Russia Decriminalizes Domestic Violence

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on February 8 decriminalizing domestic violence in Russia. Russian conservatives have pushed for the change since mid-2016, when the Supreme Court elevated the criminal severity of domestic violence. According to the Moscow Times, conservative lawmaker Yelena Mizulina argued that domestic violence ought to be considered an administrative offense, adding, “You don’t want people to be imprisoned for two years… for a slap.” The Russian Orthodox Church supported the move, proclaiming that corporal punishment of children, when “carried out with love,” is a gift from God to parents. Facebook/KazFem

The change reflects a patriarchal, conservative undercurrent in Russia, where, according to the Interior Ministry, domestic violence makes up almost 40 percent of crimes committed. This figure itself is questionable due to underreporting. The Anna Center, an NGO focused on domestic violence prevention, estimates that two-thirds of Russian homicides are domestic or familial and that “abuse of any form” takes place in one in four families. The Supreme Court’s decision offered greater protections for victims, as it allowed public authorities to prosecute domestic abusers and lessened the burden of proof for the victim. This new status quo offered more recourse for reluctant victims which could prove vital in certain circumstances.

Traditionalist organizations worried that this new development opened the door for an increasing number of lawsuits. The All-Russian Parents’ Resistance, the organization that pushed for the law’s change, worried that parents would lose the ability to discipline their children via corporal punishment. According to Voice of America News, the group claimed that false accusations of domestic violence were harming families and unjustly punishing parents. Mariya Mamikoyan, chairwoman of the group, said that parents were now “afraid” to take their children to trauma centers.

At the Kitezh Women’s Crisis Center in Moscow, however, Director Aliona Sadikova informed Voice of America that her center’s popularity has grown. In the last year, inquiries have increased over one hundred and fifty percent, as more people - victims, witnesses, and police - become aware of domestic abuse support networks and recourses. Domestic violence in Russia has often been whitewashed by the old Russian proverb saying, “If he beats you, it means he loves you.” The phrase, according to the Moscow Times, is rooted in a sixteenth century book called Domostroy which provides a social guide for family life, prescribing appropriate gender roles and division of labor in households. The old text explains away domestic violence, and this attitude still proves powerful in Russian society today. Help centers like Kitezh seek to break the taboo and common acceptance of domestic violence and offers help to aggrieved women, bringing more light to the issue.

Nonetheless, the Russian government has chosen to bring domestic violence back into the private sphere, reversing the Supreme Court’s progressive decision. This status quo can allow for more violence to go under-reported as avenues for justice narrow.