In 2017 Russia abolished criminal prosecution for first-time domestic violence offenders. Human rights activists sum up the situation
A year has passed since the criminal punishment for first-time offenders in domestic violence cases was abolished in Russia. Human Rights Watch (HRW) prepared a report in which it analyzed what this has led to.
The conclusions are briefly as follows:
Around 60-70 per cent of women in Russia who suffer from domestic violence do not seek help.
Among those who do turn to the police, only three per cent manage to bring the case to court and have the abuser punished.
The decriminalisation for first-time offenders has significantly increased the risk of abuse, leaving thousands of women alone with aggressors from their own family.
It is impossible to calculate the exact statistics regarding the issue, as too many respondents were ashamed or afraid to admit that they were victims of domestic violence, many of whom have suffered for years.
However, HRW came to the following conclusions:
• At least one in five women at one time or another has experienced physical violence from a spouse or partner.
• For Russian women, the likelihood of experiencing violent behaviour from a loved one is three times higher than from outsiders.
Liza is a 33-year-old resident of Pskov and one of many Russian women with whom HRW spoke. Here is her story:
Thousands of women in Russia are left alone with an aggressor from their own family
“He pushed me and I fell to the floor in the kitchen. He came towards me and punched me in the stomach. He said that all his life he had dreamed of meeting a ‘clean’ girl, but I disappointed him and that I had turned out to be ‘unclean’.
“At nights we constantly had these exhausting conversations where he wanted to know who I had met before him. He would wake me up and demanded: ‘Come on, tell me!’.
“I was very thin, I could not work and I did not get enough sleep. My self-esteem was zero and I was completely depressed.
“He began to beat me more often, and once he dunked my head in the toilet.
“When the May holidays came, he locked the apartment and said calmly: ‘Now I will beat the truth out of you.’ By that time I was permanently at home and wore a thick robe so that the bruises were not so noticeable. He hit me over the head with a stool and whipped me with a belt. Then he grabbed a knife and thrust it under my nails. He then took my head and urinated on my face.
“My son cried and said: ‘Mom, tell him the truth already!’.”
Police animosity and the need for evidence
HRW claims that women who are victims of domestic violence are often greeted with undisguised hostility in law enforcement agencies and that their statements are often not registered, nor are investigations launched.
Victims are encouraged to independently collect evidence and have to bear all legal costs.
This process has turned out to be inexorably difficult and ineffective for victims of domestic violence, which is why many people refuse to prosecute.
For their part, state social service agencies require a multitude of papers before providing emergency shelter. Even after a whole package of documents has been assembled, a victim may still have to wait weeks for a decision. A considerable percentage of those who do ask for help and protection are refused.
The violence, meanwhile, continues.
According to HRW, the February 2017 abolition of prosecuting first-time domestic violence offenders was a big step backwards.
The decriminalisation for first-time offenders served as a signal to aggressors for permissiveness, complicated the process of bringing abusers to justice and weakened guarantees of protection.