I write a fluffy column about trends. I don’t want to write about child murderers. However, when the kind of domestic violence that leads to the death of a child is itself a trend… I can’t stay silent. The initial “disappearance” of 9-month-old Anya Shkaptsova shocked the town of Bryansk… and the whole of Russia. Anya’s 19-year-old mother, Svetlana, claimed that she left the child outside for a few minutes in her stroller in order to be able to visit a shop, and that when she came out, both the stroller and child were gone.
Ever since the 2010 disappearance of little Liza Fomkina and her mentally-ill aunt ended in tragedy in Moscow Oblast (the child and her aunt got lost in the woods and froze to death… the search effort was criticised for being poorly organised), the Russian public has reacted strongly to the issue of children gone missing. A volunteer organisation, Liza Alert, has helped reunite many kids with their parents. Therefore, when little Anya went “missing” on 11 March, both volunteers and the police mobilised quickly. Everyone with access to any kind of Russian media outlet became familiar with a picture of baby Anya in her pink jacket. Police reported that 20 unrelated crimes were solved as the result of the effort to find Anya (I don’t know if I have a lot of faith in the numbers the police throw out during times like these, but I like to retain some faith in the notion that sometimes people are honest).
Then, police discovered that Anya was killed “in the course of a family dispute”. Investigators said that her mother and her mother’s boyfriend had confessed. The baby died on 2 March, her body transported out of town and burned. They made up the fake kidnapping story to cover up what really happened. Neighbours told the prosecutor’s office that Anya’s parents performed repair work in the apartment, possibly to clean up the murder scene. There’s every reason to believe that Anya’s death wasn’t accidental. According to one report, Aleksandr Kulagin, Svetlana’s boyfriend, who may or may not be the biological father of the child, first beat up the mother, and, then, hit the baby so hard that it died from injuries a day later. Svetlana listened to Aleksandr, who demanded that she get no medical help for the baby. She listened to Aleksandr when he told her that they would cover up the crime together.
Once the initial shock passed, the wave of anger began. A lot of that anger is directed towards the mother. How could she? People scream. How could she? Yet, in our heart of hearts, we know that there are many mothers like Svetlana out there… growing up, they were taught that there is nothing too unusual about living with a violent man. They heard the saying, “If he hits you, it means he loves you”. They’re broken people, raised in broken families… and they go on to break their own children, or to watch, as their children are broken. Statistics say that one in four families in Russia experiences some form of domestic violence. I don’t know what the statistics are on women who remain loyal to their abusers… even when said abusers commit crimes as horrific as what Aleksandr Kulagin did… but I’m willing to bet they’re pretty high. The very nature of an abusive relationship often depends on a twisted bond that demands allegiance from the victim.
As the mother of an infant, I want to believe that Svetlana Shkaptsova had a choice. That she could have taken the baby and made a run for it. Nevertheless, would the neighbours have listened if she knocked on their doors? Would an ambulance have come if she called it from the street? Would the police have paid any attention to what was going on in that household before it was too late to save Anya’s life? Was there anyone that Svetlana could’ve realistically turned to? Yet, I’ve also listened to the taping of her crying over the phone, demanding to know “who could have possibly taken the baby”. It’s very well done, this crying. It’s convincing. It seems this young woman made her choice a long time ago. At 19-years-old, perhaps, she thought her baby was too demanding. Perhaps she didn’t see herself as a mother at all… and going to bat for the sake of her child’s murderer only seemed natural.
Moreover, what of the killer himself? What kind of a person takes his rage out on a helpless baby? Was he trying to teach Svetlana a lesson when he killed the child? Did he see the baby as an obstacle, a drain on his resources? People like Aleksandr Kulagin are beyond broken… and they often display warning signs that the people around them simply summarily ignore. It takes a crime of an enormous magnitude before anyone realises that, holy crap, the Kulagins of this world should not be allowed anywhere near children. The inventiveness with which Kulagin attempted to cover up the murder also leads me to believe that the guy has a cool head after all. He may have killed Anya during a fight… but he was probably hoping to get rid of her for some time. From everything I’ve read about this case, it seems that Anya was doomed from the start… both because of her parents, and because Russian society still largely treats domestic abuse as a “private matter”, as opposed to something criminal.
I like to think that this is changing. I see a lot of kindness around me, not the least via such organisations as Liza Alert. I want, I need, this kindness to keep growing… as we all do. Otherwise, what’s the point of anything at all? Liza Alert’s website was updated to acknowledge the fact that little Anya no longer needs volunteers to search for her. At the end of their message, there is a note… “Forgive the adults, little child”.
30 March 2012
Is there anything that I hate? Yes… I hate child abuse… I hate those who make excuses for child abuse even more… but most of all, I hate those who cover up child abuse “for the good of the Church” (or, to “protect” a clergyman). There’s a specially-cold corner of Hell for such people (with more than one mitred occupant, to be sure)…
I’m for protecting our children… now, THAT’S “Pro-Life”…