Voices from Russia

Friday, 21 June 2013

Domestic Violence Finally on Russia’s Agenda

00 domestic-violence. 21.06.13


The latest statistics are depressing, to say the least. According to Rosstat, the Federal Statistics Service, one in five Russian women is violently abused by her partner. Following the publication of this data, the natural response would be to proclaim it a social ill impossible to solve. The response would entail throwing up your hands and shrugging your shoulders. Yet, for the first time since the fall of the USSR, Russian lawmakers are beginning to get serious about the problem of domestic violence in the country. Now, the RF Gosduma is set to consider a bill that would finally see domestic violence specifically defined in the RF Criminal Code. Talk to any Russian cop at length, and you’d see how much this is needed.

A senior police official in Moscow told me just a few months ago, “Until domestic violence is classified as a specific crime, our hands are often tied. This is especially true when a victim comes from a poorer background and can’t simply move away from her abuser”. The age-old apartment question is felt by domestic violence victims most keenly. Often lacking the necessary resources to move away, they’re forced to continue to cohabit with their abusers. However, the new bill would make the abuser legally-responsible for the victim’s rent… this is beside the additional legal responsibilities toward children. Naturally, it remains to be seen if this bill passes. Even for bills that are passed, the question of how enforceable any particular law is continues to loom large… particularly in a country such as Russia. Even so, the mere fact that this legislation is now being considered at the highest levels is proof of how far Russian society has come. It’s proof of the fact that people are beginning to grow just a tiny bit sick of the screams coming from their next-door-neighbours’ apartments.

Even the Orthodox Church acknowledges the fact that domestic violence is a problem. Naturally, there’s plenty of disagreement within individual parishes. Having been in contact with many priests throughout my lifetime, I know that attitudes toward abuse can vary wildly within the institution of the Church. Although 19th century Orthodox figures spoke out against domestic violence, the idea that some people, women in particular, “deserve” this kind of treatment has remained. Today, the state is counting on the Church to help provide temporary shelters for the victims of domestic violence. It remains to be seen if such a scheme will work out… but if it does, it can only be a good thing. The truth is, the best of the Orthodox clergy, the most learned and the most compassionate amongst the priests, are firmly against the normalisation of abuse. Most of them know exactly how horrific abuse is… and how it contributes to the fraying of the social fabric (the fact that children who have witnessed abuse in the home frequently turn into criminals isn’t lost on these people, for example).

It’ll take a whole lot more than laws to change society’s mind about domestic violence, of course. Still, most social revolutions start with exactly these kinds of bills… bills that stir controversy and finally get people talking about some of the most difficult topics imaginable. For thousands of abuse victims, it’s already too late… and it’s hard to keep from growing embittered by this fact. Many others, including women, are so thoroughly entrenched in the culture of daily brutality that they completely reject any notion of legal recourse for the victims. It’s impossible to take comfort in any of this. In spite of this, it’s still possible to “rage against the dying of the light”. How many deaths will it take? Plenty of Russians, including high-placed members of government, have had enough.

3 June 2013

Natalia Antonova



Editor’s Note:

All too often, we’ve been “quiet” on the topic of abuse… be it domestic violence or paedophilia. This is especially marked in “conservative” circles, particularly when the abuser is a clergyman (it’s worst in the woolier segments of the ROCOR amongst us, but “the others” aren’t far behind, sadly enough). It’s one of the reasons that I oppose the rightwing and their social notions so bitterly… they tend to wink at abuse and excuse the abusers. That’s nasty and ungodly… let’s call it what it is. However, if you stand for what’s right, the goodthinkers and the hyperclericalists will vilify you. It’s our choice… we can uphold what’s right and true… or, we can “enable” the abusers. There’s no other choice on offer. There’s no “neutrality” in this war…



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