“According to the law, the woman needs to pay if [she] and her husband share a common family bank account,” said Alena Popova, a social and political activist. “In reality, the man will often ask the woman to pay because he thinks she was wrong to complain or because he doesn’t have enough money.”
The law decriminalizes certain forms of domestic violence, such as bruising or bleeding, to a lesser punishment. Instead of the maximum two-year jail sentence from before, offenders will receive punishments comprising of a maximum 15 days in jail as well as a fine of up to 380 pounds if the offenses don’t happen more than once a year.
A major concern for women leaders in Russia is the likely decrease in the number of reported domestic abuse cases. According to domesticviolence.ru, more than 16 million women a year experience domestic violence in Russia, but only 10 percent of the women report the incidents to the police.
“Official statistics will demonstrate a decrease in cases next year, but this is not because much has been done,” said Marina Pisklakova-Parker, head of the Anna Center, an NGO that provides support to victims of abuse. “Rather, it is because fewer cases are being filed. The amendments have sent a message to women that it is useless to search for help, and to the perpetrators that this is all right to do.”
In Russia, 12,000 women are killed annually as a result of domestic violence, roughly one woman every 40 minutes, according to Russia’s official figure report.
In 2015, Russian interior ministry statistics showed that approximately 9,800 women died as a result of a serious assault, with a quarter of the murders taking place in their homes.
“I believe the decriminalization of domestic violence has a negative social impact since those people who think it normal to behave violently within the home may interpret it as signal that their actions will have no punitive consequences,” said Sergey Shargunov, one of the three MPs who voted against the changes of domestic violence punishment.
The new law erases the progress of a previous 2016 law that focused on domestic violence among relatives. Pisklakova-Parker says the looming threat of having to pay fines will discourage women from seeking help or reporting incidents.
“For aggressors, the decriminalization was seen as a message that violence is acceptable,” Pisklakova-Parker said. “Victims took it as a message that it would be harder to get help.”
It’s unclear where this setback leaves the women of Russia. Putin’s efforts to return to a more “traditional family value” country backpedals Russia in the fight against domestic violence within its own homes and people.
“The message is: let’s not punish a person who beats up his family at home because he has the right to do that,” said Maria Mokhova, the director of a Moscow-based center for victims of sexual abuse. “This law calls for the exoneration of tyrants in the home.”
This law does not look promising for the victims of domestic violence in Russia, and we can only hope that people continue to fight this new law to prevent domestic violence and give women the rights they deserve.
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