristina Yildiz
Department: Women’s Rights Team
While growing up, the girls in Russia get to hear many things that can affect their self-positioning and relationship with men. For example, it is habitual to hear that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, even from the male members of their own families. When a girl comes home crying because a boy at school was pulling her pigtails or maybe even slapped her, she is likely to hear: “If he beats you, it means he loves you”. Thus, in addition to the commonly known five languages of love, There is one more love language in Russia – ‘the language of violence’.
Based on a recent study of 2021 by the Russian Consortium of Women’s Non-Governmental Organisations, from 2011-2019, more than 12000 women died because of domestic violence. Around 9,868 women (81 percent of the total number) were killed by their partners (Russian Consortium of Women’s Non-Governmental Organisations, 2021). The research commissioned by the Russian State Duma also showed that psychological, economic and physical violence are all present at the same time (TASS, 2019).
Russian society can be characterised by patriarchal attitudes and strong traditional values. Women are expected to obey their husbands and endure violence. According to a 2020 study by the NAFI Research Centre, the majority (71 percent) of Russians believe that when a woman becomes a good wife and mother, she fulfils her highest potential (Analytical Center NAFI, 2020). Another survey revealed that being a good homemaker is the most desirable quality in a woman for men (Levinson, 2022).
The position of the government only reinforces these sentiments. At the Munich Security Conference in 2007, president Vladimir Putin declared Russia’s “independent path in foreign policy” by contrasting the traditional values of Russia with the liberal values of the West. It is clear that with the rejection of liberal values came a rejection of fundamental human rights and especially the rights of women (Usanova, 2020). A year later, Putin announced 2008 as the “Year of the Family” and June 8 was declared as the “Day of Family, Love, and Fidelity”. This new national holiday reinforced the idea of men, as the heads of their families who are supposed to provide for and take care of them (Rhodin, 2008). Considering the low birth rate in Russia, the government is strongly encouraging women to have second or third child by providing maternity leave, maternity capital and emphasising their duty as child-bearers to the nation (Johnson & Saarinen, 2013).
Unfortunately, the police are often unable or unwilling to help the victims of domestic violence because the conflict is considered a “family business”. As a result, many women do not even report numerous instances of domestic violence to the police. With this, victim-blaming is very commonly used by the police and even by the courts. Instead of helping the women, they might suggest reconciling with their abusers and not provoking them anymore (Human Rights Watch, 2018). Moreover, there are cases when the police officers were the perpetrators themselves. In 2018, police officer Sergei Gusyatnikov stabbed his wife Elena more than 50 times. Another victim, Ekaterina Telkina, repeatedly filed statements about the beatings. When her husband was finally taken to the police station, he was quickly released by the district police officer, returned home and killed his wife (Novaya Gazeta, 2021).
Even if we assume that there is a policeman who wants to help, the problem is he would not be able to do so. This is because of the absence of legal grounds and definition of domestic violence. Consequently, there are no protective measures such as compulsory anger management training or restraining orders. Instead of making steps toward protecting women from domestic violence, Russia moved in the opposite direction and decriminalised first battery among family or household members (Walker, 2017). Therefore, the law does not distinguish domestic violence from any other form of violence.
The most applied Articles to domestic violence cases are Article 6.1.1 of the Code of Administrative offences and Article 116.1 and Article 115 under the Criminal Code. Article 6.1.1 is applied in the first instances of battery when no serious and lasting harm is caused. The penalties under this Article range from 5,000 to 30,000 rubles (about US$60 to $360), up to 120 hours of community service, or up to 15 days of jail (The State Duma, 2001). Article 116.1 is applied for a second battery offence if it is committed within a year, and the punishment includes a fine of up to 40,000 rubles (about $480) or imprisonment for up to three months or up to six months of corrective labour, or up to 240 hours of community service. Article 115 is used only in some cases when the harm caused could be described as “light” or insignificant. Penalties under this Article may range from up to a 40,000-ruble fine (about $480) to up to four months in jail (The State Duma, 1996).
Russia is a party to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the 1993 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW). However, considering that in 2018 about 100 Russian citizens submitted their complaints to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) about the lack of protection from domestic violence, it can be confirmed that the authorities have failed to protect the victims (Usanova, 2020).
By decriminalising domestic violence, the politicians ignored fundamental differences between domestic violence and violence among strangers. In the case of domestic violence, victims often live with their abusers and cannot easily leave them for a variety of reasons. It is also common for perpetrators to repeat their offences and the physical abuse goes together with psychological, verbal and emotional abuse (Human Rights Watch, 2018).
In 2019, there was another attempt to pass a law against domestic violence. However, it was criticised and opposed by various groups. For example, in the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is said that the draft has an anti-family orientation and reduces the rights and freedoms of those who have chosen a familial way of life (Patriarchal Commission, 2019). The government also commented on the draft and said, “this is an issue, but it is not on the Presidential Administration’s agenda” (Yurtaev, 2020).
The government of Russia has ignored more than forty legislative initiatives to protect victims of domestic violence (Rights CoLab, 2021). The consequences of this can be seen in the research commissioned by the Russian State Duma, which showed that 91 percent of women in the country become the victims of spousal violence (TASS, 2019). If there were a relevant law in place, thousands of women would not have been killed by their boyfriends, husbands and other male members of the household. It can be said without any doubt that the most dangerous place for a Russian woman is her home.
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 According to Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, the languages are: acts of service, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation.