Late last month, Russian lawmakers decriminalized some forms of domestic assault. The amendment to the criminal code was passed 380 to 3 by Russia’s lower house and rubber-stamped by the upper house. President Vladimir Putin signed the amendment into law on February 7.
Under the law, if the victim—adult or child—is not “seriously” physically injured, and there has been no other incident of violence within the past year, the abuser will be subject to a maximum prison sentence of 15 days, community service, or only a fine. Prior to the amendment, the assailant would have been subject to a maximum sentence of two years.
Domestic Violence Supports “Traditional Family Values,” Proponents Successfully Argued
Domestic violence was a crime in Russia for a total of six months.
In June 2016, the Russian government decriminalized battery, but exempted domestic abuse from the decriminalization. This was the first acknowledgement of domestic violence as a specific crime. Prior to this, domestic violence was subsumed within other forms of assault.
But in carving out domestic violence as a specific offense, the Russian Supreme Court invoked the wrath of conservative groups.
In particular, the Russian Orthodox Church was furious, viewing “the reasonable and loving use of physical punishment as an essential part of the rights given to parents by God himself.”
Yelena Mizulina, who helps make up the 13 percent of female legislators in Russia’s parliament, drafted the controversial law. Mizulina was also the driving force behind the Russian law banning “gay propaganda,” which made it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships and distribute gay rights materials.
Mizulina told parliament that “in Russian traditional families, the relationship between parents and their children is built on authority and power.” She continued that “You don’t want people to be imprisoned for two years and labeled a criminal for the rest of their lives for a slap.”
“I don’t think that we should violate the rights of family, and sometimes a man and a woman, wife and a husband, have a conflict,” said Vitaly Milonov, a member of the Russian Duma, Russia’s lower’s legislative body. “Sometimes in this conflict they use, I don’t know, a frying pan, uncooked spaghetti, and so on. Frankly speaking what we call home violence is not home violence—it’s sort of a new picture of family relations created by liberal media.”
Svetlana G. Aivazova, a Russian specialist in gender studies, sees it differently. “This [law] shows that Duma deputies are not simply conservative or traditional, it shows that they are archaic.”
A Culture of Victim Blaming
As the famous Russian saying has it, “If he beats you, it means he loves you.”
Prior to the enactment of the law, domestic violence was already a pervasive problem in Russia. Although data is scarce, Interior Ministry statistics reveal that 40 percent of all violence crimes in the country are committed in family surroundings. This translates to approximately 36,000 women being beaten by their partners every day, and 26,000 children being assaulted by their parents every year. An estimated 14,000 women are killed from domestic violence every year.
In the United States, which has about twice the population of Russia, about 1,000 women are killed by domestic violence every year.
These numbers are almost certainly lower than the true number of domestic violence victims. Domestic violence is, internationally, a chronically underreported crime. In countries such as Russia, where reporting is actively discouraged, underreporting is surely an even larger issue.