Late January, the Russian lower house of parliament, the Duma, voted 380-3 to decriminalize domestic violence unless it causes serious damage to the victim or happens more than once a year. The bill will punish violations with a $500 fine or a 15-day arrest except in the cases of domestic abuse not subject to this law. If this bill takes effect, first-time offenders that do not cause harm severe enough to send the victims to the hospital will receive no penalties.
If this bill is approved by the upper house, the Federation Council, and signed by President Putin, Russia will become one of only three countries in Central Asia and Europe that does not have any laws specifically targeting domestic abuse. No or minimal opposition is expected in the Federation Council, and President Putin has already expressed his support for the bill.
The amendment will overrule a ruling by the Russian Supreme Court that took effect last July that eliminated criminal liability for domestic violence that results in no physical harm but kept criminal charges for battery against family members. As soon as it began to be enforced, the law faced fervent opposition; Russian lawmaker Yelena Mizulina described it as “anti-family” and “undermining the parents’ ‘right’ to beat their children.”
Human rights activists argue that the government should be protecting the victims from more domestic violence; however, the Russian parliament has chosen “protecting the family unit as an institution” over protecting the women and children whose rights are violated every time they are assaulted by their own family. Other critics of the amendment claim that the passing of this bill will send a message to the Russians that domestic violence is not a crime and will fuel the rate of battery against family members, which is already high in the country.
According to the Russian government, 36,000 wives are beaten by their spouses every day, while 26,000 children are abused by their parents every year. In order to escape domestic violence, 2,000 adolescents commit suicide and 10,000 run away every year. However, 60-70% of victims do not seek help, so 97% of domestic abuse cases never appear in court.
Archaic ideologies have been gaining traction in not only Western Europe but Russia as well recently. Specific laws criminalizing domestic abuse and other “private affairs” are increasingly perceived as nosy meddling in household matters by the government. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, stated that family conflicts are “not always equivalent to domestic abuse,” and a state-run survey in January found that 19% of Russians believed that it can be acceptable to beat a wife or child in “certain circumstances.” Even some Russian police officers are reluctant to get involved in domestic violence cases, which they view as meddling in family affairs.
The Russian cultural and political establishment has always upheld traditional values, but they have become increasingly conservative in the past few years, especially under President Putin. New restrictions on protests and political liberal opponents have already been passed, so the Russian government’s backtracking on their domestic violence policy has not proved to be a surprise although it has worried human rights activists.
Domestic violence, however, is not an unfamiliar problem to us as well. According to South Korea’s Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, 60% of all domestic violence cases were dropped from prosecution charges in 2015, while only 15.6% went through the indictment proceedings. A total of 118,178 cases were reported, but only 8762 arrests were made. In our country, domestic abuse is also widely perceived as a private matter that law enforcement should not pry into, and the perseverance of the family unit is often valued more than the victims of “family conflicts.”
How many more pleas from the victims of domestic abuse will convince societies with deep patriarchal roots that domestic violence is unclear, but it is clear that it is a severe issue that must be tackled by the government. The safety and quality of the lives of the citizens should be prioritized over the set ideals of political parties. So far, many conservative governments have not fulfilled their own duty by not taking enough action or actually backtracking in their efforts to progress towards social justice; however, governments must start listening to their own people before the voices of victims are completely silenced by their aggressors.
– Kristin Kim (’20)
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