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27 May 2016

Russian Family Tyranny (Domostroy 2.0)

According to lawmakers, the law “should be compassionate to those who stumble” while beating their wives

According to official data, 40% of all serious violent crimes in Russia involve family members. Twelve to fourteen thousand women die annually as a result of domestic violence in the country which means a woman dies every 40 minutes. The scale of the tragedy becomes more apparent when one compares these data with the statistics of Western countries. For example, according to the UK Office for National Statistics, in England and Wales, two women a week or, one woman every three days, died as a result of domestic violence in 2015.

According to a report produced by the U.S. Department of Justice, the overall rate of intimate partner violence fell by 64% from the moment the law against domestic violence was adopted in 1994. While official data indicate that twelve to fourteen thousand women from a population of 146.5 million die as a result of violence in Russian families, approximately 18 thousand murders (from 1,706 to 1,817 women a year) have been recorded in the United States, which has a population of 325.7 million, in the last 10 years.

Russia belongs to the category of countries in which women are denied access to necessary mechanisms for protecting their lives and health. Yet, instead of adopting a relevant law which could help to resolve this problem, Russian law-makers have chosen instead to decriminalize battery.

Currently, the State Duma is considering a package of amendments to the liberalization of criminal legislation – an initiative of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation (SC RF) supported by the head of state in his address to the Federal Assembly in the Kremlin on December 3, 2015. The proposal of the Supreme Court came down to the fact that five articles of the Penal Code should be decriminalized and classified as administrative violations. These include: battery, threat of murder, failure to pay child support, petty theft and document forgery (Art.116, 119, 157, 159 and 327 of the Penal Code of the Russian Federation).

On May 16, 2016 Members of Parliament attended the second reading of the new bill. Under the new draft, only two articles out of five – threat of murder and failure to pay child support – are to remain parts of the Penal Code.

Battery and threat of murder are among the most common articles violated in the domestic setting. These articles play an important role in the prevention of more serious crimes – murder (Art. 105 of the Penal Code of the Russian Federation) or causing grievous bodily harm (Art. 111 of the Penal Code of the Russian Federation). In this regard, the reaction of MPs to the proposal of the Supreme Court can be assessed as only partially positive since the dedicated committee rejected a proposal to decriminalize the article on threat of murder in its new draft: “We have collected data which suggest that the threat of murder article fulfills a preventative function and it thus should remain part of the Penal Code” – this was the commentary on the adopted approach provided by Pavel Krasheninnikov, Chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on Civil, Penal, Arbitration and Procedural Legislation.

Today, the articles “Battery” and “Intentional infliction of minor bodily harm” lead to private prosecution cases. This means that responsibility for the prosecution of a crime and evidence gathering lies entirely with women and thus only one out of ten women have their case heard in court in the best case scenario. Even fewer see their attackers sentenced. Regarding prevention and counteracting domestic violence, one of the problems lies in the fact that the notion of domestic violence and its various forms is lacking in Russian legislation. Hence, there are no statistics on domestic violence in Russia i.e. it is simply impossible to quantify the exact number of victims. At the same time, many officials are in favor of decriminalizing this offence based on statistical data collected in the krais, okrugs, raions (administrative districts) and oblasts (regions) of the Russian Federation. These data do not reflect the true extent of the problem. It can be assumed that in 70-80% of cases, women do not approach law enforcement bodies or judiciary authorities since existing legislation is not effective and law-makers who cite statistics which do not reflect the reality propose that this type of crime is merely considered an administrative offence. That is, Russian law-makers propose punishing family tyrants with fines starting at five thousand rubles, comparable to the penalty imposed for the towing of an illegally parked vehicle, rather than improving the mechanisms in place to protect fundamental rights to life and health which do not currently meet any international legal standards as it stands.

Although the USSR was one of the first countries to ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1981, its legal successor, the Russian Federation, has still not adopted the relevant law to this day. National legislation on the prevention of domestic violence has now been adopted in over 120 countries around the world. A petition in favor of the draft of the Federal law “On Prevention of Domestic Family Violence” with a request to adopt it was signed by more than 165,000 Russians. The petition states that the existing administrative, criminal, and criminal procedural legislation is ineffective.

