In St. Petersburg the Vesna (“Spring”) civil-society movement is holding a street action. In an improvised stage made from a boxing ring, activists present three scenes: an alcoholic beating an elderly pensioner, a husband punching his wife, and a child being physically punished by a parent.
The demonstration came in reaction to the decision of the Russian parliament, or Duma, on Friday, January 27, 2017, to remove battery assault of family members from the criminal code and bring it instead under the jurisdiction of administrative law. In practice this means that while there used to be a two-year maximum sentence for beating a spouse or a child, now the perpetrator will get off with a fine of up to 30,000 rubles ($500) or 15-day detention or 360 hours of community service. Last year, the criminal code was amended to decriminalize battery assault, with the exemption of family victims. Last week 380 deputies of the Duma voted to extend the decriminalization to cover assault on family members. Only three voted against such a dangerous change.
On the eve of the final vote, there were protests in Russian cities initiated by women’s and human-rights organization, while federal and regional media warned of the dangers of this decision. People of the varied views and political convictions spoke out against it, including many experts and even law-enforcement agencies. The critics of the amendment include the Ministry of Internal Affairs (one of the initiators of the law on preventing violence), the Scientific Research Institute of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation, the Serbsky Institute of Forensic Psychiatry, the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, the Anna Center (an association of crisis centers), and the Consortium of Women’s Organizations, among many other civil institutions, ordinary lawyers, and police officials. In vain, women’s organizations asked the Duma to keep abuse of pregnant women and children a crime.
The initiators of the amendments, especially deputy Olga Batalina, declared (without citing any data) that society has long awaited the decriminalization of family battery, and Senator Elena Mizulina insisted, and not for the first time, that the main problem in the family is not domestic violence but women’s aggression and lack of respect for men.
Police statistics show the opposite. The first official Russian data on the victims of domestic violence published almost 20 years ago were horrifying—more than 10,000 women and almost 2,000 children die annually at the hands of husbands, partners, and other men close to them. That is comparable to the number of Soviet soldiers killed during the entire Afghan war in the 1980s. In 2015 alone, there were 50,000 cases of domestic violence. The director of the Anna Center, Marina Pisklakova-Parker, believes the number is actually much higher, since 70 percent of women who come to the crisis centers do not file police reports. The new amendment will decrease the number of official complaints even more and move the issue further into the shadows.