Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a controversial amendment that decriminalizes domestic violence. The amendment would decriminalize any violence that does not cause serious medical harm, which is defined as requiring hospital treatment. Beatings that leave bruises, scratches or bleeding but do not leave lasting negative health effects such as broken bones or concussion will no longer be criminal.
There is, understandably, fury among women’s activist groups in Russia. Filosofa is spluttering with rage! It should be duly noted that the bill was drafted by two women: Yelena Mizulina, an ultra-conservative MP who was also behind the controversial Russian law banning “gay propaganda”, and Olga Batalina.
Domestic violence is widely acknowledged to be a major problem in Russia, with more than 10,000 women believed to die from injuries inflicted by husbands or partners every year. So what, we might ask, is the justification for a law that makes it legal to beat your spouse, partner, child, or even elderly parent? Read on …
- The law is about protecting Russian traditions according to which the family is sacred. Priest Dmitry Smirnov, head of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchy’s commission on family matters, said on a television program that the idea the state should be able to poke its nose into family affairs was a western imposition on Russia.
- An article last week in the science section of the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda cheerfully told readers about an “advantage” of wife-beating. It said: “Recent scientific studies show the wives of angry men have a reason to be proud of their bruises. Biologists say that beaten-up women have a valuable advantage: they more often give birth to boys!”
- It supports “traditional values” and stops the state from snooping into family matters.
- According to Putin himself, “unceremonious interference with the family is impermissible”.
- “If he beats you, it means he loves you.”
So there you have it … all good reasons to tolerate violence and abuse as the norm, right? A recent poll showed that 59% or those polled would prefer a ‘softer’ version of the law, and only 17% were completely against the law. Personally, I am glad I don’t live in Russia, and am also glad that nobody has ever loved me so much they felt a need to beat me.
Apparently law enforcement in Russia have not historically taken domestic abuse claims very seriously in the past anyway. Anna Kirey, deputy director for Russia and Eurasia at Amnesty International, said: “This bill is a sickening attempt to trivialize domestic violence, which has long been viewed as a non-issue by the Russian government.”
Take, for example, the story last year of Anna Zhavnerovich. After her boyfriend beat her unconscious, Anna went to the police to file a report and have him arrested. Rather than empathy …
“They asked me why I didn’t have any children,” she remembers. “They asked me if I was married.” Beneath their line of questioning was the suggestion that somehow the attack was her fault. They told her that they would investigate, but a few weeks later she received a letter informing her that the case had been dropped. Her ex-boyfriend had not been questioned and no further action was proposed. When she tried to hire a lawyer to start a private suit, she was told that the police had lost her files.
In the past, the penalty for domestic violence charges, if pursued by police, could have been as much as two years in prison and a fine. Now, the penalty is likely to be a fine of up to 30,000 rubles, or about $500 USD. And, if convicted of abuse a second time within a year, the abuser may … or may not … face a jail sentence. Initially there was a proposal to exclude abuse of pregnant women, but that was thrown out, so it is also legal to beat your pregnant wife in Russia.
I understand cultural differences, but this, folks, is NOT a cultural difference. Granted, Russian culture is more patriarchal than that of the western world, but nonethess, this is state-sanctioned cruelty. State-sanctioned inhumanity. No human being deserves to be beaten. Period. Congratulations, Mr. Putin … you just added yet another black mark to your record for cruelty and violations of human rights. The next woman, child or elderly person who dies at the hand of a domestic abuser is on your conscience.