One of the key purposes of the law is to exclude domestic violence cases from instances of private prosecution. The main responsibility for the instigation of criminal prosecution should lie with law enforcement authorities and not aggrieved parties. Moreover, the state should guarantee protective measures to victims in the form of protection orders and protection against persecution, long in place in the United States. It should also ensure that there is a system of re-education available to men prone to aggressive behavior.

For example, in 1991, a law on combating domestic violence was passed in Israel. Since then, 90 public centers for treatment and prevention of violence against family members as well as 40 shelters have been opened across the country and special departments which specialize in dealing with cases of domestic violence have been created in police stations. Each department cooperates with a respective local social protection center to which it reports data about families whose members have been subjected to psychological, physical, economic or sexual abuse. These social protection centers work with both victims of domestic violence and aggressors. Should an aggressor threaten the life of a victim, or should he be held liable for his deeds under criminal law, following a request filed by a lawyer, a judge may rule that he is placed in a rehabilitation center rather than imprisoned. The daily regime of the rehabilitation center provides that those being rehabilitated cook and clean themselves and that they undergo intensive daily individual or group therapy sessions. In the case that an offender successfully completes the course of treatment, the suspended prison sentence can be annulled. According to statistics, such treatment proves successful in 95% of cases. On the matter of prevention of domestic violence specifically, a series of awareness-raising campaigns about violence should be conducted among the population and state support for NGOs should be provided. Moreover, guidelines for health authorities, law enforcement agencies and welfare services should be adopted in connection with cooperation on domestic violence cases. A sufficient number of social services should also be established. The state should promote changes in approaches and behavioral norms in terms of gender issues through media campaigns about women’s rights and changes in school curricula.

Prior to the initiative of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, the main opponents to the adoption of the law on the prevention of domestic violence in the Russian Federation had been representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to them, “It is not so much the text of the draft law that seems highly controversial, but the very need to adopt a dedicated law which allows public authorities to intervene and regulate relationships between spouses and other kinship”. It is noteworthy that when a similar law was passed in Poland, MPs also faced criticism from representatives of the church. Polish bishops stated that “the [European] Convention [on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention)] is not conducive to tackling the real causes of violence, namely alcohol addiction, widespread brutal violence and pornography in pop culture. Instead, its foundations are based on radical, neo-Marxist gender ideology”. The former chairman of the Synodal Department for the Cooperation of Church and Society archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin also wondered why “it is precisely the issue of so-called domestic violence which is raised on the initiative and at the behest of international structures in Russia whereas there are situations where violence is used much more often in the country”. Mr Chaplin asserted: “Let us look at our streets first, at relations between migrants and the indigenous population. These issues are somehow hushed up whereas this issue, clearly directed at us from abroad, has become one of the priorities, for some reason, today”.

The Russian Concept of State Family Policy for the period up to 2025 includes initiatives such as the development of programs for working with individuals who subject their family members to psychological or physical violence, the implementation of educational programs for youth on prevention of violence as well as information campaigns on resources, opportunities and services available to victims of violence. However, in practice, one cannot expect any positive changes without the adoption of a special law, since the existing system exhibits its inefficiency and expected changes in penal legislation will only aggravate what is already a difficult situation. Numerous myths about domestic violence are prevalent in Russian society to this day. The most prevalent of which are based on the assertions that domestic violence is not a crime but rather a family matter in which outsiders should not interfere; that women provoke violence themselves; that domestic violence occurs only in families of low social status; that women are violent towards their husbands with equal frequency (although global statistics show that it is women who are victims of domestic violence in 85% of cases). It is difficult to shake this conviction when the head of state, followed by representatives of the Orthodox Church and the State Duma dedicated committees, appeal for the preservation and protection of traditional family values – women are thereby expected to surrender their basic and fundamental rights to protect their lives and health in exchange for non-interference in family matters and private life.

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