Support for Russian domestic violence law grows

In early 2017, Russia passed a law that made beating a family member a minor offence punishable by a fine. But the country's feminist movement has continued to push for change.

Daria Sukharchuk
Daria Sukharchuk NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Support for Russian domestic violence law grows - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

Russia remains the only country in Europe that does not yet have a special law against domestic violence, making its women one of the most vulnerable populations in Europe. This does not mean, of course, that the country's feminist movement hasn't tried to push through such a law. Several anti-domestic violence bills have made it to the first round of voting in the national parliament where they have always been killed by ultra-conservative MPs, who see such initiatives as unnecessary interference into the nuclear family -- a law that would send parents to jail for slapping their child.

In 2017, these politicians achieved a great success, when the criminal code paragraph on battery was changed. Beating a stranger remained a crime, but beating a member of one's own household became a minor offence, punishable only by a small fine. It was only if the battery happened for the second time within a year that it would be qualified as a crime. 

The law on the "legalization of battery" led to an outcry in Russia, with women staging several protests, but the law remained in force.

The number of domestic violence incidents that have since been reported has grown, and societal conversation on the topic never really stopped. It reached its peak a year ago, with a widely publicized episode of a man in Serpukhov (a small town near Moscow). A pathologically jealous man, Mr Grachev, tortured his wife Margarita in the woods for several hours, cutting off both her hands with an axe. After that, he took her to the hospital, where the doctors were able to reattach one of her hands. The family was known to the police. Grachev had previously stalked his wife and once threatened her with a knife after she decided to file for divorce. Back then, without a valid law against domestic violence, the police were unable to help her.

Three years later, he cut off her hands, for which he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. If the authorities had interfered earlier, his wife would have been spared her ordeal. 

It is not clear if the spike in reported domestic violence is the result of the societal debate, or an uptick in beatings, with men taking advantage of the decriminalization. But now there is hope that Russia might pass a new, more humane law, that would prevent such incidents -- after two years of relentless campaigning.

Details from the story:

  • Since 2017, it is not a criminal offence in Russia to beat one's household members ("household" meaning people who live together -- not necessarily married, or related). 
  • "Anna", one of the women's help centers in Moscow, has registered a fivefold growth in the number of women calling to ask for help in cases of domestic violence
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